Anita Connally Got Dallas ISD to Crack Down on Sports Corruption, and Then She Got Fired
"I didn't wait for Brett Shipp," Anita Conally says.
One night in early March, Anita Connally was at home in Waxahachie, watching the 10 o'clock news, when a story struck her cold. Troy Causey, a standout basketball player at Wilmer-Hutchins High School, had been beaten to death in front of his house in Southeast Oak Cliff. Motive was anyone's guess; his attackers – a neighbor had spotted three – had disappeared into an alley while Causey's blood pooled on Cinnamon Oaks Drive.
There was no escaping the stupid tragedy of it: a young man, barely 18, his life snuffed out before it could really begin. Connally, a mother and grandmother herself, felt a surge of maternal sorrow as Causey's mother, Tammy Simpson, appeared on the TV screen, grieving for her son and pleading for his killers to be brought to justice. But then the mom made a passing reference to Causey's enrolling at Wilmer-Hutchins to play basketball, and Connally's sorrow quickly yielded to professional instinct.
"When I got to work the next day," Connally says, "I didn't wait for Brett Shipp." (Shipp is a WFAA reporter known for feasting on high school sports malfeasance.) "I was already on it."
Connally was the athletics compliance officer for Dallas Independent School District. She was responsible for helping coaches and schools police the athletic eligibility of the district's 10,000-plus student athletes, who must comply with a convoluted set of state and district rules governing everything from their grades to where they live. She recognized Causey's name from 11 months earlier, when he had transferred to Wilmer-Hutchins after spending eight months in juvenile detention. Noting his criminal record, she recalled telling Wilmer-Hutchins basketball coach John Burley that Causey might have to spend time at Village Fair, DISD's alternative education campus, before he'd be eligible to play basketball.
There'd been nothing in Causey's paperwork to suggest that he'd been recruited to play basketball or enrolled at Wilmer-Hutchins for athletic purposes, both of which are forbidden by the University Interscholastic League, the organization that governs high school sports in Texas. Nor was there anything to distinguish him from the roughly 2,000 other sports-playing DISD students who switch schools every year, usually for reasons unrelated to athletics. Yet here was Causey's mother on TV, telling the world that her son had gone to Wilmer-Hutchins solely for basketball.
Connally was then sure that Causey had been recruited. Five years as DISD's compliance officer had convinced her that the practice was endemic. Kimball High School's powerhouse basketball team — which welcomes a fresh crop of talent from the suburbs to its Oak Cliff attendance zone ever year — was the most glaring example, but players moved freely throughout the district, even when evidence suggested they'd been recruited or were moving to play sports. Most coaches didn't seem to mind, nor did a long line of district administrators, who ignored recruiting allegations for years, either out of a reluctance to challenge DISD's entrenched athletics bureaucracy or because they enjoyed the reflected glow of athletic success.
But dead teenagers have a way of changing things, and Connally, sitting in front of her TV that March night, sensed that DISD was on the cusp of its biggest athletics scandal in years.
She was right. When the dust cleared three months later, 15 coaches and administrators had been fired, a Madison High School basketball star had been jailed for manslaughter, and Superintendent Mike Miles was promising sweeping changes to DISD's rotten athletics culture. What she didn't foresee was getting caught in the sweep herself.
Troy Causey's mom, Tammy Simpson, hoped her son could play college ball like her.
Connally's eyes blink nervously behind rimless eyeglasses. Her hands are folded in her lap, beneath a stout boardroom table. Sitting here in her attorney's office, her slight frame dwarfed by the expanse of polished wood before her, she seems too demure for the hyper-competitive world of Texas high school sports.
Any hint of meekness melts away as she begins talking about her work with DISD — about "those babies," as she calls the almost-grown boys and girls whose athletic careers she monitored. The nervous blinking stops. Her hands leave her lap to lightly strike the table for emphasis or to rub together, like eraser on blackboard, when she's searching for a phrase. She's become the battle-hardened middle-school teacher she was before her climb into DISD middle management — a sweet lady whose students nevertheless know better than to mess with her.
She became compliance officer in 2009, in the wake of DISD's last big athletics imbroglio, a grade-changing scandal at South Oak Cliff High School. District investigators, piggybacking on reporting by WFAA's Shipp, found that members of the Golden Bears' 2005 and 2006 state championship basketball teams had failing grades changed so they could play. SOC was stripped of the two titles, and Superintendent Michael Hinojosa commissioned an outside review of the athletic department.
