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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hoover High in the Spotlight

Hoover High School used to be known mainly for its powerhouse football program and its central role in the popular Two A Days series on MTV.

An investigation into alleged academic, financial, and personal improprieties connected to the football program is drawing a different sort of national attention. And members of the community are concerned about it.

This week's Sports Illustrated includes an article about the Hoover mess, focusing on head coach Rush Propst. Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, an investigative series on HBO, has expressed interest in the topic. USA Today, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram are among the newspapers around the country who have covered it.

While Hoover officials are not thrilled about the national attention for a negative story, they seem to be more concerned about attention from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). SACS is Hoover High's accrediting body, and it has expressed interest in the school's institutional integrity and fiscal management.

"When you start involving SACS, then things start getting scary," Hoover City Councilman Gene Smith said.

And here's maybe an even scarier possibility for Hooverites. Their community long has been viewed as an attractive place to live, especially by upper- and upper-middle-class families with children. The city includes numerous attractive, high-end neighborhoods where property values have consistently risen over the years. And Hoover is a shopping mecca, featuring The Galleria and numerous other major retail centers, drawing shoppers from around the region.

School board member Suzy Baker says she is concerned that some parents will move to neighboring cities, such as Homewood and Vestavia Hills, because of their distrust of the school system. "What we're trying to do is re-establish the level of trust by putting our priorities in the right place," Baker says.

There is some interesting history to all of this. Hoover used to be part of the Jefferson County School System. But the city formed its own school system, evidently in an effort to compete with independent systems in cities such as Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and Mountain Brook.

During the Jefferson County days, Hoover's high school was known as Berry High School, and it had an excellent football program then. The coach was a gentleman named Bob Finley, who was as low key and humble as Rush Propst is outspoken and controversial. Finley took a bunch of mostly average athletes and consistently produced outstanding teams. In fact, the stadium at the old Berry High location bears his name.

I have some fond personal and professional memories of Coach Finley and old Berry High School. I also have some not-so-fond concerns about how my legal woes, which are at the heart of this blog, might have some indirect connections to Hoover High and its search for a football coach in late 1998, early 1999--a search that wound up with the hiring of Rush Propst.

I don't think anyone connected to Hoover High did anything wrong in my case. But another school in the Birmingham area, one that has become a football powerhouse in recent years, took some curious steps connected to its football program at that time. And it all wound up with yours truly having some major legal headaches, which continue to this day.

We'll have more on that soon.

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