Allegations at Hoover
Former judge to lead investigation of grade changing
Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2007 11:36AM; Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:34PM
On April 19, just 11 days prior to the start of spring football practice at Hoover (Ala.) High, athletic director Jerry Browning hosted a meeting in his first-floor office with Andy Craig, the Hoover public schools superintendent.
Over the winter months, Browning, 47, who was in his third year at the school, had grown concerned with an increasing number of whispers and allegations regarding grade changing and other academic improprieties involving the football team. Hoover, which was ranked No. 1 in the RISE/SI.com preseason top 25 national rankings last August and was featured on MTV's successful reality series Two-A-Days, lost 35-21 in the Class 6A state title game to Prattville (Ala.) on Dec. 9. The defeat broke Hoover's dynastic run of four straight titles, but the issues brought to Browning's attention during the offseason were related to off-field problems.
"I told Andy of things that were to possibly come out. I felt it was not a matter of if but when and I was not going to cover anything up or hide anything," says Browning, who requested the meeting due to his concerns. "There was plenty of smoke and conversations that I had held with others voicing concern about misconduct, but there was nothing earth shattering."
What was discussed within the office was not intended to leak to the public, Browning says. But when he resigned on June 18 to take the same position at the St. James School (Montgomery, Ala.) 90 miles south of Hoover, eyebrows were raised and grade-changing allegations trickled out.
For the last week, The Birmingham News has reported that Forrest Quattlebaum, a math teacher in his 11th year at Hoover, said a final grade was changed for one of his students, a senior football player, without his consent. Also, an assistant superintendent for Hoover schools confirmed that a teacher came to her this year concerned about losing a job over another senior football player's grade. "People came to me with concerns, but I do not know of any grade changing since I did not investigate," says Browning, who was reached by cell phone on Monday as he cleaned out his office. "Whether it was my fault or not, I do not know. Are there truths? Probably so. Hopefully not widespread. When you are on top of the world people are going to be shooting at you and looking for wrongs."
According to Browning, Quattlebaum's allegations were not discussed in his meeting with Craig, but there were other academic concerns broached that had been brought to Browning by other teachers at the school. Browning allows that the allegations related to the football team, particularly the senior class but including freshmen, which worried Browning that it was more widespread. He also says there were more allegations that have not been made public. "Many of them are small matters, but some may be unfounded or not come out at all," says Browning. "Hoover is a very political town and this has been a feeding frenzy. I resigned because of professionally philosophical differences and personal reasons as well, a chance to spend more time with my family."
After the allegations were made public last Friday, Craig called an 11:30 a.m. press conference at the school district's central office and announced that Sam C. Pointer Jr., who served as a U.S. district judge in the Northern District of Alabama from 1970-2000 and is famous for ruling on the Jefferson County school desegregation cases in the early 1970s, would head the investigation into the allegations as well as other concerns. Pointer will have full access to interview those involved. Calls to Craig from SI.com were not returned on Monday or Tuesday.
"I believe they want to get it done quickly and I welcome any investigation," says Hoover football coach Rush Propst. "It's all a lot ado about nothing. Are there minor issues? Yes. It's just that down here, ours are on the front page because of the success we've enjoyed."
With the national publicity that Hoover received in the last year because of its decision to allow MTV cameras follow its players on and off the field and its appearance in Sports Illustrated, Propst and his program have been in the spotlight. As participants in the last seven state title games, last season's second place finish was also taped by MTV cameras and will air this fall. A promotional blurb on the MTV Web site reads: "Welcome to Hoover High, where football still rules."
But now the spotlight has shifted from the Friday night lights atmosphere to the school's registrar office where grades were allegedly changed to assist a player in qualifying for a college scholarship. "There's been nothing wrong done by anyone on the football side. How could we do anything?" asked Propst, whose summer practices began on June 18 in preparation for the season opener against Colerain (Cincinnati) in the Kirk Herbstreit Ohio vs. USA Challenge on Sept. 1.
Before his departure, Browning was involved in the schedule making, and he says he felt different not to have as much work at this time of the year. During his tenure, Browning said his record was a 92-hour work week, which took place in football season, and that he is looking forward to his first vacation since before he came to Hoover.
"I was a little surprised that Jerry [Browning] left," said Propst, "but you're really never shocked when people leave here."
Though not officially leaving until June 30 and with his cell phone voicemail still identifying him as Hoover's A.D., Browning says, "As I am leaving there are still negotiations going on to get that Colerain game on TV for residents down here with HSTV. Who knows, come Sept. 1, I might just tune in, too, from my new home. You wanna house in Hoover?"