Hoover High of MTV fame not alone in world of big-business preps

Friday, November 2, 2007
With camera crews filming, Hoover High School coach Rush Propst, left, prayed with his football team in this Nov. 18, 2005 file photo in Hoover, Ala. Propst announced his resignation this week amid allegations regarding the football team. (Bernard Troncale ~ The Birmingham News)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Scandal-plagued Hoover High School of MTV fame may be a poster child for prep football gone awry. But coast to coast, questions are cropping up about improper transfers and player recruitment as high school programs operate more like big-time college teams than hometown entertainment.

On the same day Hoover coach Rush Propst announced his resignation amid myriad questions and allegations surrounding the Buccaneers, a governing board barred Franklin High School in Stockton, Calif., from playing football through 2009 because of recruiting violations involving three players from American Samoa.

And in Fort Myers, Fla., another state flush with prep football talent, Gateway High School was fined $5,000 and ordered to forfeit all five of its wins this year because a star running back transferred from another school and was living with the coach in violation of state rules.

In an age when small-town football is covered in Sports Illustrated and games are shown on ESPN, the prep gridiron world is not just a community event under lights on a Friday night.

Fans spend millions annually on Web sites like Rivals.com, where they can pay $100 a year to track players down to the eighth grade.

Hoover, featured for two seasons on MTV's "Two-A-Days" program, was ordered to forfeit four wins this season because of an ineligible player. Two other Alabama schools, unbeaten Oxford and Huffman, also were ordered to forfeit wins because of ineligible player transfers.

Athletic officials interviewed by The Associated Press in the wake of Propst's resignation deal Tuesday night said they see the same thing happening in state after state, resulting in more work for oversight agencies and a wave of teen angst unlike anything before.

"It has become more about business than what we think high school athletics is supposed to be about: pursuing victory with honor," said Emmy Zack of the California Interscholastic Federation.

Roxanne Price, an assistant with the Ohio High School Athletic Association, said hardly a staff meeting goes by without discussion of rules violations involving football.

"It's something that comes up all the time. There are things like, 'The star quarterback doesn't really live there,'" Price said.

The problems seem to be getting worse as increasing numbers of parents with dreams of college scholarship money try get their children into schools with high-profile, winning teams.

"I get e-mails from parents saying, 'I want to move my child to another school because they have a better program,'" she said.

The National Federation of State High School Associations doesn't compile statistics on rules violations, but assistant director John Gillis said the increased exposure of high school athletics is undeniable, along with the pressure to win.

"There was an article today in USA Today about Rush Propst," Gillis said from the organization's headquarters in Indianapolis. "I don't think that would have happened 25 years ago."

Propst, who has five state championships and compiled a 108-15 record at Hoover, will resign as coach at the end of the season under an agreement approved by the Hoover school board during a meeting Tuesday night.

Propst will remain as an administrative assistant and make $100,678 annually through Aug. 31, 2008. The board also agreed to give him a $120,000 annuity.

After the board vote, a tearful Propst admitted to having an extramarital affair and doing a poor job supervising his assistants. "I admit mistakes. I'm human," Propst said.

But he denied purposely using an ineligible player this season, and he denied improperly pressuring teachers to help a handful of star players maintain the grades needed to play football.

Propst, who received two standing ovations from a crowd that included players, parents and assistant coaches, described his run at Hoover in epic terms.

"I'm here to bring some closure to what I think has been maybe the best high school run in the history of high school athletics," Propst said.

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