The consultants found many problems. Chief among them was that eligibility decisions were typically left up to players' coaches, who often didn't know the rules — and even if they did, had a powerful incentive to ignore them. Among the group's recommendations was the addition of a compliance officer who could explain the rules to coaches and introduce a degree of independent oversight.
Connally's most recent experience with organized athletics was a season coaching first-grade T-ball years earlier. But she was nothing if not independent, and she possessed a seasoned bureaucrat's facility with arcane policy details of the kind that govern high school sports. It was her fondness for these types of regulations — for making sure they are written clearly and followed strictly — that drew her to the job. Nowhere, she felt, was her expertise needed more than in the athletic department.
"I'm just that type of person," she says. "I'm just one of those that goes, 'No, it says we can't do that,' or 'We won't do that,' or, 'Yes, we can do that because we're allowed to ... within the parameters of what the policy states.'"
She was hired in 2009 and spent that spring meeting with coaches, introducing herself and explaining what, exactly, a compliance officer was supposed to do. Mainly she would be a resource, walking coaches through the maze of UIL and district athletics rules during annual training sessions and answering any questions that might arise during the year.
She also helped create safeguards to prevent the type of scandal that had just rocked South Oak Cliff — or at least to allow district brass to detect it before Shipp stuck a mic in their face. A new district-wide student records system made improper grade changes more difficult. If an athlete's grade was changed, or if there was a question about age or attendance records, Connally could check it out with a mouse-click.
During her first year on the job, the issue of recruiting barely surfaced. Her duties in those early months were based largely on the consultants' report, which defined the compliance officer as a "rules educator"; policing the movement of DISD athletes was not part of her job description. She asked her boss, Superintendent Hinojosa's chief of staff, whether she should attend District Executive Committee meetings, where eligibility issues were resolved. Connally was told to ask athletic director Jeff Johnson. As she recalls it, Johnson shook his head; the DECs didn't really handle "compliance issues." (Johnson, through his attorney, declined to comment.)
Later, once she had won the trust of the coaches, Connally discovered that DEC meetings were a large and visible cog in DISD's otherwise shadowy recruiting apparatus. The DECs are empowered by the state to bestow athletic eligibility on transfer students. In theory, the rival coaches who comprise the committees will object if they think a competitor is cheating, and declare his incoming players ineligible. But in DISD's tight-knit athletics culture, the DECs had long been a rubber stamp.
Charles Deville, the former head football coach and athletic coordinator at Molina High School, is one of the coaches Connally credits with opening her eyes to recruiting. Since leaving Louisiana to join the district in 2004, he had chafed at the athletic department's active dismissal of the rules, of which he was reminded every summer. Somehow, the football talent from Stockard Middle School, Molina's lone feeder campus, always seemed to wind up at rival DISD high schools. "Half my kids, who were supposed to be coming to me, were going elsewhere," he says.
By the time Connally was hired in the spring of 2009, Deville had long since abandoned hope of serious reform. Neither the people who ran the athletic department nor the DISD administration had shown any inclination to crack down; complaining would merely serve to alienate his fellow coaches.
In Connally, though, Deville saw a ray of hope. He found her to be fair, tough, independent and wholly committed to making sure things were done by the book. He and other dissident coaches — Josh Ragsdale at Adamson and Andy Todd at Hillcrest among them— quietly began feeding her information, rumors they'd heard about this player turning 19 or that player living outside the district. They also asked why she wasn't at the DEC meetings, where they felt her oversight was most needed.
Over time their questions increased in frequency and volume. In the fall of 2011, Keith Frazier, a nationally hyped shooting guard from Irving High School, abruptly transferred to Kimball. The evidence strongly suggested that he was switching schools to play basketball. His sister had told her coach in Irving that the family was moving to Oak Cliff for Frazier's basketball career; his mother appeared to be lying about breaking the lease on their Irving rental house; and Frazier's AAU team, Dallas Showtyme, is notorious for funneling players to Kimball. At the DEC meeting, Deville seconded a motion to deny Frazier's eligibility, but the suggestion was ignored and he was allowed to play.
It happened again in the spring of 2012, when South Oak Cliff football coach Emmett Jones escaped with a wrist-slap — a private reprimand from the DEC chairman and a one-game suspension — after Cedar Hill officials produced evidence that Jones had been recruiting players from one of the district's middle schools.
