Out of bounds? When Palo Alto athletes and parents complain about coaches, Part 2


Editor's Note: On May 14, 2010 and May 21, 2010, the Palo Alto Weekly published an investigative series of articles pertaining to high school coaching in Palo Alto. Additional articles appeared only online.

Part 2 can be read by scrolling down on this page.

Part 1 and all the additional related stories and documents are listed below with links:

Out of bounds? Part 1: In the first half of this special report, published May 14, the Weekly described five recent coaching controversies at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools and explored attributes and examples of positive coaching.

Editorial: Reforming Palo Alto's high school sports

A confusing complaint process: An article about the confusing administrative maze facing athletes and parents when they seek to raise issues about a coach's behavior.

Tips for high school sports parents: Advice to parents of sports-team members from the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Who oversees high school athletics?: Athletic directors have big jobs managing teams and coaches, with little time and no extra pay.

Sports Boosters help fund athletics: How Palo Alto parent groups fund major athletic projects and team expenses.

Documents and complaints: Complaints submitted by parents, letters in support of coaches, e-mail exchanges with officials and responses of administrators related to baseball controversies at Paly and Gunn, softball at Gunn and girls' basketball and water polo at Paly.

PDF (2.7mb, 33 pages) of the entire series: Includes both part 1 and 2 as published in the Palo Alto Weekly, the editorial and all articles published only online

Out of bounds? When Palo Alto athletes and parents complain about coaches

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Palo Alto High baseball player Noah Sneider and his fellow senior teammates faced a problem in spring 2009: They were deeply troubled about the way their new coach, Donny Kadokawa, was managing the team.

While they respected the coach's vast baseball knowledge, they felt he was riding the players too hard and to bad effect (the team's record then was 0-9). They wanted to suggest more positive and less angry ways of communication.

Kadokawa initially refused to meet, shocking the seniors, Sneider recalled.

"As seniors, we felt a leadership responsibility to have a conversation with the coach about how to improve the team environment," Sneider said.

Many of the younger players did not agree with the seniors' views.

Parent Joe Rizza said of the rebuff: "Donny was building a program for the future. ... His attention was on the younger guys. The seniors were just so much baggage."

Assistant baseball coach Dick Held -- a retired FBI regional director, former Paly parent and assistant coach for girls' basketball and baseball for the past decade -- shuttled back and forth between players and Kadokawa to open up communication, Sneider said. Kadokawa ultimately called the whole team together.

"A fiery and uncomfortable discussion broke out" that upset the players, the "Viking Magazine," a Paly student publication, reported.

"The gist of his message was: 'Suck it up. Not everyone is going to be nice to you in life,'" Sneider said.

Kadokawa recalled the meeting in an interview with the Weekly: "The seniors felt it was their program, (that) they could do as they pleased."

He told them, "You either buy into the system or not; you can leave if you don't like it."

A few weeks later Steven Burk, the senior starting pitcher, left. Sneider later followed.

By that time "I couldn't even remember what I used to love about baseball," Sneider said.

At the end of the 2009 season, Kadokawa was told by Paly Athletic Director Earl Hansen that he would not be returning to Paly.

As the Weekly's months-long investigation of the athletic programs at Paly and Gunn High found, speaking up about a coach's behavior can be fraught with complications. The very act of raising issues deeply affects people on all sides of the problem -- players, coaches, teammates, parents and school administrators.

Emotions run the gamut. Players fear retaliation; coaches and their supporters grow defensive. Those involved in trying to address a complaint become frustrated with one another and make accusations about each others' motives. Anger spills over when issues are not resolved.

The importance placed on high school sports and the deep bonds formed through hours of practice lead people to quickly take sides and hold fast to fixed viewpoints, which exacerbates problems rather than leading to understanding and better relationships between players and coaches.

The investigation found that students and parents who are unable to resolve problems directly with a coach face the prospect of approaching administrators in a system with no clear or consistent guidelines or procedures for how complaints should be made or investigated. ==I (See separate story on the complaint process.)== In the past, that lack of transparency and unclear expectations added strain to an already stressful situation, parents have said. For example, parents who thought they had initiated a complaint by meeting with Paly officials later learned that the school would not take action unless the complaint was made in writing.

In spite of district policies requiring (1) that any written complaint receive a response within 10 days and (2) that copies of complaints and the school's response be provided to the coach in question, the Weekly found that Paly has repeatedly failed to do either.

The Weekly's examination of more than 600 pages of documents provided by the school district -- in response to a Public Records Act request for communications between parents and school officials about coaching concerns -- showed a qualitative difference in the written exchanges at the two high schools.

The documents, which covered the past two years, reveal that Gunn administrators generally responded more quickly and directly.

A greater volume of written complaints about coaching conduct were generated by Paly parents, as well as parent letters in support of coaches -- revealing strong, sometimes personal divisions.

The documents also reveal the enormous range of sports issues raised in addition to coach conduct -- including tryouts and cuts, length and frequency of practices, disputes involving referees, safety issues, whether fundraising events are compulsory, whether students must travel by team bus, tournament conflicts with holidays and Homecoming, fears of retaliation, problems in finding and retaining coaches, playing-time concerns, team management and communication issues.

They also show the diplomacy with which school officials have attempted to address specific concerns, especially in the controversial cases. Also, administrators walked a fine line, having to skirt personnel privacy issues while still addressing parental concerns, which required considerable communication skills.

Ultimately, the Weekly found that the schools' investigations into questionable coaching (whether based on complaints raised by parents or players or on direct administrator observations) resulted in various forms of discipline. School officials call their approach "progressive," ranging from the athletic director talking about specific problems with the coach to termination of the coach's employment.

"What we do depends on the level of severity," Gunn Principal Noreen Likins said. If a coach is warned and the problem continues, "We would make it very clear that if he crosses the line there will be this consequence, and then we have to follow through with consequences."

Paly Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson said the time allowed for compliance depends on the situation.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers emphasized the need for active progress: "The expectation would be that the athletic director and school administrators would actively move that coach toward the standards ... or else go back out and find a different coach."

Both schools, on a regular basis, have done exactly that, according to school officials.

The schools "have been willing to pull the trigger on coaches they think are not appropriate. ... (They) have a track record on doing that," Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

'Manning up'

Unlike the Paly senior baseball players, not all high school athletes with concerns about coach treatment decide to speak up. They report worrying that raising issues about their coach will lead to retaliation -- despite a state law that forbids it and official assurances that it does not happen. They fear their coach will give them less playing time, treat them poorly or provide unfavorable college recommendations. (Even those who have spoken up often felt these same fears but managed to overcome them, they said.)

Paly Athletic Director Hansen isn't sympathetic to hesitating students.

"Get over it!" he said. "We do not hire coaches who are mean, unforgiving people -- and if they are they don't last long."

Gunn High School Athletic Director Chris Horpel also expects athletes to talk to their coaches. Kids need to "man up" and deal directly with any problem, he said.

Members of the Paly boys' basketball team did just that when they decided to band together and speak up last December, after individuals' complaints about their coach the previous season had had little effect.

"I had players come to me last season, last summer, during spring practice," acknowledged Hansen, who said he retained basketball coach Andrew Slayton after addressing concerns with him and receiving his assurances.

According to three of the players, however, problems continued, culminating in a highly disputed player ranking in December that placed the previous season's starters near the bottom. Slayton declined to explain to the team his reasons. The players called a team meeting to air the issues, and Slayton invited Hansen to attend.

A group of players later met separately with Hansen.

"So what do you want to do?" Hansen asked those assembled in his office, according to player accounts.

"We want him fired," one player responded. Each player in turn confirmed his agreement out loud, at Hansen's request. It was unanimous.

Hansen fired Slayton and hired another coach. It was an unusual mid-season removal, only the second in Hansen's career, he said. (Slayton declined an interview with the Weekly but e-mailed: "While my interpretation of some of the events is different, I respect the fact that that is how some of the players perceived these events.")

