Dayton Schools, state don’t agree on who’s to blame in football fiasco

OSHAA has fined the district $10,000, 3 years probation for all teams

Dayton Public Schools and the Ohio High School Athletic Association appear to blame different people for the fiasco at the Oct. 28 Dunbar-Belmont football game, in part because their investigations focused on different things — a fact that angers one school board member.

The district’s investigative report, written by DPS Safety and Security Director Jamie Bullens, only briefly touches on the issue of Dunbar players being told to lose the game, dealing mainly with how an ineligible player was used.

Bullens’ report concludes that Dunbar’s football coaching staff and the Dunbar athletic director failed the team by playing an academically ineligible player. A statement by Superintendent Rhonda Corr on Friday also mentions the eligibility issue, but makes no direct mention of purposely trying to losing the game.

RELATED: Dunbar coaches say they were told to lose

But the OHSAA’s Thursday letter, placing all DPS schools on three years of probation, ties the punishments mainly to the allegation of throwing the game. And the letter suggests the coaches are not primarily to blame for that.

“We are convinced that no coach in any sport would jeopardize the outcome of a contest in such a manner without some encouragement, suggestion or direction from administrators or others in the district,” the OHSAA’s letter reads.

The letter does not specify which “administrators or others in the district” the OHSAA believes directed the coaches to throw the game, saying there is “some conflict” over the facts of what happened Oct. 28.

But the letter says there was definitely a meeting in districtwide Athletic Director Mark Baker’s office at halftime of the game, involving Baker, Dunbar football coaches Darran Powell and Alfred Powell, and Dunbar school AD Peter Pullen. OHSAA officials wrote that just after halftime, “Dunbar players seemed to be trying to ‘throw the game.’ ”

RELATED: Dunbar, DPS brace for OHSAA ruling

Dayton school board member Joe Lacey said he was “floored” by the OHSAA letter, saying he was completely unaware of the halftime meeting.

“(DPS administrators) have been telling us they investigated this, and then when I go through (Bullens’ report), the centerpiece of that investigation was the ineligible player. It was not the throwing of the game,” Lacey said. “The statement the district sent out today floored me too. The heading of the statement was “ineligible player.” They don’t understand what the finding is. The main finding is about throwing a game.”

That district statement from Rhonda Corr says “reprimands were issued to the appropriate parties,” and “the ineligible player should not have played as instructed by administrators. We are taking specific measures to ensure that this does not occur again.”

The day and the game

The Powells both said Friday they first heard concerns about the player’s eligibility on the afternoon of the season finale against Belmont Oct. 28, and were told not to play him unless they got further notice. Bullens’ report includes text messages that day from Dunbar Principal Crystal Phillips saying not to use the player because he was ineligible.

Both Powells said that during the first quarter, Pullen met with Baker about the issue, then came back, saying Baker had confirmed that the player was eligible. The player went into the game, but the Powells said Baker reversed himself just before halftime, saying the player was not eligible. Bullens’ report never shows Baker indicating that the player was eligible. It also does not mention the halftime meeting.

RELATED: Parents angry after team booted from playoffs

Just after halftime, with Dunbar ahead, the Wolverines appeared to intentionally lose yardage and threw an interception directly to a Belmont player. Referees intervened, instructed both teams to play to win, and Dunbar went on to win the game, 54-34.

Baker then reported Dunbar to the OHSAA for playing an ineligible player. The Wolverines had to forfeit both their Week 9 and Week 10 victories for which the player had been ineligible, knocking them out of the playoffs.

The fallout

At an Oct. 31 appeals hearing, the Powells and Pullen told OHSAA officials that Baker had instructed them at halftime to lose on purpose. Baker has not responded to this news organization’s repeated requests for comment, including a message left Friday.

In mid-December, Corr issued a statement saying, “After a thorough (DPS) investigation into the matter, it was determined that Mark Baker did not instruct Dunbar to lose or forfeit the Week 10 football game to Belmont.”

Both Powells repeated their claim Friday.

Dunbar Principal Phillips issued formal reprimands to Pullen and Darran Powell on Nov. 1 because “under your supervision, an ineligible player was allowed to play in two games.”

On Dec. 6, DPS Chief Academic Officer Markay Winston wrote a memo to Baker “as a follow-up to the verbal reprimand you received …”. The memo says Baker is to be commended for ultimately recognizing eligibility-related errors by the Dunbar coaching staff, but also says, “the conflicting information that was provided by you to the Dunbar athletic director and head football coach complicated a very difficult and stressful situation.”

What’s next

All Dayton Public Schools boys and girls athletic teams are now on three-year probation, the district was fined $10,000, and Baker must meet with OHSAA compliance staff to review administrative responsibilities. Any new or inexperienced school-level ADs must take OHSAA training.

The OHSAA also says any new violation of Bylaw 3 will place all DPS schools’ OHSAA membership in jeopardy. The wide-ranging Bylaw 3 addresses “administrative responsibility and institutional control,” including preparing eligibility certificates, immediately reporting violations, cooperating in investigations, and educating those involved with the sports programs about OHSAA bylaws and regulations. It designates each school principal as the person primarily responsible for oversight.

RELATED: Pullen resigns as Dunbar athletic director

Winston’s letter to Baker calls on him to institute “a districtwide student-athlete eligibility verification monitoring plan” that includes coach, AD and principal approvals. He is also to create an “early warning system” for academically at-risk student athletes, and work with the district data team to create an athletic eligibility dashboard monitoring system.

About the Authors