SMMUSD HDQRTRS — “Baseball has always been a reflection of life,” Hall of Famer Willie Stargell once said. “Like life, it adjusts.”
Some fans of the Santa Monica High School baseball team are sick of adjusting.
Parents, students, and former players showed up at last week’s Board of Education meeting to express their frustration with a decision to replace Coach Kurt Schwengel, who held a 48-15 record during his two-season run.
When the decision was made back in June, administrators told parents they were moving toward a policy that would require Samohi head and assistant coaches to teach at the school.
Schwengel is a kindergarten teacher at Franklin Elementary School, however football coach Travis Clark and other current coaches are not teachers at the high school.
Not mentioned was that fact that Schwengel had protested a playoff loss, noting that the opposing team took illegal Wiffle ball practice prior to the game. The outcome was overturned and Samohi advanced to the next round of the playoffs, drawing some ire from high school baseball fans and leading ESPN’s Keith Olbermann to label Schwengel “The World’s Worst Person in Sports.” (A title that Olbermann recycles every week).
“Personnel, all those decisions are confidential, so we really do not reveal that to public,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon said at last week’s meeting in response to questions about Schwengel’s removal.
Rudy Tapia, whose son played on the team, asked the board to reinstate Schwengel. He also asked that the process through which coaches are hired and fired be explained to parents. Lyon said the district would do that.
Johnny Greene, whose son also played under Schwengel, said there’s a larger issue of instability present in the baseball program and it has driven talent away.
“In the last six years now we’ve had three different head coaches,” he said. “We’ve had several different athletic administrators. It’s become a huge embarrassment for people who want to bring their people to Santa Monica High in order to play a sport. They don’t know if there’s any stability.”
Gripes about playing time have taken center stage, Greene said, forcing coaches to focus on politics over winning.
“The pressures that these coaches, and the pressures that are happening to the administrators ahead of them is way bigger than anybody can imagine,” Greene said. “I don’t know what to do but it should be a pride that we have so many athletes in this particular sport.”
Joe Casillas said that he’s opted to send his son to a private school because he doesn’t trust Samohi’s current athletic program.
“Him and his friends were thinking about coming back to Samohi and playing baseball for the program but due to what happened with the coach we chose not to go this route anymore,” he told the board.
Alex Gironda, who threw a no-hitter in the playoffs and graduated this year, said he was frustrated by the decision.
“It’s about stability in the program,” he said. “It’s crazy. I’ve had two head coaches. Completely different coaching styles. It kicks away talent from Santa Monica when different coaches are coming.”
Because the issue was not agendized — speakers showed up for the general public comment portion of the meeting — state law barred board members and administrators from responding at length.
Boardmember Oscar de la Torre asked that district staff return with report on the vision for athletics at the high school.
Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association spokesperson Sarah Braff noted that they too had some concerns about transparency regarding high school coaches and asked that more information be provided.
Science teacher Loren Drake has been named to replace Schwengel.
For his part, Schwengel has not publicly protested the decision — he was not present at the board meeting — and has wished Drake well.