AIA, football coaches trying to repair rough relationship - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

AIA, football coaches trying to repair rough relationship

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Posted: Monday, August 20, 2012 4:53 pm | Updated: 6:53 pm, Wed Aug 22, 2012.

A lot of interesting tidbits - and some fireworks - came out of Monday's monthly AIA Executive Board meeting.

On behalf of the Arizona Football Coaches Association, Avondale Westview coach Jeff Bowen initially presented a list of concerns surrounding its relationship with the AIA, specifically citing lack of communication and input in decisions. This coming on the heels of a letter sent out by the AIA to the AZFCA dated May 22, and subsequent communications, in which both sides grew increasingly agitated toward the other as it relates to MaxPreps.com usage and sectionals.

The AZFCA says this has been a problem for the better part of a decade, but most recent "boiling points" included the new sectional alignment, voting on All-Section teams when most schools don't see at least half the schools in their own section, timing and heat-related concerns because the football season starts in August which has led to practices in July, and the recent partnership between the AIA and MaxPreps.

The AZFCA (led by executive director Lee Brush, Bowen, Paradise Valley coach Donnie Yantis and Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke) voiced displeasure and frustrations about the communication process with both AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Schmidt in recent months and years, mostly centered around a lack of input.

"We've been disgruntled for a decade for not being heard," Brush said. "Coaches don't trust the leadership of the AIA. That's just a fact."

The AZFCA, for example, wants to see financial details from the AIA new agreement with MaxPreps.com in hosting content (rosters, stats, standings, rankings, stories and more) because of mistrust that AIA member schools (or, in this case, the AZFCA member schools) will see any of those financial revenues put back into the schools.

As the season begins in-full this Friday, at least on the East Valley side of town, a majority of coaches have yet to use MaxPreps for their rosters (and other) out of protest.

Slemmer and Schmidt countered by saying it's not in the best interest of the AIA, MaxPreps or other contractual participants (and by law).

"We don't feel the need to disclose tax or financial information to a coaches organization," Slemmer said. "You have to trust the process and the board. The (school) administrations do."

He also said he'd be happy to meet with the AZFCA further if extended an invitation to their meetings.

"The timing of the sectionals wasn't good and we apologize for that," Slemmer said, who noted his past meetings were "productive" (more recently one held at Mountain Pointe High School earlier this summer). He also said the AIA plans to re-institute the Coaches Association after several years of having no presence. 

More than a dozen Valley football coaches were in attendance, including Tim McBurney (former Basha coach now a Tempe High assistant), Tom Joseph (Corona del Sol) and Steve Belles (Hamilton).

"We simply want people who are on the ground level who impact student-athletes the most to be heard," Brush said.

At several points (especially when Brush spoke), things grew a bit heated between the AZFCA and Executive Board in arguing their points. The AZFCA's frustration with lack of communication and input vs. the AIA contention that everyone has a say through representatives (athletic directors, principals, conference representatives) drew heated discussions from both sides.

Slemmer, Schmidt and a couple board members defended the system and noted there are plenty of avenues with which to have voices, opinions and proposals for change heard.

"Everything is public in what we do," Slemmer said. "Everything."

Discussion was also raised about a permeating fear or resistance felt by coaches by their athletic directors, district athletic directors or principals for speaking out or having opinions which might be in disagreement or contrary to the current models and operations of how the AIA governs its more than 250 member schools in Arizona.

The fear being "punishment" by the AIA in terms of sanctions, or even losing their job. Both Glendale Cactus coach Larry Fetkenhier and Zupke brought up specific instances they felt persuaded or intimidated into not saying anything by administration.

"Standing up before you right now, absolutely worries me," Bowen said. "There are fears of ramifications about any of us speaking up."

The AIA Executive Board countered that such things would never have been an edict from them, nor do they have any say in a school's personnel decisions.

At the end, however, there was a couple reasons for optimism. The AIA Executive Board will have follow up meetings and discussions with the AZFCA and the coaches' association plans to invite Slemmer, Schmidt, or both to future meetings.

As for the MaxPreps.com "boycott," several coaches in attendance at the meeting planned to meet afterward to discuss what route to take, but Zupke said afterward he was leaning toward recommending to his coaching peers to resume using MaxPreps as "an act of good faith" toward the AIA.

That, he said, was based on the prospects of having more input into future decisions (sections, regions, postseason awards, regular season start times and other issues as it relates to high school football in Arizona.

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