Las Vegas Faith Lutheran head football coach Vernon Fox last month informed Phoenix Mountain Pointe’s Rich Wellbrock of something the coach had suspected was going on.
When Mountain Pointe traveled to Las Vegas, Fox shared with Wellbrock that someone had emailed him the Pride’s game plan.
“He knew it was happening,” Fox said. “I don’t think they knew who the person was.”
Mountain Pointe and the Tempe Union High School District traced the email address to girls basketball coach Justin Hager, who served as a football assistant coach at Mountain Pointe dating to 2017.
Hager was hired by Mountain Pointe in 2016, after leading Yuma Cibola’s girls basketball program to 12 consecutive state playoff appearances. He was the azcentral 2016-17 Girls Basketball Big Schools Coach of the Year.
Tempe district spokesperson Jennifer Liewer said Hager resigned his post on Friday as both a teacher and coach.
In a text message, Hager said he resigned to accept another position.
“Regarding MP (Mountain Pointe), I don’t have a comment,” Hager wrote. “Excited for another challenge and moving forward.”
The district discovered “hundreds” of emails from the account to opposing coaches over the last three years, some of those going to basketball coaches during the Pride’s 2018 run to the 6A state final.
In a release, the district stated it had evidence in its possession, dating to 2017, that reveals this person shared protected information about formations, game plans, signals and player eligibility with opposing coaches. The information was shared to give Mountain Pointe’s opponents a competitive edge.
Liewer said more emails could have been found, but the account was deleted during the investigation. Hager’s Tempe Union district email was linked to the leaking account.
“Our entire campus is shocked at these findings,” Mountain Pointe principal Tomika Banks said in a release from the Tempe district. “It is the responsibility of all adults on a high school campus to act with integrity and to put students first in all we do.”
Football coach Wellbrock added in another release, “I am at a loss as to why someone would hurt kids in this way. The entire coaching staff at Mountain Pointe is deeply troubled that a trusted adult in our program would actively work against the success of our students.”
Fox was the first opposing coach to reach out to Mountain Pointe concerning the email with insider information. That game was Mountain Pointe’s only win so far this season. Fox said he responded to the email with: “We don’t believe in cheating.”
“From our perspective, we didn’t want to be a part of having an unfair advantage,” Fox told The Republic. “I just wanted to let the head coach know. I didn’t want to be a part of something like that.
“It’s what we teach our kids every day. I’m an ordained minister, and we teach about integrity and character.”
The findings, with copies of the emails, were sent Friday to the Arizona Interscholastic Association. AIA executive director David Hines said after becoming aware of the issue, those schools receiving insider information are being instructed to investigate.
“There has been some communication to other schools just for information,” Hines said. “Those schools will look at those situations and determine if any action should be taken. We have enough information with the schools in question. We just want them to do some background check to see if there is concern.”
Summary of emails, outcomes of related games
The Republic has reached out to the coaches identified in the emails provided by Tempe Union High School District. In response, Shaun Aguano, formerly the head football coach at Chandler and now an assistant coach at Arizona State, said he did receive an email.
“When I got (the) email, I turned it directly over to my AD Mr. (Jim) Culver and was told to delete it immediately, which I did,” Aguano said via text.
Brophy Prep issued a statement saying that one of its coaches had received emails as well.
“Head freshman basketball coach John Burns received two unsolicited emails from ‘Walter Payton’ in February 2018,” the statement read. “Coach Burns dismissed the emails as nothing more than the observations of a fan wanting to coach from the bleachers. He discarded them without replying.”