Wrestling coach fired, then rehired after flare-up at match


By Marsha Sutton

An incident at a Jan. 17 wrestling match between a student and a coach resulted in the firing, and subsequent rehiring, of the wrestling coach for Canyon Crest Academy.

Craig Van Dyke was initially released by CCA principal Brian Kohn and assistant principal and CCA athletic director Jeff Copeland after interviews with eyewitnesses and officials at the match. District officials declined to provide specific reasons for his release, citing confidentiality of personnel files.

However, parents and supporters of the CCA team reported that Van Dyke behaved appropriately and was the unjustified target of an obscenity laced verbal assault by a Julian High School student and parent that nearly became physical.

At the Feb. 2 San Dieguito Union High School District board meeting, about 40 parents, students and other backers came to support Van Dyke and to request that he be reinstated. Fourteen people asked to speak, but the school board only had time to hear seven.

They described details of a volatile altercation between a Julian High School wrestler and Van Dyke, after the Julian wrestler was pinned by a CCA wrestler.

Tina Nova, attending the match as a scorekeeper, said the conduct of the Julian student and his father was “horrific” and that the CCA coach “did nothing wrong.”

Sherry Singer, the team’s parent liaison, said the Julian father “was very large and very aggressive.” She said firing Van Dyke, especially mid-year, “sends the wrong message” to the students, and that he did nothing to deserve dismissal.

The kids, said Sam Carrillo, “had the rug pulled out from under them.”

Parent Richard Baer said after losing the match the Julian wrestler refused to shake the opposing coach’s hand, as all team members are required to do, and, approaching Van Dyke, raised his fist, showed his middle finger and shouted obscenities.

“He seemed very angry toward our coach,” said Baer, after the meeting. “I don’t understand where that anger stemmed from.”

“The kid flipped me off and said FU to me,” said Van Dyke after the meeting. “I don’t know why he was upset with me personally. He didn’t do that toward my wrestler.”

He said the Julian wrestler’s father came at him too, screaming profanities, until the parent was held back by other adults.

The Julian wrestling coach was not aggressive, Van Dyke said, although he was unable to control his athlete and the parent. “Obviously they acted inappropriately,” he said. “They were definitely in the wrong.”

Van Dyke, who’s been involved with the sport for nearly 20 years, said he’s never seen a wrestler attack a coach before.

“It’s an aggressive sport,” he said. “Emotions are high. But coming after a coach is not the right thing to do.”

“I was rather shocked at this behavior,” said Baer. “I’ve never seen a wrestler behave like this.”

Fired, then rehired

Van Dyke said he didn’t know why he was fired. “I didn’t get a clear answer,” he said. “Obviously it had something to do with the incident.”

CCA principal Kohn said the district’s early investigation indicated that Van Dyke acted inappropriately, so he was released. As more information came to light, the decision was reversed. Kohn declined to provide further details, citing internal personnel issues.

Rick Schmitt, associate superintendent of educational services, said Van Dyke was originally dismissed because, after the initial investigation, “we were concerned that the coach’s behavior was inconsistent with our expectations of coaches and CIF policy on coaching behavior.”

Van Dyke was reinstated on Feb. 6, Schmitt said, after new information became available. “We were able to speak to more people who were present at the match who gave us a different perspective on the incident,” he said.

Schmitt also said that, in the best interests of the student athletes, the coach should be able to finish the season.

The decision to reinstate Van Dyke for the remainder of the season was welcome news for the students and their parents.

“I’m very happy with the school district,” said Baer, whose son is a senior in his fourth year in CCA’s wrestling program. “I’m very happy with the board, and I’m also very happy with principal Kohn and assistant principal Copeland.”

“We’re all very pleased,” Singer said. “They listened, they looked into it, and they acted. I’m pleased with our district.”

Van Dyke credits the parents for pressuring the district to reverse the decision to release him. “I think it was 100 percent the effort of the parents,” he said. “They were there. They saw that I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Parents and team supporters, he said, were “so inflamed by what happened” that they organized the effort to come and speak at the school board meeting. “I didn’t ask the parents to do [that],” he said.

Schmitt said the speakers were not necessarily a factor in the decision to reverse the firing. “We were moving in that direction,” he said.

Julian High School wrestling coach Tony Massa and principal David Schlottman did not respond to requests for comment.

Complaint filed

San Dieguito filed a complaint with Julian High School and will not be scheduling wrestling events with the school in the future, Schmitt said. But no complaint was filed with the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for high school sports in California, because CIF does not have jurisdiction to fire coaches or do investigations, he said.

CIF wrestling commissioner Jerry Schniepp said CIF would only get involved if CIF could review a video of the incident or if an official had ejected someone from the match. That someone could be a student, parent or coach.

“If we had a video, we could potentially intervene,” Schniepp said. “Or if there was an ejection by an official, then we could take action. We didn’t have either one of those things.”

He said it’s a school district personnel or student discipline issue for San Dieguito and Julian, and not something CIF would get involved in, absent a video or an official ejection.

San Dieguito sent CIF a report of the findings, Schniepp said, after its investigation. He said Julian is aware of the incident and is handling it, but may or may not send CIF a report. He said sometimes districts handle their own disciplinary matters internally without providing findings or conclusions to CIF.

Reports, he said, cannot be disclosed if they involve personnel or student matters.

Schniepp said an ejection of a coach, parent or student from a match based on gross unsportsmanlike conduct can carry a penalty of a six-game suspension.

Even though descriptions of the confrontation would seem to indicate unsportsmanlike conduct, Schniepp said perhaps no one was ejected because “sometimes an official doesn’t see an incident occur. That is very possible.”

Values and morals

Van Dyke, who’s been a coach at CCA for the past six years, told the school board that the five-member team is a like a family.

Baer said the coach instills values and morals in the kids. “It’s not just about winning the match,” he said. “It’s about how you behave when you win and how you behave when you lose.”

Van Dyke said the parents appreciate what the sport does for their kids. “They see how their kids are better students,” he said.

He said his team won the CIF academic award last year, and his wrestlers have the highest GPA of any wrestling team in the San Diego section.

“I push them for good grades,” he said. “I push them to be more respectful to their parents. The parents see the changes in their kids when they become a part of the team. They see the value in it.”

The wrestling season continues with the CIF divisional on Feb. 18, CIF masters Feb. 24-25, and state finals March 2-3.