Zone Read: Hamilton Selling the Drama

Arizona Sports News online

Selling the Drama

As a mostly innocent, but at times, rebellious youth, my parents would often “remind” me to, “take responsibility for your actions and be prepared to accept the consequences of those actions.

Often, I didn’t listen. 

The impactful significance of those “growing” moments I never realized until later in life – when I was mature enough to slow down, and think before I acted.

We’ve all made mistakes and, certainly, life is filled with many imperfections along its long path. No one is immune.

The Hamilton High one-year post-season probation for illegal recruiting, which came down earlier this week, has been top of mind for all of us who follow and love high school football here in Arizona.

Just as the oversized AZHS football community ice bag had begun to slowly sooth this swollen, ugly black eye of a storm 48 hours into its news cycle, Hamilton, and their embattled defensive coordinator Tim Dougherty, doubled down.

The school filed an appeal with the AIA.

Dougherty hired an attorney, claiming he never recruited that unnamed Chavez High football player who he swapped those now infamous direct messages with earlier this summer.


Regardless of how you lean on this topic, and judging from Ralph Amsden’s Twitter Spaces chat Monday night, which was both honest and enlightening on many fronts, there are numerous differences of opinion.

No one will argue the current Hamilton players, and coaches, who had absolutely nothing to do with this, deserve far better.

With that being said, don’t blame the AIA for their ground-breaking ruling when Hamilton’s administration and football leadership group, including head coach Mike Zdebski, had every opportunity to put their players’ well-being before their own.

Quite simply, they didn’t.

Instead of waiting for an initial ruling from the AIA, then responding/acting accordingly to said decision (whatever that may have been),  their hurry up offense sputtered, self-imposing Dougherty’s three-game suspension.

Hamilton administration, as a collective whole, never truly took full responsibility for Dougherty’s very blatant, intended actions which were captured on a series of screen grabs and then blasted out into public existence in early July by Chavez Athletic Director, Lenny Doerfler.

Three-game suspension? Why not just suspend him three practices with that shallow mindset, especially considering the overwhelming evidence against Dougherty and this social media misstep which, in all reality, bonfired the entire Hamilton football program for 2022.

Plain and simple, Hamilton’s self-imposed ban admits guilt.

So now you’re going to fight back, retain a lawyer, and press the issue further, Coach Dougherty?

This quote from his lawyer, Marcus “Rocky” Finefrock to azcentral sports, is laughable.

“Before anyone tries to ruin Coach Dougherty and begin judging him, actually look at the language of the AIA bylaws for specificity of what constitutes a ‘recruiting violation,’ ” Finefrock said in the email. “The verbiage is general and vague at best and does not offer any specific direction.”

High school coaches in this state know what a recruiting violation is, especially when it’s a pitched direct message to another player at a high school not named Hamilton.

The next time Dougherty is walking through the facilities, maybe it would enlighten, and humble him, to take a few minutes to look around the Huskies’ vast, glowing football trophy case, and those five state championship gold balls Steve Belles won during his 204-56 11-year run as head coach. 

Belles, despite being cleared of all charges from the Hamilton 2017 hazing scandal, won’t be back coaching anywhere in Arizona until at least the summer of 2024.

Through it all, he has taken the high road, despite more than serving his time for long-past events in which he was found innocent.

As I explained on AZ Audibles earlier this week, I not only feel great empathy for the Huskies’ players impacted, but the parents of these student-athletes, as well. Coaches have the ability to positively impact teenagers in a number of ways, both on and off the field. The Huskies’ staff is littered with outstanding role models and mentors.

According to many close to the program, the internal backlash from Hamilton parents has been severe.

Who can blame them?

This particular case study for Dougherty, Hamilton’s administration, and Zdebski, who could have fired his defensive coordinator at any point in the last 40 or so days, was an epic fail, filled with short-sided arrogance for a clear AIA rules violation – Article 15, 12 – to be exact.

As for the Executive Director David Hines and his governing board, let’s hope they stand firm on their stance and not cave, despite differing opinions on this hot-button topic.

If they ultimately back down, let’s just create an Arizona high football transfer portal because it will be open season in the greater Phoenix area, particularly the already ultra-competitive southeast Valley, if the AIA back-pedals from their initial stance.

Is there high school football recruiting happening here in Arizona? Of course.

There are also thousands of people speeding on Valley freeways and streets every day.

So if you don’t get away with it, don’t fight the ticket, and attached photo radar shot of you driving 56 in a 40, when the verdict arrives in the mail.

Dougherty wasn’t just going 10 over, he was excessively speeding – the screen grabs prove as much. 

There are so many valuable lessons to be learned from this saga. 

Let’s do better at setting the example, rather than being the example.

Fair or not, the actions of one, impacted many.

Speaking Truths

Sports360AZ’s Brad Cesmat recently went in-depth with Just Chilly from on a myriad of high school football-related content. 

I found this exchange particularly poignant, considering the skewed sense of reality some players, and parents, have when it comes to college recruiting.

Cesmat discussed the current landscape of prep players, as well as their families, “chasing lists and stars.” Specifically, the emotional and psychological damage that can cause a teenager by not being mentioned, in a completely subjective ranking system, among the “elite” high school players in Arizona. 

Here was Chilly’s response.

“I don’t think parents have a full understanding of how the star system works and just so we can go over that real quick. There are typically about 32 five-star players in the country. There are 50 states. There are a bazillion kids playing this game. There are about 32 five stars. They correspond to the number of first-round picks in the first round of the NFL draft.

“So, that means if you go into any youth football room and and any [coach] thinks, ‘Oh, I have at least 10 five-star kids.’ There is no way. There is no way! It is not possible. Look, the goal has to be, and the goal should be, get your education paid for. Create a better life for yourself. Create opportunity. That should be the goal.

“If you happen to become a five-star kid. If you happen to become an all-American. Fantastic. We’re going to celebrate you. But the goal should really be, get college paid for. Don’t chase the Power 5 offer. Be nice to the Division III coach [who’s recruiting you] because one, that D-III coach may become a position coach at a Power 5 school.

“I heard this story about [former Desert Vista star quarterback] Parker Navarro. I had a Division III coach at the time tell me that he wanted Parker Navarro, and knew that Parker Navarro was way bigger than him. He told me that Parker Navarro gave him all the time and treated him like he was the most important coach, and it really made him feel good. He ended up reaching out to a couple of other coaches at higher level schools, and told them, ‘Hey look, you got to check out this kid, Parker.’ That coach will sometimes do the work for you. You have to be respectful. Don’t be bigger than any school because these schools are trying to give you an opportunity.”

Perspective can be powerful. 

You catch the full interview here.

Remember, please use the #FridayNight360AZ on all your social media platforms Friday nights this fall.