Documents: Rifle officials angered by ‘falsehoods’
about the video
Align Multimedia provided the edited video included with this story. We share it with the disclaimer that the editing and commentary are from Align, which has a clear stake in how the Nov. 22 incident is portrayed and perceived.
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RIFLE — After learning in December that their football program and coach were being punished, Rifle High School officials wrote to state regulators that Fort Morgan High’s athletic director provided “false information” and “is simply not telling the truth” about his encounter with a videographer during Rifle’s playoff victory over Fort Morgan on Nov. 22, according to documents obtained by the Post Independent through the Colorado Open Records Act.
The documents include a Nov. 24 letter from Fort Morgan AD Kyle Bules to Harry Waterman, assistant commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association. Bules wrote that “Rifle had a videographer on our sideline that was calling plays,” a matter he wanted “handled and fully investigated at the CHSAA level.”
Waterman on Dec. 4 wrote to Rifle High Principal Todd Ellis that “your football coach, Damon Wells, and the Rifle football program has [sic] been placed on restriction for action or conduct that the commissioner deems detrimental to the mission of” CHSAA … “due to the flagrant and unethical use of video equipment on the opponent’s sideline during a semifinal contest.”
The response from Rifle, which had lost in the state championship game just days before receiving the letter, was thunderous.
“Six of the twenty-eight sentences in Mr. Bules’ letter are not true, not to mention those that contain speculation,” Wells wrote on Dec. 19 to CHSAA Commissioner Paul Angelico.
“I hope that someone is able to help him understand how unprofessional his actions seem to many,” Garfield Re-2 School District Superintendent Susan Birdsey wrote in a Jan. 13 email to Angelico.
Principal Todd Ellis wrote that the “devastating penalty” was based on “blatant fallacies” and complained that his school was being denied due process.
While Fort Morgan Principal Ben Bauman told the PI earlier this month “we never accused Rifle. We never came out and said they cheated,” Bules’ letter carried clear implications of cheating.
The penalty requires Rifle — a state-title game qualifier in two of the past three seasons — to submit a plan that CHSAA approves to prevent such incidents in the future, or it will be barred from postseason play in 2015. Rifle sent such a plan to CHSAA on March 3, outlining sideline boundaries and requiring each media member to sign the policy upon entering Bears Stadium.
No matter what, though, the penalty requires a one-game suspension for Wells.
“There is simply no way to ensure these kinds of issues are remedied other than to hold the head coach of a program responsible for anything related to that program,” Angelico wrote to Birdsey on Jan. 14. He added, “per bylaws, all restrictions require the head coach to miss a game.”
Wells was devastated.
“The sanctions are pushing me away from the game and the lives of young people,” he wrote to Angelico. “I cannot sit and accept punishment based upon the falsities in Mr. Bules’ letter, a lack of investigation, and the denial of the possibility of appeal. I cannot accept that my reputation will be sullied, I will be labeled a cheater, and our boys could be ineligible for postseason play …”
In an interview this week, Wells said, “It’s really just a case of a videographer walking onto the wrong spot on the sideline, and had CHSAA done an investigation they would have seen that. I only wish there would have been due process.”
Among Bules’ allegations is that the videographer, who was wearing an earpiece, told Bules he was talking to Rifle’s defensive coordinator, which Rifle officials say he did not have the capability to do with the equipment he had.
The videographer was Bruce Harper, a volunteer helping Rifle-based Align Multimedia shoot highlight footage for a weekly sports show, “Rifle Football Weekly.” Align is not affiliated with or paid by the school, though its co-owner, Ryan Mackley, is listed as an assistant football coach.
Rifle officials, in their correspondence with CHSAA, describe Harper as a plumber “who didn’t even know football.” Principal Ellis wrote to Angelico on Dec. 9 that, “I do not know if [Harper] spoke inappropriately, I can concede that he may have … When you see the video of the way the Fort Morgan Athletic Director accosted the volunteer videographer, you might understand why he would become defensive; still that is no excuse.”
The documents obtained from Re-2 say that Mackley talked with Bules after the game in an attempt to explain that the video equipment was used only for highlight films.
Rifle High Athletic Director Troy Phillips, in a Nov. 25 letter to Waterman in response to Bules’ allegations, defended Harper and wrote to CHSAA that he believed his coaching staff had done no wrong.
“I take the accusations made by Mr. Bules very seriously,” Phillips wrote. “If I believed that our coaches had asked our videographer to communicate plays back to them while situated on the opponents’ sideline, I would take steps to dismiss the coaching staff involved.”
CHSAA: WE DON’T HAVE TO RESPOND
Besides Re-2, the Post Independent made open records requests of Fort Morgan and CHSAA. Though Fort Morgan sent documents requested electronically, not all files were readable despite numerous attempts. One that could not be opened apparently contained a draft of Bules’ letter to CHSAA, a final version which was included in Re-2’s open records response.
CHSAA’s response to the PI came from the law office of Alexander Halpern in Boulder and asserted that CHSAA, as a “local-government financed entity” is required to meet only limited open records requirements. “Your requests are all outside the scope of CHSAA’s obligations,” Halpern wrote.
Rifle’s restriction comes under a provision that gives the CHSAA commissioner wide latitude in determining whether conduct is improper. No written rule regarding sideline restrictions existed at the time of the incident on Nov. 22.
On Dec. 9 in Aurora, CHSAA’s football committee recommended a proposal made by former Rifle High coach and current Elizabeth Athletic Director and football coach Chris Cline, which sets boundaries between media members and football teams on the sideline.
Two days later, on Dec. 11, Principal Ellis wrote to Superintendent Birdsey in an email: “We just found out our football team is the 3A Academic State Champions for 2014. It is a shame that an AD from another school can attack us and CHSAA will not abide by their own rules and let us tell our side of the story. They are denying our right to appeal under bylaw 2420.2.”
That CHSAA bylaw states that “all penalties assessed by the Commissioner shall be subject to appeal and review of the Board of Directors,” according to the Constitution of the Colorado High School Activities Association as found on the organization’s website, http://www.chsaanow.com. Angelico sent an email to Birdsey on Jan. 14 explaining CHSAA’s stance.
“That person was in position and had the opportunity to use video equipment from a spot other than that assigned to both schools for this game,” Angelico wrote. “The end result is that this situation had the potential to give one school an advantage over another, either in this game or future games, when it comes to potential game films for use in planning for an opponent. While I know that the person involved is not school personal [sic] or hired by the school, they were there as a volunteer for your team, school, and or community.”
He expressed some exasperation as well: “If I can be frank, it would be refreshing to hear that the actual person that was in violation was held responsible for his actions whether he understood the severity of them or not.” (In fact, Ellis had written to Angelico in December that Harper “will not be allowed on the sideline in any capacity again.”)
On Jan. 16, Angelico wrote to Ellis, “The fact remains that a person representing your school did do something so outlandish that this requires we mandate a plan of action be taken to ensure a reoccurrence does not take place.”
Ellis said he and Angelico met in person on Jan. 20 to discuss the status of Rifle’s football team. Angelico, Ellis said, refused to budge.
“He told me, ‘I know you guys didn’t cheat and I know you didn’t do anything wrong,’” Ellis said. He also said that Angelico said: ‘We’ve instituted this, and we’re not going to take it away now.’”
Post Independent Editor Randy Essex contributed to this report.
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