"Kolby [sic], this is Coach Jones from SOC," he'd written in a text message to running back Kolbi McGary, after an AAU basketball practice in the SOC gym. "I just meet [sic] you at Practice. I came to Soc from Skyline last week. The football program is gonna change and I would love to have you with [redacted]. Stay in touch."
Whatever her initial job description had or hadn't said about recruiting, these anecdotes convinced Connally that it was by far the most pressing issue facing the athletic department. The DEC meetings were a choke point, the one part in the student transfer process where evidence and allegations were forced into the open. By the first day of the 2012-13 school year — when Braylon Allen-Stovall's parents showed up in her office — she had decided to attend, her bosses' objections be damned.
Braylon Allen-Stovall was a promising, if slightly undersized cornerback, entering his junior year. He'd played football the previous season at Madison High School in South Dallas, but his mother, Stephanie Allen, was worried that the school was a poor fit. She won't go into detail about his troubles there, but he'd fallen in with the wrong crowd and "chose to seek out things that were accessible," she says.
For Braylon to have a shot at graduating from high school, he needed a fresh start at a new school, she decided. That it would have to be somewhere he could play football was a given. "Braylon is an athlete at heart," she says. "We used that to keep him motivated to stay on his books."
The summer before his junior year, she began shopping around, searching for a school and football program where he could blossom. On the advice of a coworker, she contacted Woodrow Wilson football coach Bobby Estes. He seemed like a good coach, as focused on building character as on winning games, and he was happy to take Braylon under his wing. Two weeks before the start of school, Braylon began participating in summer workouts at Woodrow.
The family had hoped to enroll Braylon under a hardship transfer, which allows DISD students to switch schools for a wide variety of personal reasons. On their application, they wrote that Braylon lacked convenient transportation to Madison and that Woodrow was close to Allen's work. But their application was rejected by Woodrow's principal, and on the school year's first day Allen and her husband went to Estes in a panic. He told them to visit Connally, that she could help get Braylon enrolled at Woodrow. But Connally, now with a keen eye for evidence of recruiting, had bad news. Not only could she not get Braylon into Woodrow, but the family's contact with Estes would likely be considered recruiting under UIL. Even if he were somehow enrolled at the school, he would be ineligible to play football. She gave the same explanation to her boss, executive director of student services Sherry West Christian, who had called her at Estes' request to check on the progress of Braylon's transfer.
Assuming Braylon had gone back to Madison, Connally set the matter aside. It only returned to her radar months later, when the district began digging into a complaint about Woodrow's boys basketball team, several members of which happened to play for an AAU team run by the high school coach's fraternity brother, and the majority of which lived outside the Woodrow attendance zone. At this point, Connally noticed that Braylon had enrolled at Woodrow and played a full season of varsity football.
She reported the case to DISD's Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of malfeasance against district employees. As it turned out, the family hadn't exactly heeded Connally's ruling. Allen told investigators that after their disappointing meeting with Connally, she forged a lease showing that the family had moved in with Braylon's cousin — whose house is in the attendance zone — several months before. Braylon had, in fact, moved in with the cousin, but the rest of the family had stayed behind.
Among the UIL's easily exploited rules, coaches are required to conduct home visits when transfers join their teams, to ensure they live where they claim to. Estes did conduct one, so theoretically, he should have noticed the absence of Braylon's parents. But that would have necessitated actually setting foot inside the home. According to district investigators, he didn't even stop his car. One day after football practice, he arranged to follow Braylon and his dad to the home; seeing them go inside, he decided that was proof enough.
Allen concedes now that forging the lease crossed a line, but she doesn't regret sending Braylon to Woodrow. His grades improved. She liked his new friends. He seemed happier. And Allen can't help but see hypocrisy in a system that celebrates talented artists and musicians who choose to hone their skills at Booker T. Washington arts magnet but vilifies talented athletes for seeking out similar opportunities. "As a parent," she says, "you just want to do whatever you can to keep your child on the straight and narrow."
Following the OPR investigation, Braylon withdrew from Woodrow and played his senior year of football at Prime Prep Academy, Deion Sanders' troubled charter school. But Allen was disappointed with the academics at Prime Prep, and Braylon was again transferred — this time to Skyline, where he graduated last spring. He's now attending Kansas' Tabor College on a football scholarship.