Several players indicated that acting together as a team facilitated fast action. It also helped that it was students, not parents, gathered in Hansen's office.

"I will listen to kids before I listen to parents," Hansen emphatically told the Weekly.

Palo Alto parents may have a reputation as quick to complain, but the Weekly found that many agonize over whether to voice their concerns about a coach and, if so, how to do it. Like their children, parents worry that raising issues will have negative consequences both immediately and in the long run for the athletes and their younger siblings, according to those interviewed.

At Gunn, parents often wait until the end of the season before complaining, Principal Likins said.

"They are afraid of the repercussions or playing time being lost, so it is tricky," she said.

They also fear they'll be branded as one of the outspoken parents who second-guess coaching strategies or complain vociferously about more playing time for their child, according to many parents. ==I (See sidebar on tips for sports parents.) ==

"Cranky parents spoil it for the rest," former Palo Alto school board member Mandy Lowell said. "They give parents a bad name."

Overzealous parents aside, numerous parents say that school administrators can have deaf ears when it comes to even legitimate concerns -- a fact that discourages communication.

One Paly parent reported widespread frustration: "If you complain about anything, it's automatically presumed that you're griping about playing time -- that is, unless your kid is playing all the time, in which case you probably don't want to jeopardize that by complaining."

Baseball parent Greg Avis said he called and e-mailed Hansen multiple times during spring 2009 and never got a response.

"I finally gave up. It was useless," he said.

Criticism about Hansen's lack of responsiveness in his role as athletic director was echoed by many parents in Weekly interviews.

Hansen declined to comment on the criticism.

Superintendent Skelly, however, said the district's job is "to make sure the school has been responsive to a person's issue and that they've taken appropriate action to that, that they haven't shined it on, that they have taken it seriously, that they've been responsive to the issues there."

There are times when parents have met with administrators and had success.

Taylor Lovely, a Paly '09 grad and starter on the basketball team, said she and others on her team did not know how to go about approaching coach Scott Peters to discuss problems with "yelling, losing his temper, too much negativity."

So a group of concerned parents decided to meet with McEvoy. Lovely said she was nervous about this because she liked Peters and didn't want him to think she was going against him.

In the end, though, she said it was a "great relief" to have surfaced the concerns. Lovely felt Peters listened and took the concerns to heart.

"We saw improvements," she said. She credited the parent meeting with bringing about a healthier environment on the team.

Olivia Garcia, also a Paly '09 grad and basketball starter, likewise benefited from parental involvement. She complained to her father about Peters' yelling and swearing at her on the bench during a game (for showing "attitude," she said).

"I felt disrespected," she said. Her father arranged a meeting with himself, Olivia, Hansen and Peters, and they ironed it out, according to Olivia. After that, she said things were "better" with Peters. As the season continued, Garcia counted herself among Peters' supporters.

"I also realized after talking with my brothers (one had played basketball at Paly) that this was pretty standard coach behavior, and that I shouldn't take it so personally," she said.

Gunn parent Mary Perricone, the mother of four student athletes, also took direct action when her daughters' coach's conduct caused her serious concern five years ago. She complained first to the coach and then to Tom Jacoubowsky, then-athletic director (now assistant principal).

"Many people are bullied into silence, but I believe in standing up to bullies. Regardless of any defenses they might throw up at you -- that you're really concerned about playing time or whatever. The point is that their behavior is the issue and needs to be addressed," she said.

Meanwhile, Perricone took matters into her own hands. During a game when it appeared to her that the coach was "berating" her daughter, using swear words, she protested the treatment, pulled her daughters from the game and took them home. Soon after her daughters quit the team -- the only time her kids quit a team. The coach did not come back the next year, she said.

"The school responded well, although it took longer than it should have," she said.

Investigating complaints

The Weekly's investigation found that Gunn and Paly parents and athletes who decided to voice concerns were often unsure about what they could expect or whether administrators were following proper (or any) procedure.

According to district policy, any complaint that is made in writing will receive a response. Usually the author will be contacted and the school official will try to solve the problem. At Gunn, Likins said: "Typically we respond and usually very quickly. We might in fact invite the parent to come in."

Likins said such complaints should be shared with the coach.

Bowers agreed: "The expectation is that a written complaint will be shared with an employee and that any response to the complaint is also shared with the employee."

That expectation is not always met, however.

In the case of Paly girls' water-polo coach Cory Olcott, he said he was not shown any written complaints. Yet Paly received at least 22 letters from athletes and in some cases both parents (many anonymous) in fall 2008 containing strongly worded descriptions of Olcott's alleged treatment of players.

Most came from families who had banded together to discuss how best to raise their concerns, according to parents involved.

Olcott told the Weekly that, though he was not shown the complaints, he did discuss concerns raised with Hansen and Berkson, who was in charge of athletics at the time.

In spite of district policy, Hansen acknowledged he does not always show written complaints to his coaches.

"If every day I'm coming back and say, 'Look at this, look at what this person said about you' ... and you hear that all the time, why would you want to coach here?"

In one meeting with water-polo parents, Hansen promised he would administer anonymous feedback forms to the athletes at the end of the season, according to parent Joan Fiser (mother of player Silvia Maraboli and herself a teacher). To the dismay of some parents and players, this was not done, and became one impetus for parents appealing to higher-level school officials.

Investigations into coaching conduct at Paly and Gunn have ranged from informal to formal. Administrators say they often start by observing games and practices or talking casually with a few players or assistant coaches about how things are going.

"Observations are major," Hansen said.

Horpel agreed and said he is not noticed as he watches a game or practice, "like a fly on the wall." But others say it is hard for a school official to go unnoticed, making it difficult to observe problems first-hand.

A few investigations have occurred quickly. Likins suspended Gunn baseball coach Brian Kelly in spring 2009 within days of complaints over his behavior during a team meeting. His permanent removal soon followed.

Other fact-finding has been more formal and deliberate. Horpel said he conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Gunn's football program early in 2009, sending every football player a call slip to come to his office and fill out anonymous feedback forms while there. Horpel also sent e-mails to parents asking for feedback. After the evaluation was completed, head coach Matt McGinn resigned.

Horpel also relied on student-feedback forms, as well as a meeting with concerned parents, in deciding to replace Gunn's varsity softball coach after the 2009 season, according to e-mails between Horpel and parents.

Whether formal or informal, investigations are only as valuable as they are objective. To that end, the school district assumes its administrators will be neutral, according to Bowers.

"The expectation is that any time you are doing an investigation you are doing it in as fair-handed and unbiased way possible," Bowers said. "The goal is to get at the specifics and the truth of it, not to determine what the outcome is."

Yet numerous Paly parents and players interviewed said they believe school neutrality is often missing when coach conduct is questioned.

"Earl is a staunch defender of his coaches," one Paly sports parent said.

"It's all about whether Earl likes the coach," another parent said.

"The administration made clear who they were believing," Fiser said, referring to the water-polo complaints.

Regarding Olcott, Hansen told the Weekly: "He's the head of the English department at Woodside Priory. My next-door neighbor, the mother, works at Woodside Priory. (Her) two daughters had him in class and they loved him. We had the same from several of the other girls who were on the team who were definitely in this corner, and also I know the ones who had issues. So again, we have to go through with my experience, and understanding and knowing some of the kids."

Hansen said some parents who complained about Olcott were engaged in a "witch hunt."

Hansen also backs girls' basketball coach Peters: "We have a young coach that cares deeply for his kids; there is no question in my mind. He did above-and-beyond then, as he is now. ... Sometimes a coach will be overzealous, but the genuine feelings that he has for his players comes out. ... I'm behind him 100 percent, because I know that's a fact.

"Hiring him was a piece of cake because I watched him for several years. He worked in our camps. I watched him dealing with kids of all ages, and they love him. He's like the Pied Piper."

