SANDY — The Utah High School Activities Association executive committee members said they wanted to know why Judge Memorial Catholic High School ran ads in the newspaper this summer that several board members felt promoted the school's athletic programs, which would be a violation of the group's bylaws.
So to get answers, they scheduled a meeting with the school's principal, James Hamburge, as part of their regular meeting Tuesday.
After a 20-minute discussion on the subject, the questions remained unanswered because Hamburge didn't attend the meeting.
Instead, Mark McCarty, an attorney representing the Salt Lake Diocese, and Michael Lee, from the Diocesan Pastoral Operations, attended in his place.
It wasn't just Hamburge's absence that was a problem, it was the fact that no explanation was offered for his absence.
"Mr. Hamburge is unable to attend today," said Mark L. McCarty, who represents the diocese. He was asked repeatedly why the principal didn't attend, but he cited attorney-client privilege and refused to elaborate on Hamburge's absence.
"I met with Jim two weeks ago and discussed what we needed," said UHSAA executive director Evan Excell. "He knew the time and date. He didn't say anything then about being unable to attend. . . .This was an attempt to avoid a hearing. I'm very surprised not to see Jim here."
The main problem was that the committee wanted to know who came up with the ads, who approved them and why they were used after a similar ad was objected to last year. Excell said the school ran an ad featuring football players pushing a student in a wheelchair with the caption listing academic and athletic accomplishments that year. Several principals objected to using athletes or athletic accomplishments to recruit students to attend the private school, which costs $6,700 per year for Catholics.
Excell said he discussed this with Hamburge and he agreed not to feature athletes in the school's ads again. This year's ad features "the sixth man," which is a group of students who attend games to support the Bulldog athletes. Several said they didn't know the students weren't athletes, as they were wearing what appeared to be basketball jerseys.
The exchange between McCarty and the committee was terse at first.
"You're here nit-picking points rather than answering questions as a common courtesy," said executive committee member Richard Durbin, who represents region 14. "That kind of offends me that we've taken that tack."
Lee apologized for offending anyone on the committee and assured them no ads like it would appear again. He said the reason he attended was that the diocese oversees three schools, not just Judge, and this way, they could be sure to deal with the problem for all of the schools at once.
"We will be talking to all of them about content," Lee said. "We don't want a matter like this coming forward. . . . We don't want to skirt the rules."
Hamburge's previous commitment to Excell was not to use athletes in ads, and they didn't use athletes. The problem may have been one of perception in that some thought the students in the ads were actual players, and then there were several references to athletic accomplishments along with the caption, "Join our team."
Lee and McCarty said they felt their commitment to steer clear of using athletics to advertise the school ended the matter. The executive committee, however, said it is not settled.
They voted unanimously after the discussion to send a letter to Hamburge asking him why he didn't attend and help them clear up the issue.
The committee "determined to write a letter to Judge asking why they failed to cooperate by not having someone here who could answer questions. . . .The issue is the members of the association have an obligation to cooperate with us in determining whether or not there are violations."