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Former Major Leaguer Says Coach’s Firing Could Hurt School District’s Bottom Line

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 5, 2014 -- The chorus of dissent following the dismissal of a successful and popular Santa Monica High School baseball coach continued at last week’s Board of Education meeting.

Tim Leary, a Samohi graduate who pitched for 15 seasons in Major League Baseball, was among those who spoke against Kurt Schwengel being replaced after two seasons.

Leary said it was the wrong action because this continued a recent pattern of head baseball coaches losing their position after a brief tenure. The school has had three head baseball coaches in the past six years.

Also, Leary said Samohi should be more delicate with a team that could inspire people to donate to the school district. He said wealthy professional athletes with connections to Samohi would be weary of giving money because of the situation.

“You’re really shooting yourself in the foot by firing coaches of sports where people can make money,” Leary said.

Schwengel was replaced in June after leading the Vikings to a 48-15 record over two seasons. A message from House Principal Elias Miles to players and parents said the school was moving toward a policy of having on-campus faculty members as coaches.

The new coach is Samohi science teacher Loren Drake. Schwengel teaches kindergarten at Franklin Elementary and is not part of the Samohi faculty.

Many people have been publicly suspicious about whether the official reason for Schwengel’s dismissal is the actual reason, especially since other head coaches at Samohi do not teach there.

It has been alleged Schwengel was fired because he successfully forced an opposing team to forfeit a playoff game after it had held illegal batting practice with Wiffle balls prior to the contest.

This forfeit story was picked up nationally and ESPN television personality Keith Olbermann named Schwengel “The World’s Worst Person in Sports.”

Leary told the school board, “If the reason [for the dismissal] was because of Keith Olbermann; he had all his facts wrong and should have been sued anyway.”

District officials have said little about why Schwengel was released. At a meeting in early August when several players, parents and alumni brought their grievances to the board, Superintendent Sandra Lyon said she could not discuss the dismissal because personnel decisions are confidential.

Erin Inatsugu, who has two sons in the school’s baseball program, said last week she respected district officials’ inability to talk about personnel decisions, but she and other parents were frustrated about the situation.

“For my sons and the students who make up the Samohi baseball program to have to witness their coach being dismissed after just two years even though he had a huge winning record is confusing for me to understand,” she said. “How can I explain it to them?”

Inatsugu added, “The perception that our program is not a place for student athletes who are serious about their sports teams … is out there.”

Since this issue was not on the agenda, school board members were prohibited by State law from responding to the speakers. However, Board member Oscar de la Torre asked district human resources head Debra Moore Washington several questions about policies for coaches.

“There are different practices that schools use for hiring,” Washington said.

She told de la Torre she would provide a report with more information on specific aspects.

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