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Updated Apr 30, 2015 - 2:13 pm

AIA board: Deer Valley players can play at least for now

The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s executive board cleared two Deer Valley football players to play after transferring from another Peoria school, Centennial, but the AIA will continue to investigate whether the two players and other former Centennial football players were allegedly recruited.

The AIA’s board unanimously voted Tuesday to accept the hardship appeals of the two Deer Valley players, defensive tackle Marquette Mitchell and defensive end Brian Calhoun, who were allegedly recruited by two former Centennial coaches who were on Deer Valley’s coaching staff. Based on conflicting reports that Centennial and Deer Valley turned in, the AIA’s hardship committee voted to decline the hardship appeals of Mitchell and Calhoun last week, said Chuck Schmidt, the AIA’s associate executive director.

But Deer Valley appealed the hardship committee’s decision to the AIA’s executive board, which ruled on Tuesday that, at least for now, there was no clear evidence that the players were recruited and that Mitchell and Calhoun transferred for legitimate financial reasons. During Tuesday’s appeal of the Deer Valley players, the AIA’s board learned that other former Centennial players who are now attending other schools might have been also allegedly recruited.

The AIA wants to talk to those players as well as another player who initially transferred to Deer Valley but returned to Centennial before the AIA’s board renders its final decision on the Deer Valley case. The board also wants to talk to Deer Valley representatives about allowing Mitchell and Calhoun to play on Friday before Tuesday’s appeal meeting was held.

“It was a final minute decision to allow them to play,” Deer Valley athletic director John Allen said. “We felt it was in the best interest of the kids.”

Deer Valley’s game day decision will be addressed during the next AIA’s board meeting.

The two coaches who allegedly recruited Mitchell and Calhoun are no longer with Deer Valley.

“We felt there was a conflict of interest,” said Allen about why the two coaches were released.  

Tuesday appeal hearing meeting for Mitchell and Calhoun was attended by family members, Deer Valley teammates and booster club representatives, media members, and Centennial High representatives.

During the meeting, the lawyer representing Mitchell and Calhoun said that his clients were being discriminated against if the AIA’s executive board denied the appeals of his clients.

The third player who transferred from Centennial to Deer Valley but returned to Deer Valley is White, and Mitchell and Calhoun are Black.

The third player was never officially approved to play at Deer Valley because he never attended a class at that school, Schmidt said. Plus, the AIA doesn’t know the race of players during hardship appeals, and the schools are responsible for filling out the proper transfer paper work, not the AIA, Schmidt added.

“Our (hardship appeal) process is color blind,” Schmidt said. “I know the AIA takes great pride in promoting diversity.”

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