Former Paly parent Renate Steiner agrees, based on her middle school daughter's several years of experience with Peters on youth teams and camps. "Scott is a major inspiration," she said, "He is so patient, so delightful. It boggles my mind how people can have problems with him."

Hansen questioned the motives of parents complaining about Peters' conduct in a February 2009 e-mail to Principal Jacqueline McEvoy: "This whole thing (new parent complaint about swearing) is about playing time and really nothing else. (The parent) now only wants to get his way. I think if Scott is that bad (the parent) should take his daughter off the team. ... It would be wrong to punish Scott for the few people that are very self-serving.

"Sports are a privilege and not a right. Maybe they need to understand this."

In fact, Hansen believes most complaints have little or nothing to do with a coach's behavior.

"As far as complaints in general from parents, I would say that 99 percent, if you cut away the fluff, are based on playing time," Hansen told the Weekly.

"Fluff," he said, means "using every possible excuse to crucify a coach or discredit a coach -- it's all based on playing time."

When Hansen investigated concerns about Olcott, he held meetings with the team co-captains, Liza Dernehl and Tara Murao, both Paly '09 grads.

Dernehl said that she and Murao would help Hansen "in sorting fact from fiction, trying to make it so there was less drama and more water polo."

She said Hansen would read parts of the various complaints and then ask them whether events happened as described.

She said Hansen once told them, "If this is true, then I need to do something about this, take this to the next level. But if it's not, then I don't want to do that, because it is not fair to Cory." She said Hansen trusted them to be honest and unbiased.

"Mr. Hansen had a good sense of what was going on," Dernehl told the Weekly. "He would say, 'I don't think this is true. Can you tell me if this is true?' ... He would say, 'This doesn't sound like Cory,' or 'I doubt this happened, but I need to check it with you. What do you think?'"

"I would say, 'This isn't really what Cory meant; he didn't mean it that way,'" Dernehl said.

Murao said Hansen seemed highly skeptical of the allegations. (Hansen declined to comment on the team captains' descriptions of these meetings.)

Dernehl said those complaining "wouldn't make things up, but would misinterpret what would happen and make it sound really bad." While sympathetic to teammates who had problems with Olcott, she described the allegations as "blown out of proportion," an opinion shared by other players and parents interviewed by the Weekly.

Murao said that letters describing Olcott as "abusive" angered her.

"'Abusive' is a strong word," Murao said.

"At that point I had to stand up for Cory. That was hard because I did have problems with him. In some ways, the complaining girls were right, but the way they were going about it was wrong. They should have come instead to the captains," Murao said.

When the season ended, Olcott handed out his own feedback forms and asked the girls to fill them out while he stayed with them. Olcott told the Weekly these forms were "just for me" -- he did not provide copies to the school until later asked during the investigation of complaints. He said the school has its own forms and that he expected administrators to do their own process.

"I think they want to do that independently so it can be as objective as they can make it," he said.

Many girls said they were upset by Olcott's involvement in the feedback process; they had expected an administrator would survey the team according to Hansen's promises to parents. Some girls said it affected what they wrote.

Hansen told the Weekly he called a water-polo team meeting in his office to do feedback forms but no one showed up, for reasons he could not explain and did not pursue.

Superintendent Skelly would not comment directly about Hansen's handling of complaints. He acknowledged shortcomings within the district.

"There is clearly room for improvement to leave people with confidence that complaints will be addressed in a fair and even-handed manner," Skelly said.

Taking it to the top

After witnessing what they considered an angry display by coach Peters at a Los Gatos girls' basketball game in January 2009, a group of parents decided to take their mounting concerns up the administrative ladder to Principal McEvoy.

A total of 10-12 parents attended the meeting with McEvoy, representing 7-8 players. Two were supportive of Peters; others had either mixed views or strong concerns, according to several who were present. (This was the same meeting described earlier by player Taylor Lovely, which she said resulted in improvements.)

At the meeting, which included Hansen and Berkson, McEvoy invited concerned parents to put the specifics of complaints in writing. While some parents felt the meeting cleared the air and promised to set in motion actions that would lead to improvements, Cheryl and Dave Atkinson took the next step suggested and put their concerns in writing.

"She told us, 'I can't do anything without hard evidence,'" Dave Atkinson said.

The Atkinsons' complaint alleged that "Scott's pattern of language, communications, and behavior toward Kirsten (Atkinson) and her teammates over our two-year experience with him shows a complete imbalance of negative and demeaning messages -- whether yelled, screamed, or conveyed in a one-on-one discussion." They cited examples, including use of the f-word.

In appealing to McEvoy, the Atkinsons said they hoped she would conduct an independent investigation into what they viewed as a serious, longstanding and urgent matter.

Instead, McEvoy relied on information from Hansen in preparing her response to the Atkinsons.

In a four-page letter, McEvoy said that Hansen had talked and met individually with a "majority" of the 12 girls on the team. Based on what Hansen told McEvoy about those conversations, she concluded that while there were some concerns "about Coach Peters' communication skills," the majority of the team did not support the Atkinsons' assertions about the extent of the coach's negative behavior and its effects.

The Weekly contacted 11 of the 12 players and only one recalled talking to Hansen during the season about Peters' coaching. That player said she told Hansen about problems she was having with Peters, which she declined to describe for the Weekly.

Hansen encouraged her to "not use parents as a channel for complaining," and told her "Scott was a good coach and a good guy," she said.

Hansen said her problems were "no big deal," that she should focus instead on the game, she said. "Just focus on the positive. Agree to disagree." She said that made sense to her. She also said she likes and supports Peters despite past problems.

Hansen declined to comment about that conversation but acknowledged that he did not have any "formal meetings" with players. "I didn't sit down with them," he said, contrary to what McEvoy's letter inferred.

McEvoy, who expressed surprise when informed by the Weekly of Hansen's comment, later clarified that what Hansen did was to have "informal conversations" with a majority of the girls on the team about practices, the climate on the team and how things were going in general. He did not ask about coach conduct directly, she said. His questions went to the "mood of the team," she said.

McEvoy said she was satisfied with the information Hansen gave her and that the findings ended up being supported by feedback forms administered by Hansen at the end of the season. She said the forms showed a majority of the team had a positive experience.

The Atkinsons, however, point to the school administration's handling of their complaint as an example of a system that lacks neutrality, credibility and sufficient focus on the coach's conduct.

In their final meeting, McEvoy asked the Atkinsons why their daughter didn't quit the team. "'Why are you putting your daughter through this?' was her attitude," Dave Atkinson said. "It's McEvoy's job to make sure this is an environment that is supportive of kids."

Sending complaints back down the line for investigation can be problematic, according to Jeff Lamb, longtime Milpitas High School athletic director and past president of the California State Athletic Directors Association. If an investigation is called for at his school, the principal will usually bring kids in, he said.

Neutrality is important and the further removed the investigator the better, he said. While every school is different, he said, "In my experience, principals have been active in investigations."

During the investigation of the Atkinson complaint, several parents voiced support for Peters. One e-mailed school officials: "I have attended all of the games for this season (except for Los Gatos) and have never seen Scott be out of line with the girls. What I have witnessed is an inordinate amount of complaining by the players amongst each other, toward each other, and about the coach, and a lack of respect by the players and parents towards the coach."

Hansen said he has had no complaints about Peters' conduct in the 2010 season.

Peters declined requests for an interview. In an e-mail, he wrote: "I take player and parent concerns seriously and have had an open-door policy to meet with any player or parent since I began coaching at Palo Alto High School."

A complicated process

As with the controversy surrounding Peters, the investigation into Olcott's performance percolated up past Hansen to Paly administrators and even to the district level.

In a February 2009 letter to Superintendent Skelly, parent Joan Fiser enclosed several other complaint letters, all anonymous but with the authors' permission, she said.

