Maricopa frustrated with charter’s football ‘recruitment’


A football game between Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells middle schools Feb. 13 raised some hackles, and not for anything that happened in the game.

A coach from Hillcrest Academy, a Mesa charter school, is being accused of recruiting players from Maricopa. Recruitment is a violation of Arizona Interscholastic Association bylaws.

Hillcrest is not a member of AIA, yet. Its application to join comes before the AIA executive board on Tuesday.

Maricopa Unified School District was already unhappy with Hillcrest for allegedly targeting its middle school players for recruitment. According to Superintendent Steve Chestnut, Hillcrest had been sending a bus to Maricopa to pick up some middle school football players after their practice and taking them to the Hillcrest football practice.

MUSD Athletic Director Mark Cisterna said the coach’s actions were “blatantly recruitment” and showed a disregard for AIA policy. Knowing the school was up for approval, he sent an email to AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer notifying him of the situation he witnessed at the Feb. 13 game.

Cisterna said one of the middle school coaches from Hillcrest brought players “dressed in their school shirts” to the game in Maricopa. “These kids sat in the front row and made it very apparent why they were there,” Cisterna wrote.

Though he left at halftime, he received a call from a parent still at the game saying the Hillcrest coach was addressing a group of Maricopa parents and students.

According to the AIA bylaws, “Recruitment is defined as the act of influencing a student to enroll in a school or to transfer from one school to another in order that the student may participate in interscholastic athletics… A high school coach may not initiate contact with
a student at a junior high/middle school or other high school, or the parents of that student, about attendance at the school.”

The AIA bylaws specifically address middle school athletics as well and how parent inquiries should be handled: “When a student at a junior high/middle school or other high school, or the parents of that student, contacts the coach about attending the coach’s school, the coach shall refer the student or parent to the appropriate school personnel (those who have the responsibilities for seeking and processing prospective students).”

Cisterna said parents are free to choose where to send their children to school, “but they have to know all the facts.”

Dale Nicol, superintendent of Hillcrest Academy’s Mesa campus, said he was unaware of the situation but would look into it.

***ADVERTISEMENT***“The frustration with this entire situation is that this individual is representing a school that wants to join our association and has no respect or concern over the recruitment bylaw or any of the bylaws for that matter,” Cisterna wrote to Slemmer.

Cisterna said he knows there are Maricopa parents on both sides of the issue and does not want to cause a rift because of the actions of one coach.

“But we want to keep our kids in our community,” he said.