Timpview controversies spawned by turf envy, ex-principal says

George Bayles defends self, suspended football coach

Published: Thursday, March 15 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Timpview High School head football coach Louis Wong and offensive coordinator Chad VanOrden with five championship trophies August 12, 2010.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

PROVO — The former principal of Timpview High School defended football coach Louis Wong Thursday against many of the allegations that led to the coach's suspension this week.

George Bayles admitted that "money was not my strong suit as an administrator," but insisted he never took improper reimbursements as an audit suggested and said he, Wong and others at the school followed policies as they understood them.

But Bayles also said he believes the financial controversy at the Provo school began over feelings of jealousy.

"I think this all started over the football field," Bayles said, referring to an expensive new artificial turf field installed at Timpview in the summer of 2006 that was paid for by boosters.

Such feelings intensified when Wong raised money for and built a football center, a building adjacent to the high school's stadium that houses the coaches' offices and a place to watch the games. Then last year, came the construction of a controversial and state-of-the-art weight room at Timpview.

Bayles said some Provo parents complained to the district that it was unfair that Timpview was the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by Wong. Instead, some suggested the donated money should be shared with Provo High as well as other schools in the district.

"I think the weight room was probably just the last straw," Bayles said. "But the patrons of Provo got the ear of the superintendent. That's what's behind this whole thing — the fact that our boosters raised so much money. They put (Provo School District Superintendent Randall Merrill) in a corner, and rather than just stand there and say, 'Timpview has done this on their own,' he looked for reasons why we shouldn't or what we'd done wrong."

Bayles said Merrill questioned them, even though the superintendent had approved the project by email. But Merrill told the Deseret News in January that Timpview had built the weight room without district involvement.

Merrill said the district knew that supporters wanted to donate money for the weight room. But the district didn't know the school went ahead and began construction. "When we found out that they were getting ready to (build), I called them up and said, 'You just can't start building a building on our property without approval process,'" Merrill said.

That began a discussion with Wong and Bayles about how large donations were handled and the fact that the district didn't have policies and procedures to accept them.

"There was no process to donate because no one has ever donated this extraordinarily generous gift," Merrill said, referring to the weight room.

The controversy that arose from that caused Merrill to request a state audit of the activities funds at both high schools. That led, in part, to Merrill resigning in January.

After the audit was finished, the Provo School District conducted a more in-depth investigation of Timpview's football program. Wong, a four-time state champion coach at Timpview, was suspended without pay Tuesday and may be fired in 30 days.

While no Provo School District officials or school board members will comment on the firing, the coach's dismissal came after a state audit and subsequent district probe alleged a number of questionable financial transactions.

Such allegations include: charging personal car repairs to the school; failure to run background checks on some assistant coaches; failure to secure pre-authorization for travel; questionable reimbursement for personal expenses, meals and gifts when working for an outside agency; inconsistent and inadequate receipts and records; as well as soliciting and accepting personal compensation from a clothing company.