Fiser said she received no response from Skelly, nor from anyone on his behalf. It turns out Bowers, who received the packet, had referred it back to Paly officials.

"It became evident that the school site had not adequately responded, so it was agreed that it would go back to the site for further action. This should have been documented in a letter (to Fiser), which I forgot to do. Eventually the site did respond in writing -- the May 22 letter from Berkson," he explained.

The fact that no response was received to Fiser's letter to Skelly until several months later fueled parent fears and concerns that they were not being taken seriously at any level.

"I can understand the frustration that it's back to where it started, but maybe that's because where it started could have done a better job," Skelly said.

Meanwhile, in February and March 2009, Berkson interviewed most but not all water-polo team members. Several players reported statements from Berkson that suggest a lack of neutrality.

One player who supported Olcott said Berkson agreed with her that some allegations critical of Olcott were "ridiculous."

Two others critical of Olcott said Berkson told them in effect: "In your life you run into people that are difficult. You need to learn how to deal with it." One of the players said Berkson also told her, "What Cory did was not a big deal. It's standard practice for many coaches."

"By no means did I try to shape anyone's thinking," Berkson wrote in an e-mail to the Weekly.

"I may have spoken to them in general terms that, in life, you are going to have to work with people that you don't exactly like but still need to work with, whether it's a coach or a boss," he said.

Berkson met with Olcott to discuss the issues raised. In a memo provided to the Weekly by the district, Olcott refers to "several incidents" in the feedback forms he had distributed (which he later provided to Berkson) that "were not unfair in their criticism."

In the memo Olcott takes responsibility for these incidents contributing to the team's problems.

But "the impetus came mostly from parents with unrealistic expectations" about their daughters' playing time, he wrote. "To advance its own agenda, a small contingent (of parents) worked actively to undermine the work of players, coaches and other parents to build a cohesive group. Secret, exclusive meetings, derisive comments at games, and other divisive behavior placed the players in a difficult position and hampered the growth of the team."

Several players and parents interviewed by the Weekly agreed with Olcott's assessment that playing time contributed significantly to the complaints about his conduct; those critical of Olcott adamantly deny this was their motive.

Team divisions along playing-time lines are common when parents and students debate a coach's methods, according to national sports expert Richard Lapchick, affiliated with Positive Coaching Alliance.

"This confuses the issues a bit. The suspicion is that the parents and athletes are bitter about playing time. This is a pattern seen over and over with problematic coaches," Lapchick told the Weekly in an interview.

Berkson's report to Fiser cited a "polarity" of viewpoints, as well as correlation between lack of playing time and dissatisfaction with Olcott. The report also outlined Olcott's tasks for improvement: Speak to the team as a whole about mistakes; eliminate sarcasm and profanity; and share concerns about a player only with that player and not others, such as team captains.

After receiving the report, Fiser questioned the findings in an e-mail. She was especially critical of the emphasis given to examining the motivations of the players with concerns about coach conduct. Of the report's eight comments listed in support of Cory, six of them were aimed to discredit complaining players, she said.

Fiser met one more time with Berkson and Bowers. They told her at the end of the meeting that the decision had been made to retain Olcott.

"I was handled," Fiser said. "They discounted everything I said. They really wanted to see me as the over-anxious parent protective of her daughter."

Skelly commented: "The question is, 'Did we make the right call there, should we have let this coach go or should we have kept him?' The school made the decision to keep him. The kids (this year) had a quality experience."

Signs of improvement

The most visible coaching-conduct controversies examined in this series do not exist in isolation. Numerous less-visible or less-controversial incidents occur and are either quietly resolved or are not pressed by parents or their kids. Some remain unresolved, and new complaints have been brought to the Weekly's attention since Part 1 appeared last week.

By all accounts, however, the school year just ending has seen fewer serious problems than in the prior years, and the Paly girls' water-polo and basketball teams finished their seasons without the intense controversy of previous years.

Whether the change this year is a result of increased monitoring and accountability, a change in team dynamics, or evolution of coaching styles and maturity -- or all three -- parents and players on both teams report noticeably improved behavior by their coaches.

Changes are also occurring at the district level.

In January 2010, the district revived its long-fallow Athletic Committee, consisting of top-level district personnel and the principals, assistant principals and athletic directors from both Paly and Gunn. Now led by Assistant Superintendent Linda Common, the group meets monthly to review athletic policies, address issues around athletics and make sure everyone's on the same page in terms of expectations.

The restart of regular meetings after several years of dormancy coincided with the Weekly's investigation into coaching behavior and supervision.

The committee's work is timely.

As shown in the experiences of a number of teams in recent years, school standards for coaching conduct -- and what constitutes a violation of those standards -- are not clearly communicated to sports participants in Palo Alto's high schools.

Lacking clarity and reliable, comfortable channels of communication among athletes, parents and school administrators, coach-conduct problems often end up creating confusion, accountability issues, mistrust and divisiveness within and around a team.

Compounding those challenges is a lack of assumed goodwill among participants in many instances, especially at Paly. When disputes about coach conduct arise, unless the complaints are brought by the team's starters, the focus is often diverted from the questioned conduct to accusations about parent and player motivations. Also, parents and players can at times be quick to demand a coach's removal, pressing the coach and administrators into a defensive rather than problem-solving mode. In these cases, tensions are magnified, making effective solutions more difficult.

Although senior district and school administrators can adopt and direct new policies to help solve the problems identified in this story, it is the two athletic directors who are on the front lines of the athletic program. ==I (See sidebar on the administration of athletics) ==

Their jobs -- which include coaching their own teams (football for Paly's Hansen and wrestling for Gunn's Horpel) and teaching P.E. -- are enormous and many say way beyond what is fair and reasonable given the high expectations of the community. In addition to running the day-to-day operations of their programs, they are expected to recruit, mentor and evaluate coaches for each of the 96 varsity and junior varsity teams in 17 sports; handle player and parent questions, concerns and complaints; and be an evangelist for a positive sports philosophy that not all parents endorse.

"The (athletic director) is a tough job, being in charge of supervising lots of coaches," Principal McEvoy said. "You're the one out there providing support to all the coaches. Private schools have full-time ADs."

Challenges aside, the vast majority of coaches in Palo Alto's public high schools deserve recognition and gratitude for their contributions and dedication to youth development, parents, players and officials agree.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a better top-to-bottom coaching staff in any school around," Skelly said.

Complaints "are the exceptions not the rule in terms of our coaches."

Skelly believes that with current increased attention to athletic policies and practices, an educationally rich, positive sports experience for all Paly and Gunn students is more certain for the future.

"If you were to look at our coaches right now, I think (the ones with problems) are either not here or they're doing a much better job -- so I have confidence in our ability to get our arms around this issue and deal with it. I think we're already doing it," he told the Weekly.

"I think we're making very good progress."

Terri Lobdell is a freelance writer and is married to Palo Alto Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson. She was a high school sports parent for eight years, with two children in varsity soccer at Paly, and was a soccer-club team manager. She never made a complaint regarding any high school coaches. She can be e-mailed at Jay Thorwaldson is the Weekly's editor and can be e-mailed at Jocelyn Dong is the Weekly's managing editor and can be e-mailed at

Additional articles are posted on Palo Alto Online.

Tips for high school sports parents: Advice to parents of sports-team members from the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Who oversees high school athletics?: Athletic directors have big jobs managing teams and coaches, with little time and no extra pay.

A confusing complaint process: An article about the confusing administrative maze facing athletes and parents when they seek to raise issues about a coach's behavior.

Sports Boosters help fund athletics: How Palo Alto parent groups fund major athletic projects and team expenses.

Documents and complaints: Complaints submitted by parents, letters in support of coaches, e-mail exchanges with officials and responses of administrators related to baseball controversies at Paly and Gunn, softball at Gunn and girls' basketball and water polo at Paly.

Out of bounds? Part 1: In the first half of this special report, published May 14, the Weekly described five recent coaching controversies at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools and explored attributes and examples of positive coaching.

