Safford Football

Safford football players work on a gang-tackling drill during a 2016 preseason workout.

SAFFORD — On Thursday night, the Safford Unified School District held an emergency meeting for parents and players on the football team in response to an incident in Payson last weekend.

Press was denied access to the meeting at the David M. Player Center for the Arts, but parents and athletes exited the meeting with anything but smiles on their faces.

AJ Taylor, director of instructional services for the district, released a statement to Phoenix Channel 12 on 0Wednesday and local media Thursday that said, “Safford High School was made aware of a video at the end of the week of June 3, 2019. This video was a clip of some inappropriate behavior demonstrated by some of our Safford High School football team.

“SHS staff immediately started to investigate in conjunction with Pinetop/Lakeside Police. The investigation is still ongoing and we are taking this matter seriously. As always, the safety of our students is our number one concern.”

Right before the meeting in the auditorium, Taylor told the Courier, “We are not saying any more. We are just waiting on the investigation to get more information.”

Safford parents learned of the situation when Channel 12 posted the story to its Facebook page Wednesday. The first communication by the district to parents was the announcement Thursday afternoon of Thursday evening’s meeting.

A parent who requested anonymity talked to the Courier following Thursday’s meeting. That parent was reportedly told, “Everyone who’s involved signed a nondisclosure, including the students involved. The school gave those out Monday. They found out on June 6 but couldn’t get to it (until) Monday. All the board members were out, so they couldn’t get together to do this meeting thing.

“It’s all about football. They have no concern about the children. It’s the program. The kids are so good, but if they’re so good, why’d they do that?” the parent continued.

The parent was told by the district officials leading the meeting that the actions in the video were not as severe as they looked.

The 23-second video shows one player being punched repeatedly in the chest and abdomen by at least four other players, while a fifth appears to hold and/or protect the head of the student being punched. The sound on the video is of a number of players laughing.

The video can be seen on the 12 News webpage at https://bit.ly/2KneQcl.

“We’re seeing only one side of the story. We’re only seeing the press’ side,” the parent said. “The truth is that behavior is not acceptable and those kids should not be on the team.”

Another parent, who also requested anonymity, said the parents were told coaches were not aware of the incident on the recording at the time the incident took place, learning about it when the district was first notified an investigation was taking place.

As to the fate of the involved athletes, the listening audience in the meeting was not made privy to whether or not they would remain on the team or be removed.

“They referred us to the handbook. For the freshmen, we had a meeting to go over all that, but it was canceled. I’m a new parent going in, and I was, like, I don’t know anything about this hazing thing and what the penalties should be. We didn’t get the freshman orientation. I haven’t read the handbook because I don’t have one,” the first parent said.

“Other than the fact that they’re waiting on the investigation, they don’t know anything, either. It is being handled properly. Pinetop is doing the investigation as well. They say our students will be safe from here on. They will supervise continuously.

“Of course, kids are going to be kids and make dumb decisions, but we’re the adults that make the decisions that is best for them so they can be something more.”

The next camp scheduled for San Diego has officially been canceled.

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