As for the DISD employees who'd helped Woodrow land its new cornerback: District investigators agreed with Connally that Coach Estes had improperly recruited Braylon. They ruled that Christian, Connally's boss, hadn't actually helped in the recruiting, but she had improperly pressured Connally, her subordinate, to violate district rules. DISD declined to discuss what punishment, if any, Estes and Christian received.
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(Christian, through a district spokesman, said she "strongly, strongly disagrees with Anita's account of the events" and the conclusions of the OPR report. Estes, as she recalls, contacted her with concerns about an athlete's eligibility. She called Connally to have her check into the matter, not to pressure her to get him into Woodrow. Estes tells the same story. He denies recruiting Allen-Stovall. The one conversation he says he had with Stephanie Allen was a discussion of how to get a baseball field built near Madison.)
For Connally, the case was a turning point. Soon after she began attending DEC meetings, she was confronted by the impotence of her position. She could ask questions and raise concerns about a player's eligibility, and she often did, but she didn't have a vote, and committee members were free to ignore her. Connally found it curious, for example, when basketball players from North Dallas' Marsh Middle School migrated en masse to Woodrow, in East Dallas, after their coach took the head coaching job there. Over her objections, they were all declared eligible because the committee found they were enrolled in Woodrow's International Baccalaureate program and had thus moved for academic, and not athletic, reasons.
Now, in the wake of the OPR investigation, it seemed she might be given some teeth. Her position had been in bureaucratic limbo since Hinojosa resigned as superintendent 18 months before, but now it was being moved under Don Smith, DISD's chief investigator, who seemed to share her conviction that leaving eligibility decisions in the hands of coaches was a recipe for corruption.
With Smith's blessing, she crafted a policy to make the compliance officer, rather than the DEC, responsible for determining whether a student was recruited or transferred for athletic purposes. To her, it would be a first step toward the creation of a fully-staffed, independent compliance department that would actively police all student transfers, from verifying enrollment documents to conducting the home visits. She felt she was on the cusp of a breakthrough.
Then, in May 2013, Smith presented the proposal to Superintendent Mike Miles and School Leadership Department administrator Sylvia Reyna. According to emails between Smith, Reyna and Miles, provided to the Observer by Connally's attorney, they promptly killed it. "I have received this information and I am not prepared to make any changes to the policy or to the regulations at this time," Reyna wrote.
Smith appealed to Miles. "Superintendent I was under the impression that you favored a regulation change," he wrote. "This [the failure to implement the proposed policy] places the Director UIL Compliance position in my department with no authority as it was previously."
Miles' reply — "Call me about this" — is vague. DISD wouldn't elaborate, and Smith, who's since been fired, declined to comment. But the policy was never enacted.
Connally was back to feeling utterly powerless, and the feeling was further driven home four months later, when Madison High School baseball coach Geary Walker appeared at a September 2013 DEC meeting seeking permission for his son Gearion to play for the Trojans.
Under UIL rules, Gearion, a student at DISD's renowned but sports-less Townview magnet, was eligible to play varsity sports only on his home campus in DeSoto, where the Walkers had lived for years. But at the DEC meeting, Walker made an extraordinary claim: The family had just left the suburban home they'd owned for nearly two decades and moved into a South Dallas rental.
Connally spent the meeting picking the story apart. The Walkers still owned their DeSoto home, and the lease they offered as proof of their move was for only one month. It had been signed in August and, Connally pointed out, had expired days before the meeting. One of the Madison coaches who'd conducted the home visit checked that he'd seen a mortgage statement, despite the fact that the home was a rental.
The panel ignored Connally's concerns. Chalking the inconsistencies up to clerical errors, they declared Gearion eligible to play at Madison. Connally fumed. She was three and a half years into her role as compliance officer and as unable to achieve compliance as she was on her first day. Meanwhile, as the school year kicked off, a basketball player named Troy Causey was gearing up for his first season as a Wilmer-Hutchins Eagle.
In the corner of the family living room, a space formerly reserved for her real estate business, the tokens of Tammy Simpson's outrage and grief are spilling over: A New York Times reporter's business card; Her son's autopsy report, which describes with equal detachment his bruised elbow and fatal skull fracture; a cardboard triptych plastered with images and the words, "Justice for Troy." Every few minutes, her 4-year-old daughter — Causey's half-sister — peers into the living room, lingering until Simpson gently shoos her away.
Causey was always a difficult child, Simpson says. In the first grade, he was disruptive enough to warrant placement in an alternative school. When Simpson objected, he was diagnosed with "emotional disturbance," which qualified him for special education services. Those helped propel him through elementary school and junior high in Richardson ISD, but the onset of adolescence made managing his behavior more difficult.
