Citing a “serious lack of administrative responsibility and institutional control,” the Ohio High School Athletic Association on April 6 rocked Dayton Public Schools with what’s believed to be an unparalleled penalty in the 100-plus year history of the state association: An immediate three-year probation for all boys and girls sports for all six high schools and a $10,000 fine.
There were other penalty provisions that dealt with administrator training. It’s believed to be the first time in the history of the OHSAA that an entire school district was found in violation of its bylaws.
FOOTBALL FIASCO: OHSAA, DPS address different subjects
This was the final fallout of a series of events that culminated in a Week 10 football game between Dunbar and Belmont at Welcome Stadium last season. The OHSAA based its ruling on two things. The first was a “positive outcome” would result if Dunbar were to lose, thereby enabling both teams to qualify for the playoffs. The second was if Dunbar were to lose, DPS would not report a forfeiture for use of an academically ineligible player.
Both those potential outcomes were attributed to DPS director of athletics Mark Baker at halftime by Dunbar coaches Darran Powell and Alfred Powell, and then-Dunbar athletic director Pete Pullen.
Dunbar Coaches: ‘We were told to lose’
“The administration of (DPS) not only failed in discharging its administrative duties as evidenced by the facts in this case, but also the mere suggestion of “throwing a game” undermines the very core of education-based athletics and compromises the values and life lessons we expect our students to learn via their participation in interscholastic sports programs in Ohio schools,” OHSAA Commissioner Dr. Dan Ross said in a statement that was emailed to DPS superintendent Rhonda Corr.
The probation will be cut to two years and $2,500 of the fine will be reimbursed if no similar incidents occur. What won’t be undone is the lasting stigma of an unprecedented admonishment.
Here’s a timeline of the events leading up to the OHSAA’s decision:
Sept. 9, 2016: Dunbar lost 41-12 in a Week 3 football game at Princeton. It would be the Wolverines’ only on-field loss.
Oct. 21: Dunbar defeated visiting Cincinnati Taft in a Week 9 game at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium.
Oct. 28: Dunbar played Belmont in a regular-season finale at Welcome Stadium. According to Dunbar assistant coach Alfred Powell, at halftime Dayton Public Schools director of athletics Mark Baker relayed instructions for Dunbar to lose the game so both Dunbar and Belmont would qualify for the playoffs. That resulted in three successive and bizarre third-quarter plays in which Dunbar appeared to purposely lose yardage. Referees halted play after the ball was tossed to a Belmont lineman.
Coaches of both teams huddled at midfield, where officials said the contest would be called if the integrity of the game were further undermined. There were no more similar incidents. Dunbar won handily and appeared to have qualified for the Division IV, Region 16 playoffs with a 9-1 record.
Oct. 29: The OHSAA confirmed Dunbar was required to forfeit Weeks 9-10 defeats of Taft and Belmont for playing an academically ineligible player. Dunbar dropped to 7-3 and missed qualifying for the playoffs by dropping to ninth in the region; only the top eight advance. Dunbar’s adjusted record also enabled Belmont, now an improved 7-2, to qualify for the D-III, Region 12 playoffs, but in doing so bumped Piqua out of qualifying after the Indians slipped to No. 9. It also caused Princeton (D-II) to miss the postseason and reshuffled first-round playoff games. That caused Trotwood-Madison to play at Wapakoneta instead of hosting a financially lucrative opener.
Baker said he learned of the ineligible player and possible Week 10 forfeit during the Belmont game. “We immediately reported it to the OHSAA,” Baker said. “We’re conducting our own internal investigation. This is absolutely heart-breaking for (Dunbar). They earned a spot in the playoffs. We’re putting new measures in place already to ensure this never happens to students, parents or supporters in the future.”
Unbeknownst to Baker, Dunbar also would be required to forfeit the Week 9 defeat of Taft because of the same academically ineligible player.
Oct. 30: Baker addressed the forfeits by saying: “We’re going to be working closely with the OHSAA to make sure our coaches and athletic directors and counselors are trained and additional measures are put in place to make sure that nothing like this happens again.”