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Support local journalism.


1 person likes this
Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on May 21, 2010 at 9:29 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Editor's Note: Since there are several different stories relating to high school coaching, all comments will be consolidated on this thread to facilitate one discussion.

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Posted by James
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

This article is a good clarification of the storm which resulted from part 1 of this topic. It is clearly an emotional topic, filled with a certain amount of defensiveness and retaliatory posturing. However, it seems to show a clear need for all people involved, coaches, players, parents, school administration, journalists, and all of us who read and respond to the media - to understand each other's priorities and motivations.

I have called out that coaches are first and foremost teachers and role models. The idea of "building a program" places too much pressure on sports that are expected to be fun and fulfilling, even in losing. Coaches must remain open to the feedback of their players. If parents must communicate directly to the school, this should be directed to the administration. Abusive coaches should be reprimanded before termination is considered. There is no tolerance for abusive language or behavior (that is a worthless 'old school' attitude), but as a professional, all coaches deserve fair process and performance improvement opportunities.

Students must be treated with decency, but also must remember that this is a clear two-way street. The coach must receive their respect, and the coach is in charge of the team and will set policies for play and practice. The coach will need to make unpopular decisions at times, as well, in the best interest of the team. Students who cannot accept this should leave the team without disruption or drama. Sports are voluntary and should not be pursued for the sole purpose of securing a collegiate scholarship offer. It is not the responsibility of a coach to showcase students who are using the team for their own interests, but if a player with this level of skill can help the team, then I support the coach to bring them forward.

So, that's it. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior. No coach is king, no player is more special than their team mates, and parents need to remember that this is their children's activity and not their own.

Teach! Learn! Play! Enjoy!

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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on May 21, 2010 at 11:13 am

After reading part 2, I stand behind my evaluation of the situation, with one other comment: You have a sports " old boys network ". Break it up and the district will be better for it. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Obfuscation should not be used to determine policy.

Apply Occam's Razor to this case. Managing sports teams in an educational environment should not be difficult. Some people are appearing to be making it so.

When it boils down to basics, ask yourself what are the reasons for being here in the first place?


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Posted by Still a disappointed reader
a resident of Professorville
on May 21, 2010 at 11:20 am

I am not sure why the author is still referring to a "controversy" surrounding Peters in this follow up.
Numerous parents wrote to the Weekly in strong support of Peters and your own article states "McEvoy said she was satisfied with the information Hansen gave her and that the findings ended up being supported (of Peters) by feedback forms administered by Hansen at the end of the season. She said the forms showed a majority of the team had a positive experience."

There was no controversy. There have been no complaints in 2010. A simple apology to Peters would have been more appropriate.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2010 at 11:59 am

Great coaches can change kids lives - just like great teachers. I'd like to see a similar investigation into our high school teaching staff - many suffer from the same issues. At least sports are optional -school is not.

I would like to see a clear route for constructive criticism of all district staff, coaches and teachers without the fear of retaliation toward the student or family.

1 person likes this
Posted by DR
a resident of Mountain View
on May 21, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Good Grief. We have all had coachs we liked and those we did not like. Many, many people in this area inflate problems and make mountains out of mole hills. If your coach rubs you the wrong way, either perform the way they want you to, or take a hike. Athletics are meant to prepare you for life, kiddies, and life is the same as some of these ridiculous dramas you and your parents are wasting everone's time on. Suck it up get on with the sports.

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Posted by GreenZone
a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Yes, good grief and thank you. DR you have just demonstrated what is wrong with the "old school" that James mentions earlier. The day that "Athletics" decided that it was "life preparation" was the start of the coaching problem. It is only a game. School is the preparation, not after school sports.

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Posted by Disgusted by this article
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I don't understand why this story was written now when the subject is past history.

My children played sports in high school and there were pushy parents then who thought they knew more than the coach and that their prescious child was better than everyone else. It is time that the parents let the coaches do their job. If there is a problem, then deal with it then, but get out of the coaches faces so they can do their job. The coach is the one who evaluates the athlete, not the parent. There are always unhappy parents because they feel their child should be playing more, the captain of the team, etc. Let the coach decide who does what.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by PL
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2010 at 3:32 pm

The comment by palo alto mom is on target. The articles have made it clear throughout that parents and kids are in fear of retaliation. Combine that with a very unclear process for raising concerns and it is hardly surprising that you have repeated issues here. No doubt Paly parents are at fault at times. But, those issues involving abusive/unfair coaches (or, for that matter teachers) need a more affective system to resolve. This must be a failure of administration, clearly this would be Hansen, McEvoy, and Skelly. With McEvoy's departure, one can only hope that Hansen will adjust his seemingly intransient attitude (and his props in the administration and at PalySportsBoosters will face the light of day) and that Skelly will re-engineer the system or demand performance of the people.

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Posted by NeverOKtoYell
a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm

It's astounding that a coaches (and his apologists) would claim that being yelled at will prepare kids for the "real world". What real world could they possibly be thinking of? No one I know of yells at their employees, or gets yelled at by their managers. I know for a fact that professional baseball managers do NOT yell at their players. Maybe in some sports, but how many Gunn/Paly grads are going to end up in a professional sport? Tiny insignificant minority. The military? Ok, the military seems to feel that yelling at someone makes them a better soldier. But the military is, after all, about FIGHTING.

So, hey, if you want your children to grow into adulthood thinking it's ok to FIGHT, ok to yell at someone who is younger, smaller, or less powerful, or even worse, that it's ok to BE YELLED AT by someone who is older, larger, or more powerful ... then by all means continue support abusive coaches.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Now that part-2 has been published; all those Scott Peters supporters beware. Just because you did not witness the abusive behavior; does not mean that it did not happen. Having seen the good and bad of Scott Peters; He is not a good fit for Girls High School Basketball. Although there were no formal complaints for 2010; there was plenty of controversy. Because of fear of retaliation; and having seen the 2009 process go nowhere; 2010 season was just not worth the grief and headache with the administration. Let's expose this for what it is; lack of oversight by the administration and the AD. All he cares about is boys sports; period. Hopefully; this article will help facilitate changes for sports for all.

1 person likes this
Posted by A concerned reader
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm

While the dynamics of coaching and growing our youth are undoubtedly complicated, I find this article to be irresponsible. I was disturbed by the first article but the continued bias compelled me to comment. From my understanding there was 1 year with complaints in a 16 year track record of successful coaching by Cory Olcott. It is odd to me that this reporter doesn't ask the question of what is common cause versus special cause. What parent dynamic this particular year, at this particular school resulted in this anomolous situation - when the years before & after lacked this dynamic? The fact that a reporter would write such a biased view of someone's career seems shameful. Why is a professional asking for feedback (especially when it wasn't being provided) something that is condemned rather than applauded as a sign of committtment and caring. Many Palo Alto Unified administrators diagnosed playing time as a primary driver of parent complaints, but the reporter never asks the parents - did they complain about playing time? Why? On what grounds? Should that be the role of parents? Is every administrator wrong? From his memo to Jerry Berkeson, one can see the experience Mr. Olcott is bringing from high school to college coaching - were the Stanford coaches, the adminstrators at Menlo School, and now at Paly all wrong? I hope this type of biased attack doesn't affect the committment of another valuable coach... or the willingness of other coaches to work in this community. Shame on the Palo Alto Weekly.

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Posted by Damian Cohen
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 21, 2010 at 8:03 pm

This is a story in the San Jose Mercury today, "A female Pajaro Valley High School teacher allegedly had an ongoing sexual relationship with male student, and gave he and another teenage boy alcohol, police reported Friday." Yet, no name was released in the story as of yet. The police are conducting an investigation. Etc. That is proper journalism. That is when facts come to light, legal authorities get involved, and the media does its job and helps to protect our kids.

