Can high school coaches choose the method that determines which players will make their team? Apparently, not in the Scottsdale Unified School District.
Just ask Gene Denning, Arcadia’s basketball coach.
Denning briefly resigned last Thursday in protest over that very issue. While he ended his five-day hiatus Tuesday, a bad precedent was set by Roosevelt Lofton, the district’s athletic director, who has been on the job for just eight weeks.
Here is what Denning said happened. A junior tried out for the varsity basketball team. Denning and his staff determined the player wasn’t varsity material. What happened next is where the controversy arose.
When a junior doesn’t make the varsity, the player is either assigned to the junior varsity squad or cut from the program. The latter normally occurs if it is determined the player wouldn’t be good enough next year to make the varsity team.
Upset over the player’s release, the junior’s parents complained to the district. That is how Lofton entered the picture. Lofton ruled it wasn’t fair the player wasn’t given an opportunity to try out for the junior varsity team and ordered Denning to put him on the JV team.
Denning stands by the decision he made to cut the player.
"There is a whole team criteria that they have to meet and he didn’t," Denning said. "The district said tryouts are over; he’s on the team."
To protest that ruling, Denning resigned.
"I think the people that this decision affects know about it now, and that was the whole point of me resigning," Denning said. "I never wanted to resign but the kids needed to know why I resigned and the parents needed to know why I resigned.
"It gave me a chance to figure out why I really am a coach. I wanted to come back and coach for the kids."
Spurring Denning’s decision to return was a home visit Monday night by some of his players asking him to return.
When contacted Wednesday, Lofton defended his ruling.
"He did not have an opportunity to try out for the junior varsity," said Lofton, a former college coach. "He should have been given a tryout."
The fact is the player was given a tryout. In a brief sampling of several area high school basketball coaches, they all said they run their programs the same way as Denning. They hold a varsity tryout. After the tryout, players who are juniors are either assigned to the varsity or the junior varsity or they are cut. A sophomore stands a better chance of not being cut and assigned to the junior varsity because he has two years to try to improve to make the varsity. Freshmen normally play on the freshmen team.
Sure, Arcadia could have wasted everyone’s time and had a second tryout to determine the JV team. Then the player in question could have suffered the humiliation of being cut twice.
Besides, aren’t schools supposed to be readying students for real life, which involves winning and losing every day? What kind of message is being sent when all that is needed for a student to win is to have his parents complain?
Lofton insisted this case does not necessarily set a precedent for the district. Right. What happens this spring when a district baseball coach cuts a junior and his parents complain?
"It’s a decision that I hope doesn’t hurt sports in Scottsdale," Denning said.