Piqua AD Chip Hare said the Indians’ football program and its fans were distraught: “There are things out of your control,” he said. “These were issues that no one in our system did. We did what we were supposed to do and those are the things that are hard to explain to young men.” Piqua coach Bill Nees would not comment.
OHSAA assistant commissioner Beau Rugg confirmed he was in contact with Baker during halftime of the Belmont game. “If we have a situation where mistakes were made and they didn’t know the regulations or didn’t know how it was to be applied, it’s a matter of helping educate so they don’t get in that situation again,” said Rugg.
Oct. 31: Darran Powell, his uncle and assistant football coach Alfred Powell and Dunbar AD Pete Pullen all told the OHSAA in an Oct. 31 appeals meeting in Columbus that Baker said Dunbar should lose the Belmont game.
“It’s murky waters,” Darran Powell said. “The whole thing was getting two teams into the playoffs. (Baker) was thinking we could forfeit the Belmont game and we wouldn’t have to forfeit the Taft game. … My name’s in the dirt; our names are in the dirt. It makes it look like it’s on us. Whatever happened, somebody needs to step up to it.”
Powell also said the school was pursuing an injunction in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to overturn the OHSAA’s ruling that two of its games be forfeited. “That’s the next step,” Powell said. “It’s very heart-breaking. We’re going to fight to the end for these kids.”
Nov. 1: Darran Powell said school officials decided against further pursuing an injunction. Among the reasons: Rather than Montgomery County, a request would have been required to be filed in Franklin County, where the Columbus-based OHSAA office is located.
REVERSAL: Dunbar opts not to pursue injunction
Students must pass the equivalency of five one-credit courses every grading period. The first-quarter grading period ended Oct. 13. There’s a five-day grace window afterward, meaning any player on academic watch would be OK to participate in a Week 8 game. However, Dunbar’s player in question also participated in Week 9-10 games.
“What a lot of it boils down to is the people from the athletic department and even the school were confused as to not only had the (player) passed five one-credit classes, but when their grading period ended and what the grace period is after that,” OHSAA director of communications Tim Stried said. “All of those failed.”
Nov. 4-25: No football playoff game was held at Welcome Stadium. An OHSAA official confirmed this was a result of an investigation into the Dunbar/Belmont game. That was a huge financial hit for DPS, which reaps a rental fee, parking fees and especially concession proceeds from playoff games.
Depending on participating teams, Welcome Stadium annually hosts three to six playoff games and has been the site of many high-profile matchups, including state championships. Conveniently located off Interstate 75, no other venue has been the site of more games since the Ohio playoffs began in 1972.
Nov. 8: Response from school board president Adil Baguirov at a regular DPS school board meeting: “As the administration is conducting its comprehensive review of what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again, there will be specific recommendations from the superintendent this month. Similarly, any and all resignations and/or terminations will be presented to the board by this month’s business meeting for approval. The review is still underway.”
Nov. 17: The DPS board of education accepted the resignation of Pullen as Dunbar’s AD; he would remain as the Wolverines’ ultra-successful boys basketball coach. Darran Powell said he will not resign as Dunbar’s football coach. All supplemental coaching contracts for full-time Ohio teachers and for non-teachers are for one year and are annually reviewed.
All DPS high schools — Belmont, Dunbar, Meadowdale, Ponitz, Stivers and Thurgood Marshall — have their own AD’s, who Baker oversees. Also a Dunbar grad and former Wolverines basketball great, this was his first school year in that position after succeeding Jonas Smith last summer.
PULLEN RESIGNS: As Dunbar athletic director
Dec. 6: Late agenda additions, Pullen and Powell were belatedly approved boys basketball coaching contracts during a school board meeting. Pullen’s contract was for $7,283 and Powell’s $4,600.