She enrolled him at Berkner High School on the strength of its special education program and because she hoped to get him away from his junior high friends, whom she considered a bad influence. He lasted a semester there before the principal, who she says had been wary of Causey's behavior issues from the outset, revoked his transfer. His behavior only got worse once he was back with his junior high friends at his home campus, Richardson High School. He cut class. His grades were awful. And he didn't care.
Compared with his turbulent educational career, basketball was a refuge. His mom had been a star at Dallas' W.T. White High School and gone on to college ball in Oklahoma and New Jersey. Six weeks after Causey was born, she was back on the court, playing pick-up and in competitive leagues for ex-college players.
Causey was usually at her side. He started playing organized basketball at age 3, she says. In third grade, he joined an AAU team, the Dallas Mustangs, and during the off-season, he received skills training from outfits like Top Achievers in Plano and had workout sessions with Simpson's friends who had played in the NBA or overseas.
Simpson had hoped Causey could parlay his basketball skills into a college scholarship, like she had, but by freshman year she had lowered her expectations. "I saw it going downhill," she says. "Ninth grade, I said, 'Troy, as long as you graduate high school and be a successful, productive member of society, I'll be happy with that. Of course we want you to go to college and get your college degree, but if that's not what you want to do, you don't have to do it.'"
She questioned whether he would make it even that far when, during the summer between his sophomore and junior year, he was sentenced to eight months in juvenile detention. (She won't say for what, and juvenile records are sealed.)
The structure of lock-up actually seemed to help him, she says, and not long before he was set to be released in the spring of 2013, Causey told his mom that he'd been visited by John Burley, the head basketball coach at Wilmer-Hutchins High School. (Burley did not return calls seeking comment, but has denied this.) Burley was building a team with an eye to beating Madison, its district rival and the reigning state champion; he thought Causey, with his rangy 6-and-a-half-foot frame and springs for legs, would be a key piece.
Simpson isn't sure how Burley stumbled upon her son. She suspects that an employee at the juvenile detention center, who moonlights as a high school basketball referee, saw him playing in lock-up and mentioned his talent to Burley. At the time she didn't care. Burley wasn't just offering a role on his basketball team. He was promising to personally mentor Causey to make sure he graduated. After that — who knew — maybe he would even go to college.
"When he came to me and made that offer, it was like 'Oh, somebody's going to look out for him!'" Simpson says, recalling her joy. "And then, basketball! Troy, he still loved to play basketball. That was one thing that did keep him going."
Causey had never played a minute of high school basketball. Freshman and sophomore year, his grades and attendance made him ineligible. Junior year, he was locked up. Now he could put his skills, bottled up for so long, on display. "And Coach Burley gave him the opportunity to do that."
From the time he first enrolled at Wilmer-Hutchins in April 2013, through the first month of the 2013-2014 school year, Causey lived at home in Hamilton Park. Each morning on her way to work, Simpson dropped him off at North Dallas High School, where he caught one of the DISD shuttles that carries students to magnet campuses like Wilmer-Hutchins. But then Simpson's husband's car broke down and he had to start taking her car to work, leaving Causey without a ride. He could still get to school if he woke up early enough and took DART to North Dallas or, failing that, all the way to Wilmer-Hutchins. Simpson says that once, Burley even came and picked him up. Other times, Causey simply gave up and skipped school.
Before he enrolled, Burley had suggested Causey move in with Willie Hollins, his cousin and Wilmer-Hutchins teammate, who lived on Cinnamon Oaks Drive, not far from the school. Simpson refused. But by late September she'd changed her mind, concerned Causey's mounting absences might keep him from graduating. She wasn't thrilled with the thought of her son living on the opposite side of the city, nor did she like it that a third teenager, a Madison basketball player named Johnathan Turner, would be living there as well. But she felt he'd be in good hands. Jeanee Miles, Hollins' mother and the adult in the house, wasn't quite a blood relative — Simpson's cousin was Hollins' father — but they were family.
From then on Causey split his time between the two homes, spending weeknights with his cousin in Oak Cliff and weekends with his family in Hamilton Park. He seemed to be doing well. In an Instagram photo taken that fall, he stands in the driveway of the drab brick house on Cinnamon Oaks Drive. Next to him, close enough to suggest camaraderie but with enough space to preserve masculinity, Turner, Hollins and another boy from the neighborhood squint into the morning sun.
