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Were big money donors behind tiny school's hoops firing?

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Gilbert Christian (Ariz.) High School is a small school, but it has a sizable state-wide pedigree, thanks in part to athletic success within Arizona's smallest high school sports classification. A big part of those accomplishments in recent years have come from the school's boys basketball team, which captured the Class 1A state title with a perfect 32-0 record and was favored to repeat the feat this year.

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All that success has come under coach Steve Currier, which makes the decision to line him up in a meeting which was determined to fire him on Tuesday all the more confusing, and nearly surreal.

Now Currier is telling anyone who will listen that he was given the boot because a notable donor whose son is on the team doesn't like his system of play. According to the East Valley Tribune and Arizona Republic, Currier was brought in for an impromptu meeting with Gilbert Christian superintendent Jim Desmarchais, three school board members and the donor in question on Tuesday night. While there was no clear evidence of any violation on Currier's part, he was dismissed as coach after seven seasons at the school at the conclusion of the meeting.

"The pressure was too great for the administration of the school and while they openly admitted that there was no evidence that would substantiate a warning, let alone, a terminable offense, they terminated me," Currier told the Tribune in an email. "I am saddened and disappointed by the decision of Gilbert Christian and find this to be a poor reflection on how conflicts should be resolved."

While the Knights weren't in the middle of a perfect season like 2010, the team was still off to another impressive start. Gilbert Christian is currently 13-3, though all three losses have come against much larger schools, two of which are in Oregon's largest 5A classification.

Currier's dismissal in the middle of a successful season may be disturbing in its own right, but the brazen influence of a wealthy donor in the process -- at least if what Currier reported is true -- is even more troubling. While Gilbert Christian has the right to act in whatever it deems its best interest, there has never been a place for the big money, big influence donors that dominate college sports at the high school level. The fact that such a culture would manifest itself at a tiny, Class 1A school in Arizona is jolting.

If observers from the outside are surprised, Currier and his former high school charges are positively shocked.

"It's tough, but at least it's at a good time before state where we can get adjusted to a new coach," junior Connor Patterson said Tuesday night. "We have time to jell with [newly promoted assistant coach Justin Allen]."

Currier, meanwhile, will be forced to watch the team he molded from the sideline, perilously close to the man he openly considers responsible for his ouster.

"I want to thank every player that has been in the program, all the loyal fans, especially my wife and sons, and most of all God for allowing me to coach," Currier wrote. "I will miss the relationship with this year's team and all of the assistant coaches and wish them the very best. It is my hope that there will be another opportunity to stay in basketball in the future."
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