I knew that last week’s column on what seemed to be the politically motivated firing of Santa Monica High School Boys baseball coach, Kurt Schwengel would raise a ruckus. My Gmail box was filled with “attaboys” as well as “you missed the real reason he was fired.”
Recapping: There was an incident May 27 during the first round CIF Southern Section (CIF-SS), Division Three baseball playoffs leading to an Ocean League Championship. After arriving at the ball field, Samohi coaches noticed that their opponent (Peninsula High School) was engaging in batting practice before the game started.
One coach shot video of the practice. Before the playoff game began, Coach Schwengel filed a complaint with the umpire who then reported it to CIF-SS offices. Therefore, rumors that Schwengel complained after losing 7 to 2 to Peninsula are lies.
The complaint was based on a CIF-SS Bluebook Bylaw that states: “Teams entered in the baseball playoffs will not be permitted to take batting practice on the day of a playoff game prior to the commencement of the contest. Batting practice will be construed as ANY type of pitching motion with ANY type of ball (including a wiffle ball) from in front of the batter (including pitching machines and overhand throwing).”
The day after the playoff game, Peninsula forfeited the game. If Coach Schwengel had not reported the violation before play commenced, his protest would not have been considered because that’s the way the CIF rules work.
For example, in the Redondo Beach versus Bonita game, someone from Bonita shot video of Redondo taking batting practice but failed to report it until after the game was played – and their complaint was ignored.
Peninsula’s coach John Hangartner admitted they “weren’t trying to cheat, we didn’t know the rule.” In light of Duarte winning a similar protest in 2011 after a loss to Alhambra and Shadow Hills softball being forced to forfeit a game for the same infraction in 2013, Hangartner has no excuse for ignorance of CIF rules.
“The rule’s spirit is to create competitive equity in the playoffs, when visiting teams have to travel long distances and might not have time to take batting practice,” according to the CIF.
Ramping up the controversy – Keith Olberman, whose sports talker airs on ESPN2, singled out Schwengel as the “World’s worst sports person of the day” on his May 31 broadcast. A Samohi parent emailed me and suggested that Schwengel’s unsportsmanlike conduct and Olberman’s segment may have contributed to his termination.
My regular readers know that Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District administrators love “gag orders.” Of course, they issued a gag order directing Schwengel not to discuss the situation. This was a big mistake because it gave Peninsula carte blanche to spin their version of the occurrence.
With Peninsula controlling the story, the facts and time line were muddled and Schwengel was portrayed as the “silent” bad guy, unsportsmanlike and for not playing fair.
Incredibly, Samohi administrators didn’t even allow Schwengel to talk to parents involved with the program. So, parents, the media and the public heard nothing but misinformation, thanks to Samohi’s inept handling of the incident. The baseball team and its coaches were hung out to dry and vilified.
Instead of standing up for their baseball program and Schwengel, incompetent administrators created a public relations disaster. After implementing a gag order, they completely ignored the facts and then issued a press release suggesting that the umpire “failed to act” which made Schwengel look even more like a villain.
A reader emailed me that Schwengel was a sore loser – for reporting that a competing coach was blatantly cheating? Schwengel filed the protest before the players took the field to play. How can that be construed as a “poor loser” unless you’ve only been subject to Samohi’s inability to manage the story and disclose facts and/or Peninsula’s own self-serving propaganda?
Olberman’s rant falsely blamed Schwengel for Peninsula’s forfeit. He also ridiculed the many dumb rules and technicalities that have taken the fun out of scholastic sports. The bottom line is that the CIF overturned the game results due to an egregious violation of its rules by the other team.
Coach Schwengel did nothing wrong. Would it have been better for him to remain silent and allow a confessed cheater to win? What’s the lesson in that? Coach Hangartner cheated and paid the price – forfeiting a game and a possible championship. Our school district administrative bunglers ignored that point, maybe deliberately.
It still appears that political agenda and outright cronyism were the reasons why Schwengel was booted. The handling of this incident is on such a gross level of incompetence that it now appears, more than ever, this was part of a clumsy conspiracy to get rid of Schwengel and replace him with a friend.
Tonight, Residocrcy.org is holding the first public forum of the political season at the Santa Monica Main Library auditorium at 6 p.m. Political junkies will have a chance to hear from all the candidates running for City Council. This will be an excellent opportunity to preview the candidates and issues in this year’s municipal elections.
The Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) Annual Convention is next Sunday, Aug. 3, 12:45 p.m at John Adams Middle School. Members of the powerful political organization will vote to endorse candidates for City Council, Rent Control Board, Board of Education, College Board of Trustees and local ballot measures.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.