Troy Causey (far right) lived away from home with two other basketball players, Jonathan Turner (far left) and Willie Hollins (middle left).
They're clearly friends, but looking at the photo now, Simpson can't help but search for something sinister in their expressions, which are fixed somewhere between studied toughness and light-hearted mugging for the camera. Just outside the frame, a few feet from where the boys stand, is the stretch of pavement where Turner allegedly cracked her son's skull open.
It happened on a Sunday evening, March 23. Simpson was at home; Causey was with Hollins and Turner in Oak Cliff. Causey had broken his cell phone, and Simpson had planned to take him to get a new one, but she'd been sidetracked by work. Someone had made an offer on a house she was selling, and she had to fill out the paperwork.
Her phone rang. It was Jeanee Miles, almost breathless. Causey had been jumped, she said. She wasn't sure by whom, since his attackers had disappeared before she realized what happened. He'd been knocked unconscious, but he was going to be OK. They'd rushed him inside and called an ambulance and he was en route to Baylor hospital as a precaution, but everything was going to be OK, Miles assured her.
Causey died at the hospital the next day — blunt force trauma, the medical examiner said. By late afternoon, Dallas homicide detectives were back on Cinnamon Oaks Drive, combing the crime scene and searching for witnesses. They didn't find much, just a sprawling blood stain and a neighbor who vaguely described Causey being attacked by three young men.
The day after that, Turner and Hollins, Causey's roommates, showed up at DPD headquarters, each accompanied by his own lawyer. Detectives interviewed them separately. Both told police they'd been playing a video game with Causey on Sunday night. There'd been an argument over the game, and Causey and Turner had agreed to settle it outside. The two of them traded punches until Turner connected with a savage blow that sent Causey reeling backwards. His skull struck the pavement with a sickening crunch, and his body began to "tense up." That was it.
Turner and Hollins' stories were identical, down to the details. Detectives thought they matched up too well, as if they'd been rehearsed. The head-strikes-concrete narrative also didn't match up with the evidence at the crime scene. Their story would explain the main pool of blood on the street, but it couldn't account for the blood spatter they'd found more than five feet away. To achieve that pattern, Causey's head had to have been struck with considerable force while he was already on the ground.
Six weeks later, police found a witness who filled in the gap. The witness hadn't seen the fight, but told them Turner had confessed to savagely and repeatedly kicking Causey in the head as he lay on the street. Turner was arrested and is out on bond, awaiting trial for manslaughter.
When she sent her son to Wilmer-Hutchins 18 months ago, Simpson believed she was doing what was best for his future. Now, she feels that she was duped, both by Burley and a DISD athletics system that has enabled coaches like him to prey on the hopes and fears of naive parents.
"At the end of the day it's about money and greed, it's about championships, it's about that coach and his record and that coach and his job," she says. "They could care less about that child."
The morning after she heard the news anchor announce Causey's death, Connally drove to Wilmer-Hutchins High School. She found his enrollment records filed away in a box, destined to be shipped off campus for long-term storage. There, she found a clue: The address in his file, backed up by a water bill and Green Mountain Energy statement, was on Leaning Oaks Drive. On the news, police and his mother both said he'd lived on Cinnamon Oaks Drive.
The two homes are in the same threadbare subdivision, separated by about a block, but to Connally, they might as well have been an ocean apart. After Estes' drive-by verification of Braylon Allen-Stovall, the Woodrow football player, she had introduced a new, more detailed home-visit form. It had to be signed by at least two coaches, and it required them to provide evidence from inside an athlete's home that proved he and his family lived there. Someone — multiple someones — had lied to get Causey onto the Wilmer-Hutchins basketball team, and thanks to her new home-visit forms, there'd be a paper trail.
She found the form and saw that two Wilmer-Hutchins coaches, Kiondi Smaw and Anthony Carter, had signed that Causey and his family lived on Leaning Oaks Drive. She drove to the address — which she was certain Smaw and Carter had never done — and knocked on the door. The woman who answered was brusque and asked Connally to leave, but Connally already had what she'd come for. The woman wasn't Causey's mother, and her icy response wasn't what Connally would expect of someone who'd just lost a member of the household.
