Well before Wilmer-Hutchins High School basketball standout Troy Causey was beaten to death by a friend and on-court rival after being improperly recruited from Richardson ISD, it was clear to anyone paying attention that Dallas ISD's athletic department was rotten. Superintendent Mike Miles' subsequent house-cleaning was greeted as a righteous, if belated, step toward reform.
Among the 15 people who were fired, former athletic compliance director Anita Connally is the outlier, as DISD itself has admitted.
"Certainly she wasn't part of the problem. No one is suggesting that. Her job is compliance," Carlos Lopez, an attorney representing DISD during Connally's recent appeals hearing, told The Dallas Morning News. "The question is did she do that properly. Did she do that with the fervor that the administration thinks you need for that [position]? No."
The better question might be whether Connally was ever given the tools or authority to do her job as aggressively as DISD now says it wanted her to. In a whistleblower lawsuit she filed on Wednesday, Connally argues that she wasn't, and internal DISD investigations into athletic recruiting and grade changes seem to back her up.
Connally's job was created in 2009 in reaction to a grade-changing scandal at South Oak Cliff High School that prompted it to forfeit its 2005, 2006 and 2007 state basketball titles. Initially, records show, her job was focused on monitoring grades and attendance to ensure that student-athletes were eligible to play under state athletics rules. Here's what she told DISD's Office of Professional Responsibility when the district was investigating allegations that then-Kimball star and current SMU guard Keith Frazier was illegally recruited by the school's athletic staff:
When I first received this position (Director of Compliance for UIL/Extracurricular Activities) in the spring of 2009, I asked Jeff Johnson (Athletic Director) on at least two occasions or possibly three, if I should be attending the District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting. Johnson basically told me 'no' it wasn't necessary. The times I have asked (Johnson) I am basically told 'no.' I have had several meetings with coaches (such as Coach Todd, Coach DeVille, and Coach Ragsdale) ask me why I am not at the DEC meetings. They felt that I should be there. I explained that I had inquired if I should attend but was basically told 'no' and that it was not necessary for me to attend.
After the Frazier controversy, she began attending meetings of the District Executive Committee, which is responsible for vetting student transfers to ensure kids aren't moving to a school for purely athletic reasons. She quickly decided the process was corrupt.
The DEC is comprised of coaches and athletic directors from individual high schools. Connally observed that many are loathe to reject a student's transfer request because they're reluctant to vote against their colleagues and because some day an athlete of questionable eligibility might transfer to their program.
In September, she sat in on a meeting in which Madison High School baseball coach Geary Walker, a longtime DeSoto resident, convinced the DEC to approve his son's transfer from Townview to Madison (DISD allows teachers to enroll their children in the district regardless of where they live). Connally raised questions about the legitimacy of the transfer, pointing out that the parents still owned their house in Desoto and that the lease agreement the family provided to prove they'd moved into the Madison attendance zone had been signed in August and expired in September. But, she says, DISD athletic director Jeff Johnson cut in and "indicated that the [one-month lease] was probably a mistake and the rental agreement was most likely for a longer period of time."
This was par for the course, Connally says. She had no real authority over student transfer and was treated as an outsider by members of the DEC. She passed her observations to OPR, which in a subsequent investigation of Walker's case notes the following:
Connally believes the current process is flawed and the DEC members are unable to police themselves. Therefore an impartial entity is needed as the clearinghouse for student athlete eligibility certifications. Therefore, Connally believes an independent Compliance Officer (Department) being able to rule on eligibility matters in the best interest of the District, outside of member high schools, would satisfy the need for an unbiased, consistent and centrally coordinated effort to safeguard controls over the interscholastic athletic process.
Connally was raising these concerns at least six months before Causey's death. Perhaps, as DISD has indicated, someone else with a more domineering personality would have been able to assert her will at DEC meetings strongly enough to clean up the student-transfer process, but the record suggests that's not what she was hired to do. The DISD bureaucracy just didn't seem to care much that kids were being recruited to play sports. Not until a kid died.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.