Updated September 18, 2019 - 4:18 pm
When Faith Lutheran football coach Vernon Fox checked his email in the days before his team’s season opener, he thought somebody was trying to play a trick on him.
He had received the game plan for the Crusaders’ opponent, Mountain Pointe (Phoenix).
“It was abnormal to open up a series of emails like that,” Fox said. “I thought it was a joke at first, but when I started looking at it, I saw there was in-depth information. I immediately replied and told our administration what was going on.”
A statement from the Tempe Union High School District, in which Mountain Pointe competes, said it traced a two-year trail of emails that gave specifics about game plans for the school’s football and boys basketball teams to Justin Hager, the girls basketball coach and a football assistant coach.
Hager resigned Friday in lieu of termination. In a text message to the Arizona Republic, he said he resigned to take another position elsewhere. His motives were unclear, according to the Republic’s story.
“Regarding MP (Mountain Pointe), I don’t have a comment. Excited for another challenge and moving forward,” Hager’s text message read.
Fox said the emails included screenshots of plays and formations Mountain Pointe planned to use against Faith Lutheran.
He said he responded to the emails, which came from WalterPayton12@yahoo.com, an account that no longer is active, by writing: “I don’t believe in cheating. We’re not looking to gain an unfair advantage. We will prepare as best we can and look to have a great competitive game.”
Mountain Pointe defeated Faith Lutheran 40-17 on Aug. 23.
Fox said he has received emails offering information about opponents in the past. But this was different, he said, because the amount of detail meant it had to come from inside the Mountain Pointe program.
When Fox told Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock what he had received, he didn’t seem surprised.
“He was aware of the email alias, but I don’t think he knew the depth of it,” Fox said. “I told him about it because if the shoe had been on the other foot, I’d have wanted somebody to inform me.”
Fox said he’s using the incident as a teaching tool for his players.
“When I found out this was going to become public, I brought the team together,” he said. “We preach about character, accountability and excellence every day. I didn’t respond to get notoriety. I did it because integrity is what you do when nobody is looking, and what you do in the dark will come to light.”
Contact Jason Orts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.