Santa Monica High School boys varsity baseball coach Kurt Schwengel was fired in Mid-June after two winning seasons. Schwengel, 48-15, had won two Ocean League Coach of the Year awards and never lost a league game at Samohi. He was a CIF All Star Game coach this year.
Coach Schwengel was well loved and highly respected by his players, his coaching staff and most Samohi baseball parents.
You’d think school officials at the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) would be praising Schwengel. Instead, they fired him at the end of the school year. So, what’s going on?
A new athletic policy was implemented at the close of the last school year, “to better support our baseball players and create amore efficient and effective coordination of services for our baseball program we are moving to having school-based head and assistant coaches,” according to Elias Miles, Principal of Samohi’s “M” House and in charge of athletics.
Even though Schwengel teaches at Franklin Elementary School, he was still booted. Within days of Schwengel’s termination, Loren Drake was named new head baseball coach. Drake had just joined Samohi’s faculty as a biology instructor.
Previously, he was an administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
My research shows that Drake was an assistant coach for the last few games of Samohi’s freshman baseball season – before he became a Samohi faculty member. A one year head coach stint at Fairfax High in 2004 where he had a 9-14 record and coaching Little League seems to round out his coaching career.
The new policy is nonsense. The SMMUSD would be better off hiring the best coach for the sport and the best teacher for the classroom rather than some “Joe” to do double-duty!
Miles has a bigger problem. The football, lacrosse, golf and (newly hired) cheerleading and soccer coaches are not on Samohi’s faculty.
They’re still around, so it looks like his new policy was designed for one reason: to eliminate a specific, highly successful coach and replace him with a friend.
I had questions, so I emailed Miles, Samohi Principal Eva Mayoral and SMMUSD Superintendent Sandra Lyon.
Lyon responded. Miles and Mayoral did not.
Lyon emailed: “Mr. Drake is a new, fulltime biology teacher and he has 15 years of youth coaching experience, including five years as head varsity coach and five years as head JV coach.”
If Lyon is correct, Drake’s high school experience was probably decades ago, but I think she’s been misinformed – just like after a classroom scuffle last April involving wrestling coach/teacher Matt Black and an alleged student drug dealer.
I’ve also learned that Drake’s employment ignored a process that involves a call for applications, pre-employment screenings and interviews required of other coaches and athletic staff when they were hired.
Makes me wonder what short cuts and favors were deployed for Drake’s teaching appointment.
It’s painfully obvious that shenanigans were in full play. I think Drake’s appointment was “out of policy” and engineered/aided by Miles with the complicity of new Samohi Principal Eva Mayoral – who is very close friends with Drake’s wife. Nevertheless, Lyon stands firm: “I can assure you that the process engaged in was not in violation of any district personnel practice.”
I heard from many sources that Drake had complained to anyone who would listen about his just graduated son’s lack of playing time. Lyon emailed, “Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Drake complained to them about their son’s playing time.”
Really? By the way, Drake will be coaching another son next season, which is always a bad idea.
The real victims in this charade are the team members. What does all this hankpanky tell them? Work hard, do well and you’ll get screwed? Yep.
Most of these kids are outstanding athletes and good scholars with high grade point averages. I’ve heard from parents and Tony Todd, an alumni and former assistant baseball coach who resigned after Schwengel’s firing, that some of Schwengel’s 29 team members are considering transferring to Crossroads, Harvard-Westlake and elsewhere.
However, Superintendent Lyon disagrees. “To my knowledge, no students are leaving as a result of this decision.”
I guess we’ll know how many baseball players are still aboard the Viking boat when classes start.
Todd was a valued assistant coach and mentor in addition to being an actor on “Anger Management.” He had personally raised well over a hundred thousand dollars for Samohi’s athletic programs over the last couple of years – including $30,000 in baseball gear donated by Charlie Sheen. That’s over now, too.
Throughout the controversy, Schwengel has proven to be a class act. “Let’s all throw our full support behind Coach Loren and Samohi baseball,” he emailed supporters after his firing. “Go Vikings and don’t forget, ‘swing hard in case you hit it!’”
The usual complaining parents may have had a hand in this too, but Coach Schwengel was essentially the victim of a clumsy conspiracy perpetrated by school administrators.
In firing Schwengal, Miles blew a golden opportunity to build a top ranked baseball program that has suffered from a frequent turnover in head coaches by hiring another coach – and one with a questionable coaching history.
This is cronyism at its worst. Schwengel, his team and the entire Samohi athletic program have been sullied by political gameplaying and mutual back-scratching.
Those individuals who pulled strings and bent the rules and others who aided and abetted this shabby affair should all be censured – if not outright fired.
This column is dedicated to the late Daniel Archuleta who assisted in its preparation.
BILL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org