Watching the Danny Rennels situation unfold over these past few months has been difficult.
You know the story: the executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association was fired earlier this year when an investigation determined that he’d been embezzling funds. The man who’d been put in charge of overseeing high school sports in our state was taking money from the very kids, coaches, teams and schools that he was supposed to be helping and representing.
It was a sad deal. Every time I heard the sum that Rennels was reported to have taken — more than $100,000 — I just shook my head.
But now, my sadness has turned to madness.
Monday, Rennels was charged with embezzling $457,000 from the OSSAA.
To put it in starker terms, he stole almost half a million dollars.
It’s an unbelievable amount. How could this man who championed high school sports, who liked to talk about what was right and good have been skimming thousands upon thousands of dollars at the same time? How could he have been taking checks from sponsors and payments from contractors and using them to pay for what appears to be an expensive internet gambling habit?
How could he?
It is the ultimate betrayal of trust.
I remember talking to Rennels in late 2005. That was when the Tucker Brown case had everyone talking. The Shawnee quarterback had been ejected late in a playoff game for fighting, which carries a two-game suspension. That meant he wasn’t going to be able to play Shawnee’s next game, and after much haranguing and many delays, the case ended up in court.
I went to Rennels’ office at the OSSAA to talk about the brouhaha. His association, in many ways, had become the evil empire in the disagreement.
Rennels told me a little about his small-town, hard-scrabble upbringing, which had instilled his sense of right and wrong.
“It’s not, I don’t think, that I’m hard headed,” he told me that day. “It’s that I think there are some lines, and those lines, when defined and when you understand them, have to be followed.”
That, Rennels said, is why he decided the OSSAA needed to take the case to court.
“The rules are what they are,” he said. “This rule’s not mine. Our schools wanted it. We very simply attempt to enforce the rules that our schools have placed upon themselves.
“I guess I am … a rule-follower.”
According to court documents, Rennels had started embezzling money from the OSSAA about three months earlier.
I know that I should probably focus on what good can come out of this situation, that the OSSAA will likely do a better job of keeping track of its funds, that the organization’s oversight is sure to improve, that it will also get back all of the money that Rennels took. But those positive emotions will have to wait.
Right now, I’m angry, and I suspect plenty of other folks are, too.