As I have maintained for the last two weeks, this is an excellent topic. As a coach myself, I too love hearing stories whereby coaches have had tremendous success. I want to learn their secret motivational tactics as much as the next person. What I don't want is exactly what Mr. Hansen addressed in the story-- a witch-hunt. Over the last two weeks, we have had some people in our communities suggest and maintain that the story is presented in a factual manner. However, both articles are simply he said/she said. It is disheartening to see that in the heart of Silicon Valley, with an extremely educated population, that people struggle differentiating fact from gossip. This is "reality" TV brought to print media. It is tabloid journalism. This was always an in-house story. And just because some want this story told, doesn't make it newsworthy let alone legal.

I suppose parts of what I just wrote will be censored out. There has been a great deal of that taking place as well. We can criticize these coaches. Put their name in the media. Create an online record. But if we suggest that perhaps the newspaper went too far, stretched the law, did not differentiate between private vs. public citizen, etc. those excerpts are removed. One is protected. One is hunted wild game. But at what cost? A community whereby underpaid but passionate coaches have to look over their shoulders every time someone is disgruntled? Overworked administrators blamed because they didn't respond properly to this tragedy or overreacted to that prank? Anonymous angry parents can have their letters used in print seemingly as evidence against teachers, coaches, and the like? Maybe we could go further and teachers can write letters, and newspapers can write stories, about the parents in the community who aren't motivational or are "abusive." Not all the teachers mind you, just a small handful of teachers...but the kids weren't doing their homework and the parents weren't responding to our phone calls...and here are their names. Did you see bruises? No, but I saw Mr. and Mrs. ignoring their kids while playing on their I-phones. Mrs. hit her son with the car door because he didn't see him, but nevertheless yelled at her son for not hustling to the carpool. Imagine that story for a minute. I suppose we would need to have at least a three part series for that story. Silly? Absurd? Ahhhh yes.

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Posted by Change it up
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 21, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Contrary to the comments in some postings, this article has handled the issues quite diplomatically. In plain terms, the Paly administration is useless when it comes to protecting the kids. The coaches always get the benefit of the doubt, the parents are labeled whiners and the kids are retaliated against or told they should quit. And as this article demonstrates, they are willing to engage in subterfuge and lies (failure to follow the policies in handling complaints, not responding to parents, Hansen never talked to the girls on the basketball team but lied about it and McEvoy repeated the lies, Berkson builds a case to support the coach by attacking the players...McEvoy blaming the victim). You think that there were no problems in 2010??? Guess again. The valuable life lessons learned in 09 were that it doesn't do any good to even try to address the problems. Unless of course you are one of Hanson's "Boys" and then you might get some relief. Mr. Skelly, it's time to clean house.

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Posted by Yep
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

"In plain terms, the Paly administration is useless when it comes to protecting the kids." Yep, that's my take-away, too.

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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Concerned Reader:
At least two parents did call Earl Hansen to complain at the end of the previous season, Olcott's first one at Paly. I believe many felt that it was his first year and thought they should reserve judgment and see how the second year went.
As for the "16-year track record of successful coaching," many would question that. According to some, he wasn't that successful at San Mateo High School, where he previously coached, and not all that popular with players. (It's somewhat surprising that Jackie McEvoy brought him to Paly, assuming she was aware of that.) A number of Stanford Club players whom he has coached and their parents haven't been too happy with his coaching either.

3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm

(Meanwhile, Perricone took matters into her own hands. During a game when it appeared to her that the coach was "berating" her daughter, using swear words, she protested the treatment, pulled her daughters from the game and took them home. Soon after her daughters quit the team -- the only time her kids quit a team. The coach did not come back the next year, she said.

"The school responded well, although it took longer than it should have," she said.)

Why would Gunn Administration keep silent in public? Perhaps Gunn could have fired the coach in the middle of the season too.

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Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm

This entire process is becoming a hatchet job and just another vehicle for the entitled parents and children of Palo Alto to jump on the rag-wagon and publicly air their personal grievances against select individuals. I have had complaints about certain coaches myself, but I constructively dealt with the issue in an upfront manner with the school, along with other parents. We did not come off as know it alls, but parents with concerns. The locking down of the commentary not giving anyone a chance to rebut the different and varied issues addressed in this series of articles also illustrates clearly that the objective here is not a factual article presenting all sides of an issue, but instead to invoke dissension. My family and our friends have all read the entire series and feel that this whole situation has been grotesquely blown out of proportion. I have watched coaches in other high schools in other districts, and from my observations you people have no clue what you COULD be dealing with vs. what we have now. Keep going on in this negative vein and see what you get in the future.

Our coaches are underpaid and overburdened. They have to deal with the parents in this district who can be a living nightmare. That's the one single fact that people employed by this District cannot say to a reporter, for fear of reprisal. Has even one person mentioned the spoiled kids that come to practices and games with their personal trainers provided by mommy and daddy? How participants in club are given unfair advantages over the kids who can't afford club, and if for some reason they aren't, their parents go screaming to the coaching staff about play time? How some parents sit at games and cheer for their kids while openly denigrating others?

No. It's all about the coaches. One sided. Negative. Out of bounds.

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Posted by Comparisons
a resident of Barron Park
on May 21, 2010 at 10:27 pm

My daughter had the happy experience of going from one of the worst coaches I've ever seen, to absolutely the best. Coach 1 constantly yelled at the kids, talked their ears off without making anything clear, never benched my daughter (star player) no matter how many games or practices she missed, and never taught her anything new. He used her, basically, to help him build a career as a "winning" coach. Coach 2 never yelled, communicated and enforced clear rules, benched my daughter when she deserved it, and taught her more about the game in 1 year than the previous coach had done in 3 years. Being a good coach is not rocket science. Any coach with a set of consistent and fair principles applied consistently and fairly will not be pushed around whining players or pushy parents. But IMO there are some coaches in Palo Alto who maybe haven't made it in their chosen career, happened to have played a game in their youth, and think they can milk this gold mine called "Palo Alto parents" by setting themselves up as mini-Gods on the playing field. These individuals proceed to operate without principles or ethics, coaching in Club sports (where they do make a LOT of money) as well as in the schools.

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Posted by Howard Dernehl
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 21, 2010 at 11:24 pm

I was at most of the Paly girls’ water polo games for the fall 2008 season. I saw Cory Olcott coach the girls to perform and be the best they could. After reading the articles and comments my assessment remains unchanged from my first-hand experience. Cory is a good coach: let’s declare him “inbounds!”

Howard Dernehl

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Posted by Mary
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 21, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Open letter to all Paly coaches: Want to keep your job? Don't mess with the seniors! They are "special" - talent or not. My son and I learned this "lesson" the hard way last fall. Talent does NOT matter, but age does. And the senior parents will protest their "innocence" in influencing the decision to fire a coach. If you speak up about this matter, watch out for the fiery denials from the guilty. These same not-so-innocent parents will ask you to apologize for uncovering their dirty little secret. So coaches "duck and cover" when the senior parents are on the war path - protecting their untalented offspring.

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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2010 at 10:30 am

I recommend that people go to "Documents and Complaints" and take a look at Gunn's and Paly's evaluation forms for coaches. What a difference...I'm glad this district committee on athletics, which includes administrators and athletic directors, has started meeting again.

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Posted by Gabriel
a resident of Professorville
on May 22, 2010 at 10:41 am

All opinions accounted for, there is consensus that coaching in Palo Alto is a tough job. All public school teaching jobs in California are underpaid for those who perform well in the job. Coaching can be more personal than teaching at times, and coaches need to wear a thick skin. Coaches who cannot stand their working conditions, on and off the field or court, should leave the job and pursue something that brings joy. Parents need to exit the drama.

