Potential football All-Star game could bring AIA sanctions
The Arizona Football Coaches Association has plans to move up its annual All-Star game with California to Jan. 21, but doing so would be in violation of the Arizona Interscholastic Association bylaws because it would be during the school year.
All-Star games like the Under Armour All-American Bowl and U.S. Army All-American Bowl showcase some of the best high school talent from across the country while school is in session, and elite Arizona players have been regular participants. That isn’t an issue because member schools are not involved in the selection process, said Chuck Schmidt, the assistant executive director of the AIA. Marcos de Niza cornerback Priest Willis, for instance, has accepted an invitation to play in the Under Armour game on Jan. 4.
Once coaches get involved, however, it becomes a violation. Last year, Hamilton coach Steve Belles, former Saguaro coach John Sanders and Chandler coach Shaun Aguano coached in the Semper Fi All-American Bowl at Chase Field without permission from the AIA. It violated bylaw 14.7.2, which does not allow coaches to accept invitations to All-Star games during the school year.
“The AIA does not get involved if the marines contacts a kid and says, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to be playing in an All-Star event,’” Schmidt said. “The violation would occur with schools promoting, endorsing, or participating in any of those events.”
There is a formal process to get special permission from the AIA for doing so. Schmidt said the AIA was unaware of any football coaches participating until recently, when Belles’ name came up. Schmidt has set up a meeting with Hamilton’s coach for Thursday afternoon to discuss the indiscretion. Sanders, former Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle, current Chaparral coach Dave Huffine, Aguano and others have accepted invitations to these events in the past.
Schmidt said action has not been taken in those cases because he simply didn’t know about the participation.
“It’s not my job to follow the football coaches around and ask, ‘Where are you coaching this month?’” Schmidt said.
If any local coaches participate in the Jan. 21 All-Star game or recommend student-athletes for selection, it would be a violation of the bylaw. Even though the coaches who have been involved in the process can be reprimanded, the AIA does not have the jurisdiction to discipline the student-athletes.
“We don’t punish students,” Schmidt said. “There’s no authority to strip kids of eligibility.”