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The Granite School District found evidence of alcohol, tobacco and pornography use in Cottonwood High's press box shortly before a shake-up of the school's football program last year, district administrators revealed this week.
One assistant coach admitted drinking alcohol in the press box, and another nine coaches and volunteers said they either witnessed or heard about alcohol use among coaches at the school, according to documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through an open-records request.
Possessing alcohol on school grounds is illegal under state law, regardless of age.
Besides drinking alcohol, one former volunteer coach admitted using tobacco at the school and four others said they had witnessed coaches chewing tobacco.
District police also found pornography on a computer in the press box, but because many people had access to it, they weren't able to determine who was responsible for it.
"I don't blame it on any person, employee, volunteer or donor," said Granite Superintendent Martin Bates of the situation, "but it was a mess that needed to be fixed at Cottonwood."
The issues were discovered shortly before the once-successful program faced a series of crises last year. Last spring, head coach Josh Lyman resigned amid accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a student. Another assistant coach also resigned. A third coach was killed by a drunken driver.
And Scott Cate, who had donated millions of dollars to the program for more than a decade and served as an offensive coordinator, left the school and withdrew support last summer after the district created a policy prohibiting big-time donors from coaching. That policy change came amid statewide investigations into school sports and activity financing that ultimately showed confusion and sloppy practices at Cottonwood as well as other Utah high schools.
Before the unraveling, Cottonwood had sent at least 31 players to Division I college football and advanced to the state finals in 2004 and 2008. Last season, the team still produced seven Division I recruits but ended the season 3-8.
Policy overhaul • The district has now been cleaning up its policies regarding donations to sports and activities for months, and Bates said he's confident alcohol, tobacco and porn are no longer problems in the football program.
The alcohol use first came to the district's attention when former Cottonwood assistant coach Alai Kalaniuvalu decided to leave the program last year, saying he was uncomfortable with an atmosphere that included alcohol and tobacco, Bates said. Attempts to reach Kalaniuvalu, now a counselor at Granger High, for comment were unsuccessful this week.
Kalaniuvalu's allegations launched a district investigation, Bates said. During that probe, one assistant coach, Tarell Richards, admitted drinking on campus. Others said they had witnessed coaches drinking on school grounds but added that they hadn't done so themselves.
As a result, the district took corrective action toward Richards, putting a warning letter in his file and saying he could be fired for drinking on campus again, said Doug Larson, a Granite attorney. The Utah Professional Practices Advisory Committee (UPPAC), which makes recommendations about teachers' professional licenses, also issued Richards a letter of reprimand and put him on probation, said Carol Lear, UPPAC executive secretary.
Attempts to reach Richards, who still works with the Cottonwood football program, for further comment were unsuccessful in recent days.
A separate issue spawned the discovery of porn on a press box computer last spring. Cottonwood's press box is more elaborate than those of most high schools, containing offices used by coaches. District police seized all the press box computers while investigating allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Lyman and a student. They were looking for correspondence between the two and were surprised to find porn. No action, however, was taken against anyone.
"We ascertained that upwards of 50 people had access to that computer, which negated being able to identify any specific individual," said Ben Horsley, Granite district spokesman.
The Tribune requested reports related to the porn findings, but the district declined to provide documents, citing an ongoing UPPAC investigation into Lyman.
The district also declined to provide investigators' notes related to alcohol and tobacco use among coaches, saying the documents weren't public because the investigation into misconduct was conducted by the district and not by police.
'The rumor mill' • Cate, who donated the computer and the press box to the school, said the computer was kept in the main room of the press box, and students had access to it to create highlight films. Cate said the coaches had laptops that they took home, none of which, to his knowledge, contained porn.
He said the pornography was accessed at a "time when kids would have access to it without having someone leaning over their shoulders."
As for the allegations of alcohol and tobacco use, Cate, who also volunteered as offensive coordinator for the team, said he never personally partook on school grounds, though he had heard rumors about it. He said drinking and tobacco use on campus was not a part of the culture at Cottonwood among coaches, and it was just one of many rumors flying around toward the end of last school year.
"The rumor mill can go eight ways to Sunday," Cate said. As a volunteer and not an employee, he said he didn't feel it was entirely within his purview to deal with such a rumor.
Cate said he believes the investigation into alcohol and tobacco use among coaches somewhat played into a larger effort by Granite officials to remove certain staffers, including him. Cate added that during the course of the district's investigation into alcohol and tobacco use among coaches, district officials asked coaches a number of questions about him.
The district's documentation shows investigators asked during interviews whether coaches were receiving "extra benefits" from Cate.
But Bates said the investigation was never directed toward Cate, explaining that coaches were asked about the benefits they received from him to give district leaders a fuller picture of the program. At least six of the 16 coaches and volunteers interviewed said they were receiving extra benefits from Cate. Cate acknowledged that he paid some coaches for their time and put others through school on the understanding that they would volunteer at Cottonwood in exchange.
Bates, however, said the investigations into alcohol/tobacco use and pornography were totally separate from the district's decision to exclude donors such as Cate from the program.
"There's lots of dots that are really close together so it's easy to connect them, but they're not connected," Bates said. "I know in some people's minds that strains credulity, but, in fact, there were lots of things going on at the same time and they were not connected."