MADISON, Wis. - The former athletics director at Madison West High School has been accused of discrimination and assault by two former coaches, who are African-American.
J.C. Dawkins, who coached the football team for the last two seasons before his contract was not renewed, and Tommy Smith, who coached the freshman boys basketball team before he was dismissed, have hired a lawyer to communicate on their behalf with the Madison Metropolitan School District.
They allege Sandy Botham, whose departure from West High School was announced last week, targeted them because they are black.
"The last thing I want to do in this whole thing is come off as the angry, spiteful black man that's throwing the race card out there," said Dawkins, who lost his job one season after winning Conference Coach of the Year honors. He and his staff of four African-American coaches, all with University of Wisconsin playing experience and college degrees, were let go after the 2016 season. "I think people saw the color of our skin and stopped their investigation into who we were as men and what we could bring to this program. I think she did, too. I think she did."
He said his former players, who are African-American, felt targeted by Botham, and one was called "a thug" in front of a group of his peers.
"If that's appropriate behavior for an administrator at a high school, then I guess I'm the one that's off base," Dawkins said.
While Dawkins asserts Botham constructed roadblocks to make his job harder and constantly chose to believe white parents who complained over black parents who did not, Smith's problem with Botham stems from a Feb. 25 game where she initiated a physical altercation with her coach. He filed a complaint with the Madison Police Department afterward.
"She grabbed me, and it was like this rage, and she pushed me across the floor," said Smith, who acknowledged arguing with Botham about the behavior of a scorekeeper before the altercation. "Sandy Botham pushed me across the floor in front of at least 30 people."
In the police report, Botham told West High School Principal Beth Thompson that she "placed her hand on Smith's back to try and walk him off the court and away from the players."
An internal Madison Metropolitan School District investigation led to the recommendation of mediation between the two individuals. The district missed two self-stated deadlines to set that up. Smith's lawyer, Stan Davis, said Thompson called Smith to set it up the day after she'd been informed News 3 was looking into what happened.
Efforts to reach Botham were unsuccessful. Rachel Strauch-Nelson, a school district spokeswoman, issued a statement to News 3 that its top priority is to ensure that students are "well-supported and have a positive experience."
"While we cannot comment on details of personnel situations, I can tell you that the district has conducted its own investigation of those issues and has taken appropriate follow-up steps," Strauch-Nelson wrote in an email to News 3.
She would not explain what those follow-up steps are nor would she comment on why Botham is no longer athletic director.
An open records request of the district produced a series of emails from Alex Fralin, who oversees the high schools for the district, that appear to question why Dawkins was dismissed.
In one note to Botham and Thompson, he wrote he was "concerned about the path of documentation leading to (Dawkins') actual termination."
Another email specifically pointed out there was "no evidence (Dawkins) was told if he does not improve, he would be terminated." It also states there wasn't "even one letter/email (telling) him he's not meeting (the district's) standard" for his position.
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