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Haskell coach barred from team for 5 months, then fired after requesting administrative hearing

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Article updated to add documents at 9:40, 10:03 p.m. Friday, May 13:

Haskell cross-country coach Clay Mayes has been unable to lead practices for five months, he said, pending an investigation into complaints made by a few students.

Haskell Indian Nations University ordered Mayes to cease contact with student-athletes in November, providing no explanation of why, he said. His contract was frozen and the university stopped paying him in February — for failure to complete his job duties, due to the no-contact order, Mayes said. 

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And in mid-April — just days after his lawyer requested an administrative hearing — Mayes’ contract with the university was terminated.

Mayes now seeks to have his contract reinstated so he can continue to build Haskell’s cross-country program and fulfill the promises he made to his runners. 

Mayes was hired as Haskell’s head cross-country coach in summer of 2021. He, his wife, and their 3- and 4-year-old adopted children uprooted their lives in Lancaster, California, to move to Lawrence. 

Contributed Photo Clay Mayes, right, with wife Melena Mayes

Mayes brought an impressive résumé. During his time at Bacone College from 2014-2018, he coached a five-time NAIA national title winner, and in his first year at the University of Antelope Valley, his men’s team came in 10th at the 2019 championship — the school’s first appearance at nationals. 

Mayes planned to bring this success to Haskell. He heavily recruited runners, claiming more than 40 house visits and 20 verbal and written commitments that included runners from Mayes’ previous colleges.

“I was hired by Haskell to bring the country’s top Native talent to Haskell,” Mayes said. “… As I have been told by many of Haskell’s legends, former athletes, and former coaches, it’s time to see Haskell compete at the National level.” 

Previous runners for the program said that during Mayes’ first season at Haskell, a group of student athletes who had run under previous coach Al Gipp and volunteer coach Judith Gipp met at the home of Aja McCormick, a Haskell Athletics staff member, to organize complaints against the new coach. 

Mayes said he became aware of that when a runner sent him photos of notes taken during these “secret meetings.” The notes listed accusations that included “bullying,” “lack of communication,” “making fake promises,” and “student athletes fighting to be his favorite.” 

Athletes’ names are redacted from those notes in the document below:

Notes_Redacted

McCormick declined to comment for this article. Al Gipp said he would talk to his supervisor, then did not respond further. Judith Gipp directed questions to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which did not respond to an email seeking comment for this article. 

In late October, Mayes brought these meetings to the attention of Gary Tanner, acting athletic director at the time.

Less than a week later, on Nov. 4, Mayes was issued a memo from Vice President of University Services Tonia Salvini stating that a complaint had been filed against him, that an investigation would occur, and he was “to have no contact with any eligible or ineligible members of the Haskell Cross Country Team.” 

Mayes said that if any investigation has occurred, he has not been interviewed to contest any allegations — allegations which, when he asks, have only been referred to as “practice hostility.”

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We reached out to some students who had made complaints to administrators and received a response from one, who said they believed the investigation was ongoing and that they could not comment for this article. 

Mayes has filed official complaints of workplace harassment alleging the creation of systemic false reports and hostile working conditions with McCormick and Judith Gipp. Judith Gipp was appointed athletic director in January and is the sister of Al Gipp, the previous cross-country coach. Mayes said he was interviewed once in December regarding one of the complaints he made, but he had never heard back from anyone about the other complaints, nor was he informed of any resolution. 

Mayes said his contract was frozen in February for failure to complete his job duties due to the no-contact order that Haskell had imposed. As a result, Mayes’ attorney, Ronald Schneider, sent a letter on Mayes’ behalf to reinstate his client’s payment and to assert Mayes’ due process rights requesting an administrative hearing. 

2022-04-15-Demand-Ltr.-to-Haskell-BIE-2

Haskell terminated Mayes’ contract the next business day, despite what Mayes believed was an ongoing investigation. The reason cited? “Termination for the Government’s convenience,“ according to an email Mayes received from an official with the Bureau of Indian Education. 

“The Government reserves the right to terminate this contract, or any part hereof, for its sole convenience,” the federal regulation states. 

“Haskell’s investigative practices have not only failed me, but they have failed my runners who trusted Haskell to give them a safe, positive, and consistent college experience,” Mayes said. He said they failed “student-athletes who sought role models, support, and administrators with their best interests at heart.” 

The no-contact order, which lasted five months before his contract was terminated, left Mayes unable to support his athletes, including those who followed him to Haskell from the previous schools where he coached. 

“I had a grandparent send me a text, ‘You said you’d be there for my kid. You haven’t been there whatsoever.’ That kind of cut me a little bit because it was true, and there was nothing I could do about it,” Mayes said.

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Several runners have attempted to engage Haskell’s administration to continue to run under Mayes. 

“Since last Fall, we have been told by multiple Haskell administrators there was an investigation launched due to reports from a sublet of returning runners discussing there was hostility at practices,” a group of 17 runners wrote in an April letter to then-Interim University President Tamarah Pfeiffer. “During the entire time Clay has coached us at Haskell, we have all whole-heartedly agreed there was no wrong doing of any kind. These sentiments are shared by almost all current and returning runners,” minus a select few, the letter stated. 

Student-athlete-letter

The letter went unanswered, and Mayes’ contract was terminated a week later.

Tanner, who retired as athletic director in December, also emailed Bureau of Indian Education officials on Mayes’ behalf. Mayes provided this message:

Tanner-email-1

“[It’s] just way too long for an investigation like that,” Tanner said. “In 36 years, nothing sticks out to me like this does.” 

“The biggest thing with me is to be transparent,” he continued. “Everything needs to be transparent, and the public needs to know what’s going on if they want support … He got hired, and if he hasn’t been proven wrong, let him do his job. He’s a good recruiter. He can build that program. I’ve seen it.”

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More coverage — Haskell administration:

Haskell coach barred from team for 5 months, then fired after requesting administrative hearing

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Haskell cross-country coach Clay Mayes has been unable to lead practices for five months, he said, pending an investigation into complaints made by a few students. Days after his lawyer made a formal request for an administrative hearing, Mayes’ contract with the university was terminated.

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