Football player kicked out of athletic program after being critical of team in school-assigned essay

State & Regional

ANSON, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A parent of a junior at Anson High School is unhappy after his son was kicked out of the athletic program for voicing his opinions about the football season in an essay assigned to him in class.

Anson high junior Tony Soliz was given a prompt in English class on Monday November 15: “Write about something you expected to happen but didn’t.” Tony, being a linebacker for the Anson Tigers, chose to write about his team and how he expected them to do better this season than they did.

Much like the assignment that prompted the essay, Tony did not expect the outcome his submission would bring.

“He wrote that assignment to the best of his ability and then it was taken from that teacher elsewhere. I believe it should have stayed between the teacher and student,” says Tony’s father, Jason Soliz.

Essay written by Tony and partner

The paper was critical of decisions that were made that year by coaching staff, though it was never profane. Nevertheless, the essay, or at least word of it, made its way out of Tony’s English class and to head coach Chris Hagler.

Jason was called and informed that his son would be taken out of the athletic program in response to the essay. That Tuesday Tony was called into coach Hagler’s office.

“He asked me if I had been writing about the team. I told him I had. He was telling me that was wrong of me, telling me that I was violating the athletic rules,” Tony says.

Jason voiced concern over the coach’s censoring of his student, especially since no prior warning or meeting had come before his son’s dismissal, stating that a person with Hagler’s position and power should not act as he did.

Letter from Coach Hagler to Tony’s parents

Jason and Hagler met to discuss his actions after Tony had already been dismissed.

“He said what Tony wrote was slander, that he cannot write about the team. I asked him, ‘Are you telling me your players aren’t allowed to have opinion?’ He said, ‘That’s correct,'” Jason says.

Anson athletes do sign a code of conduct in order to compete, though a school assignment for a separate class does not seem to violate any part of the code.

Abilene lawyer Sam Mehaffey of Mehaffey & Watson Law firm reviewed the documents and facts of the case and stated in part:

It’s important for parents, students, and school employees to include coaches, to understand that students don’t shed their 1st Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate regardless of whether or not their speech is uncomfortable or unpleasant…Schools may only restrict speech for legitimate educational purposes. This includes to preventing  disruption, and preventing a culture of incivility. Here, the fact that this was a writing assignment is significant. If the student simply turned in a paper to be viewed only by the teacher in the normal course of business, then the school will have a hard time justifying any sort of punishment. It’s always unconstitutional to punish a child for his or her opinion.

Abilene lawyer Sam Mehaffey

Tony will be heading into his senior year at Anson in 2022, and says he’d like to play football, but would rather not be on coach Hagler’s team.

“Maybe I’ll join the program again, but if he stays, I probably won’t be joining back,” Tony says.

As stated in the letter from Hagler, Tony is not currently eligible for the athletic program unless they can negotiate his return.

“We’ll see where it goes from here. Hopefully the school will take care of it, and if not, then we’re going to take this a step further. Whatever we have to do to make this happen,” says Jason.

When asked for a statement, Anson ISD said they do not comment on disciplinary actions involving students.

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