DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – Any parent of an athlete knows how competitive high-level sports can be and how upsetting it can be when your child doesn’t have the time. to play.
But parents at a metro Atlanta high school said their football program recruits and plays athletes who don’t even live in the district.
Some parents in Douglasville allege that Olten Downs, head football coach at Alexander High School, recruits teenagers who do not live in the district. One relative even admitted that she allowed a recruit to use her address, even if he didn’t live with her.
The Douglas County School System confirmed that an internal investigation had been conducted. As a result, the district determined that certain conversations with expectant athletic parents had been “inappropriate” and said “appropriate corrective action” would be taken.
Kimberly Churchill’s son has been playing football in Douglasville since he was of walking age.
“He started out on the peewee football team, playing recreationally, and then when he got to high school he started playing at the JV level and the college level,” Churchill said.
As he entered the first year at Alexander High School, the son of Churchill dreamed of being a titular. But as the season progressed, his mother said he was replaced by children he had never seen at school before.
“A child drives one hour to school and one hour from school every day,” Churchill said.
After Churchill’s son quit the team, she sent a complaint to the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), which oversees extracurricular activities at nearly 500 public and private schools in Georgia, alleging that Downs was “recruiting players out of the district for his football team”. .”
Churchill isn’t the only parent in Douglasville to make these claims.
Another mother who, fearing a backlash, didn’t want to be identified because her son still plays for Alexander, admitted she allowed Downs to use her address for one of her rookies, even if the rookie didn’t live. not with her.
Downs, the mother said, “called me on the phone. He said, ‘I have a student who lives in Atlanta, and he wants to come here to have a better life and play football and I was wondering if you would you be okay with letting that kid use your address?”
“I said, it’s fine,” said the mother. She said she was unaware at the time that GHSA’s bylaws prohibited such an arrangement. “Even now, I don’t know if I’m going to get in trouble,” she said. “I don’t know the ramifications.”
Downs did not respond to emails from Atlanta News First Investigates. Asked directly about the allegations at halftime at the Alexander High football game, Downs did not respond and ran off the field.
While Downs was not speaking, another parent recorded a call between her and one of Downs’ assistant coaches. This call was shared with Atlanta News First Investigates.
During the call, the assistant coach asked her if she could provide her address to a new recruit.
“He needs to have the address; he can live with me. I have no problem with that, but if he has an address, he can go to that school; he can go to Alexander,” the coach said.
When the parent seemed to hesitate, the assistant coach added, “I’m the kind of person like you scratch my back, I scratch your back.” The mum who recorded the call believed it meant her son would get more playing time.
“I don’t want the kids to get in trouble,” the mother said. “I just want it [recruiting] stop happening.
Recruitment or undue influence
The GHSA defines recruitment or undue influence as “the use of influence by anyone directly or indirectly connected with a GHSA school to induce a student of any age to move from one school to another…to purposes of sporting or literary competition”.
GHSA also has the ability to impose penalties including fines, probation, suspensions or forfeiture of games. That’s what happened in 2020 when longtime South Georgia football powerhouse Valdosta High School was hit with $7,500 in fines for recruiting violations. Five of their players were deemed ineligible, they were forced to forfeit the season’s wins and banned from the playoffs.
Atlanta News First Investigates found GHSA investigated 93 allegations of recruiting or undue influence over the past three years. Only 23 of them gave rise to disciplinary sanctions.
Although accusations are common, GHSA executive director Robin Hines said his staff rarely have enough evidence to punish the programs.
“You can’t really move forward if it doesn’t go through the law,” Hines said. “It’s a shame you have to look through that lens, but if you can’t back it up in court, you probably don’t need to move on.”
Atlanta News First Investigates also learned that 13 employees make up the GHSA office. Only one of them is responsible for investigating misconduct.
Nonetheless, Hines said his office was properly staffed. “Ninety-nine times out of 100 is [complaints or allegations] usually by disgruntled members of the community who send these things. Some of them may turn out to be true, but that’s rare.
Hines also said that when the allegations are found to be credible, the GHSA will send a “letter of investigation” to the district and ask the school to conduct its own internal investigation.
When Atlanta News First Investigates asked if such a survey had been sent to Alexander High School, GHSA said it “does not comment on ongoing investigations.”
“I complained,” Churchill said. “Other moms have complained. Again, nothing was done. »
With a month left in the season, Churchill believes tactics such as recruiting have taken the game out of the hands of athletes.
“It’s just a mess and it has to stop,” Churchill said.
The local school system reacts
Atlanta News First Investigates has sought additional complaints about Downs since February 2021 from the Douglas County school system. The system said the public records would cost $3,360. We have reduced the range and the price is still above $3,000. Atlanta News First continues to respond to this request for public records.
Meanwhile, Atlanta News First Investigates has also requested an interview with Douglas County School System Superintendent Trent North. System spokesperson Portia Lake sent this statement:
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