Jim Harris, basketball coach of Southern Section 5-A runner-up Ocean View High School, Wednesday was relieved of his coaching duties, the school's principal said. Ocean View principal John Meyers also said two players were declared ineligible following a three-month Huntington Beach Union High School District investigation into the ethics of the Seahawks' program.
Myers also said the Seahawks would forfeit their Sunset League championship, and the school would relinquish its runner-up plaque "if the CIF deems it appropriate."
In a prepared statement Wednesday, Myers said: "As a result of a thorough investigation conducted by the Huntington Beach Union High School District office, it was discovered that two members of the 1984-85 boys' varsity basketball team were ineligible. Therefore, I have notified Sunset League officials that Ocean View High will forfeit all games won by the boys' varsity basketball team. In conclusion, there will be changes in the coaching staff."
Myers refused to identify the players in question, but The Times learned that Lynwood sophomore transfers Ricky Butler and Desi Hazely were found ineligible in the district report because of "undue influence" by Harris to "retain them at the school."
The Times was unable to reach Harris Wednesday night.
Myers said he received district's report on March 14. Harris reportedly met with Myers and district officials last week accompanied by an attorney. Myers said Harris showed no reaction when he was informed of the decision.
"This is a very, very unfortunate situation," Myers said. "I don't know what else to say."
Many of the Seahawk players waited outside Myers' office Wednesday morning awaiting word on the decision.
"There were about 20 guys from the team there, outside the principal's office," junior starting forward Tony Panzica said. "Coach Harris came out and went over to his attorney. They told the two assistants (Tim Mennealy and Roger Holmes), and the assistants told us.
"I'm Coach Harris' third period aide, and we sat down and talked about it. I can't believe the way he did his job today . . . like nothing happened. It (the news) really got around today."
Starting point guard Blaine DeBrouwer said Harris remained quiet throughout the investigation.
"Coach Harris has been really quiet around school," he said. "He didn't talk to any players. The principal didn't say anything to the players beforehand. In every class I was in, people I didn't know came up today and asked what was happening."
Most of the rival coaches in the league were aware of the investigation, but none knew of the details or anticipated the severity of Myers' decision.
"Emotionally, I'm stunned," Fountain Valley Coach Dave Brown said. Brown was a teammate with Harris at Cal State Long Beach and hired him as a freshman coach at Fountain Valley. Harris compiled a 63-6 record in three seasons at Fountain Valley before moving to Ocean View seven years ago.
"The severity of the punishment is unusual . . . very strong," Brown said. "Everybody in the league knew about the investigation, but nobody knew what to expect because the district kept the details under its hat."
Marina Coach Steve Popovich said: "This is as drastic as it gets. There's a definite message here. Everybody had better stand up and take a look at what their programs are all about. Knowing Jim, I knew there wouldn't be a middle ground.
"He wouldn't give in. He believed in what he was doing. Coaching was his whole life, and now it's been taken away from him. I don't think you've heard the end of this."
Edison Coach Jon Borchert, who lost an opportunity to play in the postseason playoffs when district officials ruled that transfer Baron Coenen was ineligible earlier this year, said he felt sorry for Harris.
"I'm shocked at what happened to Jim," he said. "I consider all coaches ethical people. I feel sorry for Jim right now. I know how hard he works."
Said Westminster Coach Dick Katz: "If it could be done to a guy of Jim's stature, anything can happen. We think of Jimmy as a great coach. I think it means that the district is serious about the rules and they will be acted on.
"But I also think before anything like this happens to a coach of Jimmy's caliber, there should have been meetings all year. They (the district) should have been saying things all along, like 'We don't like what has been going on.' "
District athletic director Bill Boswell, who participated in the investigation, said his office received numerous complaints from parents and acted when a formal compliant was filed by an unidentified member school of the district.
Boswell refused to give details of the report, saying, "No one knows what was written in the report except the parties involved. But there were over 100 Ocean View parents at our board meeting last night (Tuesday), and litigation is always a possibility."
Panzica is worried about the effects Myers' ruling will have on Butler and Hazely. He said he would call a team meeting today.
"I feel that Ricky and Desi are really being hurt by this," he said. "It's not their fault. Sure, they're worried about themselves, but they're also worried about Coach Harris. He lives to coach."
Butler and Hazely have lived with Harris and his family in El Toro for the past seven months. They originally left their parents' homes in the southeast Los Angeles city of Lynwood under the care of a guardian, Laurant Brown, a La Canada landscape architect who met the boys while coaching his son's youth basketball team.
With the permission of Butler's and Hazely's parents, Brown moved the boys and his son, Derek, to Ocean View. But by the end of the year, Brown changed his mind and decided to return to Crescenta Valley. Butler and Hazely wanted to remain at Ocean View and subsequently moved in with their coach.
Butler became only the fourth sophomore to earn Times' All-Orange County honors after leading the Seahawks to a 24-4 record with a 12.4 scoring average and 11.5 rebounds per game. Hazely played a key role as the team's sixth man.
"I'm calling a team meeting to calm people down," Panzica said. "It's not good what has happened. I had heard that the principal said he was doing what was best for the players. If he thinks what he did was best for the school . . . he's just hurting a lot of kids. And these aren't the bad kids in the school. He's hurting a lot of people.
"I just think a lot of this is jealousy. People see a powerhouse building and they want to stop us."
Ocean View, with three returning starters, had figured to be the No. 1 team in the 5-A division next season. But the status of Butler and Hazely and the absence of Harris will most likely deter the Seahawks' future.
"People are seriously thinking of leaving," DeBrouwer said. "Some want a future in basketball, some are planning to use it to get a college education. But the special relationship we had built the past three years is gone.
"None of our players were ineligible. We strictly went by the rules so something like this wouldn't happen. That's why I can't believe it did."
Panzica said he has thought over his plans for basketball next season.
"I have developed a strong relationship with Coach Harris, like a lot of players," he said. "He has been like a father to me. It's going to be tough not having my father around next year. I'll be playing basketball next year, but I can't say where."
Times staff writer Julie Cart contributed to this article