Both had been coaching basketball, although neither had realized their contracts hadn’t been approved until they were skipped the previous two-week pay period. They were the only ones on the basketball staff who hadn’t been approved a coaching contract. Dunbar had already played two games, but neither was present during practice the previous two days. Had they not received coaching contracts, they would not have continued with the basketball program.
“I’m elated for the kids,” said Pullen, who has led Dunbar to four D-II state titles and two more final fours in 13 seasons. “I’ve done this a long time and this is the first time something like this has happened to me. It would have been hard to walk away. It would have been tough on me and my family.”
COACHING CONTRACTS: Pullen, Powell belatedly approved after season starts
Both Pullen and Powell feared the fallout from the football investigations might lead to their dismissals as basketball coaches.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the situation,” said Powell, a paraprofessional at the school. “We just need to get to the bottom of everything so we can move forward. We had a great team and we’ve got a great team coming back. Hopefully, next year we don’t run into any issues like this.”
That delayed coaching contract approval would arise again with Darran and Alfred Powell for track in the spring. Both were approved, but after the season had started and not at the same time as other track coaches. Both are veteran track coaches, having been part of multiple boys state title teams.
Dec. 9: Dunbar and DPS administrators were guilty of being unable to properly determine athletic academic eligibility during the football season, but that’s not what would launch an OHSAA investigation.
“The OHSAA is currently investigating several allegations regarding Dayton Public Schools and the football forfeitures of Dunbar High School from Weeks 9 and 10 of the regular season,” OHSAA director of communications Tim Stried said in a statement.
“The forfeitures were issued on October 30 and had an impact on the football playoff qualifiers in southwest Ohio, but new allegations have come forward involving the days leading up to, and including, Dunbar’s final regular-season game.”
Dec. 18: Both DPS and the OHSAA acknowledge separate investigations into whether Dunbar was instructed to lose to Belmont. Dunbar coaches were insistent Baker told them to do so. Also, that Baker told them the player in question was eligible for the Belmont game, then reversed himself and said at halftime the player wasn’t eligible.
A statement by DPS superintendent Rhonda Corr indicated its investigation had ended. “After a thorough 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,” said Corr.
Feb. 27, 2017: Darran and Alfred Powell, Pullen, Baker and DPS director of safety and security Jamie Bullens met with the OHSAA in Columbus. Superintendent Corr also was invited but did not attend. The coaches reiterated that Baker relayed instructions for Dunbar to lose to Belmont. It was an unprecedented accusation in the history of OHSAA rules infractions. A fine and suspension from the OHSAA were potential repercussions, said the coaches. They also said any OHSAA penalty would hinge on what DPS decides.
The OHSAA’s final ruling would be delayed until after the boys basketball season. Dunbar lost to Trotwood-Madison in a Division II regional final two weeks later.
March 23: OHSAA Commissioner Dr. Dan Ross addressed the ongoing investigation during the boys state basketball final four. “We had a hearing in Columbus and we’re finalizing the results that are going to come out of that,” he said. “We would never deal with any of that during the tournaments. It’s very, very serious. We’ve had some serious incidents to deal with and this is right up there with them.”
April 6: The OHSAA notified superintendent Corr of its decisions: Three years of probation for all six high schools, $10,000 fine and mandatory compliance and new administrator training. DPS was found in violation of OHSAA Bylaw 3: Administrative Responsibility and Institutional Control.
April 7: Corr issued a statement, saying reprimands were issued for allowing the academically ineligible Dunbar player to play.
“At the heart of this unfortunate finding are our student-athletes who deserve the most honest and competent leadership we can provide them,” she said. “I assure Superintendent Ross, OHSAA, and the Dayton community, of my firm commitment to putting students first, and providing those students with highly qualified academic and athletic leadership.”
April 10: DPS wouldn’t confirm, but multiple City League coaches indicated a new provision had been added to the interview process of re-applying for a coaching position, asking whether there has been a prior DPS reprimand. If so, that could be used to disqualify someone from retaining a renewed coaching contract.
April 15: Stried, the OHSAA director of communications, said DPS has not appealed the rulings.