Coaches, if the parents are difficult why do you expect different behavior from their offspring? You had to know that your flock would be a difficult group. This isn't big time sports or a movie, you will not change the nature of people, you may only show the the true value of your leadership and understanding. You deserve to be shielded from meddling parents by your boss. Hopefully, you have a teaching credential and have learned your legal rights and those of your students. Stay above the fray and treat everyone respectfully, you are not a candidate for "Pros vs. Joes".

I am so tired of this discussion, I will stop watching the responses. We all love our own words too much to spend time on reading them again. Good luck.

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Posted by Wow
a resident of College Terrace
on May 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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Posted by Sally
a resident of Community Center
on May 22, 2010 at 4:22 pm

The CORRECT thing to do with the Paly waterpolo situation would have been for the AD to make things RIGHTt. He should have met with all of the girls to discuss the wrongs that the coach had done,instead he refused to LISTEN. He should have been involved and he should have made every effort to get these 9+ girls who quit back on the team. Once again we now have another Paly team with a small roster. How is does financially make sense Mr. AD? Moreover, this purely distorts the whole meaning of high school sports.
The easy way out is to say that the complaints are all about play time. The truth is right in front of you but you just have to face it. The reputation of this coach, this team and this school are at stake MR.AD.

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Posted by evaluation form? wtf
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm

i have played sports at gunn for 3 years and been on 6 different teams and have NEVER seen or heard of the evaluation form! mr. horpel has some explaining to do

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Posted by playing time
a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2010 at 9:43 pm

all of the h20 complaints are about playing time. Yup.

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Posted by nothing new
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm


"Maybe we could go further and teachers can write letters, and newspapers can write stories, about the parents in the community who aren't motivational or are "abusive."

that would be a good Part 3 to this article, about parents that go out of bounds.

and probably some athletes also go out of bounds.

as long as the major sports only have one or two teams, it's about all these personal dramas

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Posted by Polo Watch
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm

The Paly girls' problems started in 2007 when certain parents were upset about playing time. They claimed bias against their girls because their girls didn't play for Cory and the Stanford program. One parent actually tried to recruit a friend of mine to be the replacement coach just in case she could get Olcott fired during that season. Where is the newspaper report on that little factoid?

Obviously there is a wide opinion on what is coaching abuse and whether it happened to the degree that some people have stated. I cannot judge because I was not there nor do I have a daughter on the team. Hint, hint, neither should you! But it is all too clear that playing time started the campaign to fire Olcott. It was then exasperated, if not eclipsed, by the alleged sarcasm, ball throwing and sharp criticism aimed at individuals in 2008.

No one is without fault here. Plenty of glass houses.

2 people like this
Posted by Out of line
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm

This article suggest that Mr. McGinn resigned because of negative evaluations when in fact the majority of the evaluations were positive or neutral. These evaluations also should never have been allowed to be made anonymously because Mr. McGinn is certificated personnel of the PAUSD.
I believe another article needs to be written on the careless actions of the administration that go on before our coaches even take the field. There will no longer be questions as to why more teachers don't also coach.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Out of line, do you care to expand on what you mean by "the careless actions of the administration"? Why do you think Mr. McGinn resigned? Why do you say the evaluations "should never have been allowed" - is that reference to union contract provisions or ??

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Posted by Out of line
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm

All I am saying is that there is much more to the Gunn football story than what is written and Matt McGinn's resignation had absolutely nothing to do with the evaluations. I hope more comes out about what goes on behind the scenes with athletic directors and the administration above them. I can't say more because it's not my story to tell.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Polo Watch:
Since almost all of the girls who complained about Cory's coaching were still on the junior varsity in 2007, they would not have complained about playing time, and neither would their parents. They all played.
If you ask girls who were on the 2008 team about the alleged sarcasm, sharp criticism aimed at individuals, etc., few will deny it. Some accepted it as part of his coaching style (especially the ones who were not usually the targets); others, like my daughter, were very affected by it, even when others were the ones being treated disrespectfully.
In this case, it's been easy for Mr. Olcott and his supporters to say it's all about playing time since those who were critical but made the decision to continue playing decided it was not in their interest to be openly critical. Most (not all) of the players who felt comfortable saying what they thought were girls who had already decided to quit if the coach wasn't going to be replaced. The same with the parents. Who's surprised?

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Posted by Out of line 2
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 23, 2010 at 7:42 pm

"This article suggest that Mr. McGinn resigned because of negative evaluations when in fact the majority of the evaluations were positive or neutral. These evaluations also should never have been allowed to be made anonymously because Mr. McGinn is certificated personnel of the PAUSD."

I agree with Out of line. The majority of players and parents got along and respected Matt. To my knowledge there was no complaints of him mistreating players. The only complaints that I heard were that the team was not winning enough. Matt is one of the nicest and most supportive coaches that I have come across in all of the years of my sons sports teams. The players were really sad to see him go and it is no surprise that Paly picked him up immediately as one of their coaches. The evaluations were not from every parent. I would bet that there were not more than a third of the team/parents that even filled out an evaluation. The most vocal in any group are usually the complainers not the satisfied group so the evaluation was flawed unless everyone was included. Parents were shocked that the evaluations were used to quickly review the coaches (even before the season was over) and they said that they would have filled out evaluations had they known how serious the review was. I am not saying that there are not some coaches that are "out of bounds" but Matt McGinn should NEVER have been used as an example in this article. Mr. Horpel should know this.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Here's the article from the Gunn paper on the topic of Coach McGinn's departure:

Web Link

It gives a fuller account of some of the issues that arose and the decision making process. It makes it clear that the evaluations were done, but certainly did not appear to be the driver of the decision. Mr. Horpel has positive things to say about Coach McGinn, though clearly they disagreed.

It is worth noting, I suppose, that Gunn went on to have its best football season in quite a while (at least five years), finishing at 7-4 and going to the playoffs for the first time in quite a while. The best record in the five previous years was 3-7. Winning isn't the only criteria, of course, but other things being equal, this looks like an improvement in the program.

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Posted by Teddie
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Having coached high school sports for a number of years, I as a coach would really have to do a deep self evaluation if 8 members of my team quit. To me that is a true barometer of a coaches success. Mr Hansen's comments about parental complaints being 99 percent about playing time strikes me as naive. Mr Hansen's overall attitude at least what I got from reading this article seems very defensive and closed minded. If indeed 8 members of a team quit, you have a real problem there and should present an attitude that at least acknowledges a problem exist and that he as AD is addressing the situation in some matter. Old school indeed.

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Posted by MidPen Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 23, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I don't know what happened during the 2008 Paly water polo season, but I know a hit piece when I read one.

Terri Lobdell has an agenda with her series and it's to get certain coaches fired. All this fluff about discussing when coaches are "out of bounds" would be a great conversation to have, but only if it were treated with the level of professionalism it deserves.

The two articles written by Terri Lobdell were not intended to further that discussion. They were only intended to get someone fired. I hope the Palo Alto community can rise above the individual agendas being furthered by Terri Lobdell's articles and fix any problems that truly need fixing. Until that happens, do yourself a favor and avoid reading trash reporting like this.

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Posted by Liz
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm

It's hard for me to imagine that you read the same articles that I did. Terri Lobdell interviewed and quoted numerous people with varying points of view. It seems that some people are so unwilling to consider opinions other than their own that they try to discredit whoever presents them, even journalists who try to tell both sides of the story.

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Posted by GoldenRule
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 24, 2010 at 9:32 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2010 at 1:12 pm

A few comments: When the Principle asked this question I believe it was to force the student to quit and all be over. Not ok....

In their final meeting, McEvoy asked the Atkinsons why their daughter didn't quit the team. "'Why are you putting your daughter through this?' was her attitude," Dave Atkinson said. "It's McEvoy's job to make sure this is an environment that is supportive of kids."

Shame on you McEvoy

To all Palo Alto Coaches please let this be a wake up call. When forming teams rank the students on paper. Only put players on the team that demonstrate the appropriate skill and ability at the time of tryouts. When tryouts begin give a sheet letting students know exactly what you are looking for. I am sure even with the sheet if a student has the skill you will see it executed correctly and if they don't you won't see it executed correctly or consistantly. This will not only tell the student what they need to work on but explain how and why the decision was made. Yes it is more work but it removes nonsense like this.

