PHOENIX - School district officials and coaches are speaking out, as a scandal involving the now-former sports coach of an Ahwatukee high school sharing team secrets to opposing teams continues to unfold.
The coach, identified as Justin Hager, is accused of tipping off opposing teams, sharing all kinds of information that would give them the upper hand. Hager, who was Mountain Pointe High School's girls varsity basketball head coach and an assistant football coach, was caught sending hundreds of secret emails to opponents that featured game plans and diagrammed plays.
Justin Hager (Photo Courtesy: Tempe Union High School District)
Hager has since resigned, according to Tempe Union High School District officials, and the Governing Board is set to approve the resignation on September 18.
Mountain Pointe High School is one of two public high schools located in Ahwatukee, a southern suburb of Phoenix that is located to the west of Tempe and Chandler, across the I-10. Tempe Union High School District officials say Tempe Police was not involved in the investigation, as the school district has found no criminal activity that is tied to the evidence they have obtained.
On Tuesday, Paradise Valley Unified School District officials issued a statement, saying Pinnacle High School football coach Dana Zuple and basketball coach Charles Wilde received e-mails from a WalterPayton12@yahoo.com from 2017 to August 23, 2019. The e-mails contained private information such as game plans, strategy information, plays to expect, images of plays, and Mountain Pointe's opinion of Pinnacle High School's basketball program.
On August 31, Paradise Valley school officials say Zupke forwarded the e-mail strings from August 15 and August 23, as well as the images of plays, to Mountain Pointe head football coach Rich Wellbrock. Tempe Union High School District officials say account associated with WalterPayton12@yahoo.com has been closed down.
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School officials say they will continue to cooperate with the Tempe Union High School, and will cooperate with the AIA in the event of an investigation.
Meanwhile, the head football coach at Faith Lutheran, Vernon Fox, also commented on the unfolding scandal. Fox was one of a number of coaches who received e-mails from the WalterPayton12@yahoo.com.
"My intent in it wasn't to get any attention or to be a hero," said Fox, in a phone interview. "I knew what was right and what we teach our boys, and we didn't want to participate."
In Fox's response to Hager, he simply wrote "Sir, I don't believe in cheating".
"My original reaction was shock," said Fox. "I didn't know if it was something that was real or someone was catfishing or sending something."
Fox relayed his concern directly to Wellbrook, during a pregame handshake.
"They mentioned to me that they were somewhat aware that something had been going on," said Fox. "I dont think he knew the depth of the situation, but he even knew the email address, the alias being used."
"We got the information, we turned over to our district office and they handled it from there," said Mountain Point High School Principal Tomika Banks.
Banks suggested to FOX 10 that the school was in the dark about the email account, but Fox says the coaching staff may have had a pretty good idea.
"I don't know if they knew where it was coming from, but he was aware that something had been going on, and that we weren't the only team that had been reached out to," said Fox.