She confronted Smaw and Carter with Causey's home-visit form the next day. Both had the same answer: If they signed it, they'd been to the house. She pressed them for details — whether Causey shared a bedroom or had one of his own, whether it was at the front of the house or in the back. Connally had never made it past the doorstep, but they didn't know that. As they fumbled for answers, she urged them to come clean, but they stuck to their story. "I knew they didn't do it," Connally says. "I was trying to get them to do the right thing."
Next she went to John Burley, the head basketball coach. He was ultimately responsible for making sure his players lived where they said, and Connally found it strange that he would delegate the task to assistants. Burley claimed he hadn't. He'd visited the house twice, once with Carter, once with Smaw, but he hadn't gone inside and so hadn't included his signature on the home-visit form. This explanation seemed even stranger — unless, as Connally suspected, Burley was trying to establish plausible deniability now that evidence was mounting that his star small forward shouldn't have been on the team.
With a final plea for honesty, Connally reached the limits of the compliance officer's investigative authority. Burley didn't budge.
"That's all you have to say?" Connally recalls asking. It was. She told him, "I've gotta do what I've gotta do," and turned it over to district investigators.
Connally worked closely with those investigators over the next two-and-a-half months as their inquiry expanded from a focused examination of Causey's transfer to a broader search for athletics misdeeds. They had to figure out how Turner came to be playing at Madison when he was living in Southeast Oak Cliff, which led them to puzzle over more than a dozen basketball players over five years who had enrolled at Madison using the same assistant coach's South Dallas address. Connally helped walk investigators through the maze of eligibility rules and DISD schools' history of ignoring them. Among other things, the investigators proved her theory about Causey's home-visit form, squeezing confessions from assistant coaches Smaw and Carter.
"Coach Burley asked me to sign the form, and I did," Carter would tell investigators, according to their final report. "I know this was not right, but I did it anyway, because I didn't think he would get me in any kind of trouble. I never really thought that this would come up, that anyone would say anything. It was just coach to a coach, not trying to hurt anyone, just coach, would you do this favor for me."
Connally met with the investigators for a final time on the morning of June 6, to help them put the finishing touches on their reports. For the first time since the previous May, when administrators had refused to expand her authority, she was hopeful that the athletic department was on the cusp of reform. The investigative reports were too damning too ignore, and one of the DECs had even voted to let her review student transfers in advance of meetings.
That afternoon, she was summoned to the office of human resources chief Tanya Sadler-Greyson, housed in a converted Safeway across the street from DISD headquarters. When she arrived, Sadler-Greyson handed her a letter of termination. She was being fired for "not following directives" and "lack of management oversight," the letter said.
Connally stammered in protest. Her career as an educator was built on making sure directives were followed, and she'd always been meticulous about following them herself. She wasn't sure exactly what Sadler-Greyson meant by "management oversight," but she suspected it wouldn't have been lacking had the compliance officer been given meaningful authority like she'd asked. Equally baffling was a DISD lawyer's explanation at Connally's appeals hearing: She hadn't done her job "with the fervor that the administration thinks you need."
Fourteen others were fired on the same day. Smaw, Carter and Burley lost their jobs, as did a handful of Madison coaches and several high-ranking athletics officials, including athletic director Jeff Johnson. Superintendent Miles held a press conference, pledging a culture change in DISD athletics.
Soon after, Connally filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the district, accusing it of firing her for reporting the Geary Walker case. It will be a tough case to win. Unlike teachers, who are under contract, Connally was an at-will employee. She'll have to prove that she was retaliated against and not merely caught up in an indiscriminate bloodletting, which seems more likely.
"I always go back to education, because I've got 30 years in education," she says. "If I had a classroom of students, of 25, 28 or whatever, and I've got a student chewing gum, I don't punish all the kids in the class for him chewing gum. You correct and tell him the behavior that you want to see in the one that's making the mistake. You don't punish everybody."
Since the June bloodletting, there has been an unmistakable change at DISD. The new athletics regime, led by athletic director Gil Garza, a San Antonio transplant, is serious about erasing DISD's reputation for recruiting. No longer do the DECs rubber stamp transfers. Under Garza's directive to "vote your conscience," they reject suspect transfers, as they did recently for two Kimball basketball players who'd spent the summer with Dallas Showtyme. The decisions represented ostensible progress, but it was a macabre spectacle: two young athletes having their dreams mercilessly crushed after enduring a brutal, hour-long cross examination.
By contrast, DISD has shown mercy to several employees fired in the wake of the recruiting scandal. Burley and Johnson, among others, have reached settlements with the district and been allowed to resign. Not Connally, though. She's still fired.
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