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If Phoenix Christian administrators wanted to send a message, they did. And it’s a weak one. It’s one that doesn’t hold an adult employee accountable for inexcusable behavior.

Everyone who has seen the video knows what happened. The facts of the incident are not in dispute. Phoenix Christian girls basketball coach Tara Poovey “hip-checked” a Fort Thomas player during a game Jan. 2.

In a column earlier this month, I called for Poovey to be fired as coach. What did Phoenix Christian do? The school suspended her for a mere three games. It ordered her to undergo corrective actions.

According to an azcentral.com story, that included issuing a “verbal apology” to Fort Thomas coach Lee Haws and administrators, which was “forwarded” to the player she hit, Jordan Juan.

Poovey reportedly completed an “educational course on conduct” as well.

Those are laughable punishments for a grown woman who knows better. Corrective action like this is something more suitable for a high school student.

Poovey is an adult. She’s an adult in a position of authority. The Phoenix Christian school website lists her as an administrative assistant, the middle school athletic director and middle school girls basketball coach.

Athletic director? Talk about asinine. In what world is this sort of behavior acceptable for not just a coach but an athletic director? She should be held to a much higher standard with those job titles.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again — this is a zero tolerance incident. She used physical force against a high school student athlete. And that athlete plays for a different school.

Phoenix Christian is a school that professes to be about Christian values. That makes this all the more absurd. A minor slap on the wrist and go back to coaching kids and teaching them life lessons. Nothing to see here.

Shame on Phoenix Christian athletic director Keith Baker for such a toothless punishment. He could have done the right thing. He could have set a good example. He failed.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association cannot punish coaches. However, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, it handed down its own punishment against the girls basketball team. The AIA placed the program on probation, effective immediately. That means no postseason for the Cougars.

But wait, there’s a catch. The AIA executive board is willing to reduce that punishment to a warning if Phoenix Christian can demonstrate that it has performed the aforementioned “corrective actions” with Poovey.

While it sucks that the kids have to be punished for something stupid done by their coach, the AIA also has an example to set. The only weapon in its arsenal is probation. So here’s an idea: If you issue probation in this case, stick to it. Don’t play tough cop and then let the school off with a warning.

Of course, the AIA acts like it is still enforcing appropriate discipline.

“We take any coach-involved situation very seriously. In this day and age of, good sportsmanship is above reproach,” AIA executive director David Hines said in a statement. “When something like this happens it is a big concern for us. The AIA Executive Board and association staff will look for appropriate consequences when working with the school on a resolution.

“Staff can make suggestions to the school, referring to past history of similar instances or simply determining what would merit an appropriate response case by case. In the end the school has to make proper decisions, and the Board will determine if that is sufficient to remove the probation.”

To make things worse, the timing of when this will unfold is terrible. The AIA executive board won’t make a decision on the matter until its next regularly scheduled monthly board meeting Feb. 18.

The play-in round of the 2A state playoffs begins Feb. 18. That means the potential opponent for Phoenix Christian has to prepare for two teams.

Based on the bracket seeding, there will be a team that opponent is supposed to play if the Phoenix Christian probation is upheld. At the same time, if the probation is reduced to a warning, that team may have to play Phoenix Christian. And it won’t know until just a few hours before that game tips off.

And that doesn’t even take into account a team that would otherwise qualify for the state playoffs that will lose its spot if Phoenix Christian is reinstated.

As of Wednesday, Phoenix Christian was No. 16 in the 2A power rankings.

This comes on the heels of last year’s girls basketball tournament, when the AIA fell flat on its face in an embarrassing debacle with how it handled punishment of Tucson Sabino. That threw the entire 3A state playoffs into chaos.

But Phoenix Christian is not the AIA. It could have handled this appropriately by firing Poovey. It could have shown the image it wants to project as a Christian school is more important than retaining someone who lost the privilege to coach kids.

So much for that. Phoenix Christian blew it.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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