Second we all hate the play Viking for Paly Girls rename the play please. Second Scott if you put players on your team that have the heart of the game/skill/ and ability then you will not have to tell them what to do on the floor. Create a starting five. Last year there was no set starting 5. When doing this the girls will bond and play more cohesive.

Second except parent suggestions if given and note why or why not to use that advice, but hands down STOP LETTING PALO ALTO PARENTS BIND YOUR HANDS. This is so obvious with the combinations played last year as well as some of the players on the team. If the girls are serious about playing they will work on their skills this summer and be ready for next year.

Scott is a good coach but he needs to stop putting girls on the team just because. Create a team of 10 players that can play all 5 positions.

Now that this nonesense is out, let's put it behind us Scott put together a solid team for the 10/11 basket ball season and let's go further in CCS.

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Posted by Polo Watch
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Paly Mom: The girls varsity team had a couple sophomores on the varsity in 2007. Same last year and same this year. The parent who was trying to get Olcott fired and was at the same time trying to recruit a neighbor to coach had a sophomore daughter on the team in 2007. Which makes this issue even more interesting because she thought she knew more than the coach, though she had no water polo experience herself and her daughter was a first year varsity player as a sophomore.

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Posted by jsh
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Look, all you parents are listening to your youth coaches to much letting them tell you, your son or daughter is going to be the next "something". When you get to high school, things change. Most good coach always look to those kids that are coachable. If they can't be coached, we are going to have these problems all the time...

The first question asked by many coaches scouting, is " are they coachable?" Really seek out " Positive Coaching " the same for kids and thier parents!!!

Coaches, need information from players and parents. Feedback, good or not!!!

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2010 at 12:40 pm

A simple question- why is it so hard for coaches to clean up their language?

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Dear Parent,

Simple Answer; because the AD uses the same language. Go to a Paly Football Game !!!!

Ask anyone .................

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Posted by Old Time PA
a resident of Green Acres
on May 25, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Why would anyone want to coach in Palo Alto? What satisfaction does one get when it's a no-win situation. Everything from Little League to High School is controlled by the parents, or the boards that know very little about the respective sports. If you are a very good coach with a good track record, then just coach where parents have little or no influence (ie clubs, Connie Mack, etc..). This is overblown, but in PA everything else is as well.

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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2010 at 9:49 pm

There's some truth to what Old Time PA says, but, in my experience, some of the parents-not all-exert too much influence in order to give their own kids an advantage.

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Posted by Sally
a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2010 at 9:09 am

There is no gray area here...If a coach swears at the players then get rid of him/her. If the coach belittles and verbally abuses the players, get rid of him/her. If the coach promotes HIS club players at the expense of others then get rid of him. If the coach can't control his temper on the sidelines then get rid of him. These coaches are to be held at the same standards as teachers-READ THE RULES! This behavior does NOT belong at Paly. For any administration to continue to allow these coaches to continue to coach at Paly is ABUSIVE.
Ever notice that we do not have many female coaches on our staff coaching girls sports at Paly? Why is this? These abusive,egotistical,domineering men should not be coaching women. Perhaps this is all how they get their kicks!

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Posted by MidPen Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 26, 2010 at 9:54 am

You could do a lot to re-establish yourself as credible journalists by writing a follow up piece that exposes PARENTS who are "out of bounds". Often times it's the parents who are the ones that push their kids too hard to achieve, or instill an overwhelming sense of entitlement in their kids because of their place in society.

Anyone remember Todd Marinovich? Does the name George Huguely ring a bell?

To write a 2-part series that singles out athletic coaches is irresponsible. Give us an expose of Palo Alto parents who are "out of bounds".

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Posted by Downtown parent
a resident of University South
on May 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

Dear Mid Pen and others,
This is not an either-or situation. Of course there are some parents who are "out of bounds" but that doesn't mean there aren't coaches who are "out of bounds."
These articles are about coaches because the coaches are the ones under the management of the public high schools, which report to the Unified School District, which is funded by our taxes and populated partly by our elected representatives. Our taxes and our votes are reflected in the condition of our schools, including their sports programs. It is appropriate for a newspaper to investigate problems in our public institutions, which is what this series of articles has done. It's appropriate to raise issues and stimulate debate in the community. Hopefully, these articles will lead the PAUSD Superintendent to assure that Palo Alto's school rules are consistent, that complaint procedures are clear, and that High School principals uphold standards on the field as well as in the classroom -- by careful hiring, training, mentoring and, if necessary, firing.
Are some parents a problem? Yes. Is that a challenge for coaches (and teachers)? Absolutely. Is it the school or the district's responsibility to correct? No.
Can the school do anything to help control "out of bounds" parents? Yes, by establishing clear standards for behavior and assuring that coaches (and teachers) model that behavior themselves, and by helping coaches and teachers learn how to deal with challenging parents. When that happens, parents whose behavior at a game crosses the line may be asked to leave the stands (for example, for swearing or demeaning players during a game, or coaching from the sidelines). And beyond game time, if the coach spends his many hours with the kids clearly reinforcing the values of respect, courage, teamwork, personal development and the importance of everyone's contribution, then his powerful influence can help counteract the swell-headed or self-centered or foul-mouthed parents out there.
Thank you, Palo Alto Weekly, for shedding light on this controversial and important part of high school life.

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Posted by Doc Scheppler
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Having read the article and the comments about Cory and Scott I wouldn't want to be a coach at Palo Alto. These are 2 quality guys that LOVE what they are doing, have a passion for teaching and demand excellence from their players every time. It's time for the complaining parents and their daughters to have some perspective. You might disagree with an aspect of their coaching style or a specific instance, but know they are Human and make mistakes, just like parents step out of line and behave poorly.
I long for the time that the coach was a truly respected position. When you look back on your days of sports, othr than your parents, your coach was the one you remember as being that great influence in your life. You didn't always agree,BUT you loved him or her for what they were to you. Parents nowadays get in the way of that process because they are invested emotionally, financially, and egotistically in their child's endeavors, and that causes them to fall into temporary parental insanity, where they fail to see the big picture. 10 years down the road, they will look at themselves and realize they probably should have behaved differently.
Cory and Scott are great guys who coach for the love of their sports. Let them coach your daughters will have a great experience.

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a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2010 at 11:19 am

in the middle of all this are

TEENS- emotional creatures, and their executive functions do not work the way you expect them to

screaming, and using violent language with TEENS is unacceptable,

I agree that parents can and often go out of bounds

but there needs to be more professional training of coaches about developmental issues in TEENS

sports in high school or middle school should NOT go by the same standards as adult sports - the tough love thing

maybe some teens don't complain but are scarred for life by offensive treatment

it's not that coaches need to be within bounds, they actually have to be EXTRA KIND.

I'd rather have hundreds of emotionally balanced teens in sports than three screwed up star athletes

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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2010 at 10:08 am

I'm sure outrageous behavior by parents described in a couple of previous postings happens in some sports, but my daughter was involved in 3 at Paly in recent years, and I've never witnessed it. However, I did come across wealthy parents, accustomed to being influential, who expected their daughters to play and "connected" with the coaches early on. That sense of entitlement that is so common in P.A. seeps into high school athletics and influences coaches and administrators. As public schools become more dependent on the monetary contributions of families, this will become even more prevalent. Sufficient funding, clear standards and guidelines and better procedures for voicing concerns are all needed.

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Posted by Shocked
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2010 at 9:00 am

I found the comment suggesting that high school students "Man up" and confront their alleged abusers particularly disturbing. Some, probably not all, of the situations described in the articles was definitely abusive. Would we ask victims of domestic or sexual abuse to "man up"?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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