Walt Hamera looks at the Laguna Beach High School athletic department with a touch of sadness.
He wonders why in the past six months the familiar faces who have been the very foundation of the school's athletic program have become so disillusioned that they have decided to resign as coaches of their various sports.
He wonders why school board officials have taken a rather unusual approach to the problem of funding and administering his programs.
But most of all, he wonders about the future of Laguna Beach High School sports.
Hamera, the school's athletic director since 1978, has resigned his position effective June 21. Dennis Haryung, the football coach, and Craig Falconer, the basketball coach, also have resigned. Full time staff coaches Mike Roche (football), Tom Purdy (football), Norm Borucki (softball), Ron Ross (girls' tennis) and Art Wahl (boys' tennis)--the men who endured through years of losing seasons and/or little support--also will not return next fall to coach, though all will remain at the school as instructors.
Because seven of the school's 11 full time coaches won't return, 32 of 43 teams at Laguna Beach High School next school year will be handled by walk-on coaches, or non-faculty instructors.
Hamera claims the Artists have reached the point of no-return. The coaches cited a lack of support from the district, an influx of walk-on coaches and the inability to continue to operate their programs on a competitive level because of a lack of funds as their reasons for leaving.
The athletic department's share of the budget this school year dropped to a point where there was no longer money for trainers, equipment, uniforms or even towels for students to shower following practice.
Athletic teams, which have operated without a budget from the district for seven years, once survived on student participation fees. But the California Supreme Court ruled in the 1980 Santa Barbara decision that such fees were illegal, cutting a viable source of funding. The difficulties were compounded to the point where the Artists' 1984-85 athletic program was faced with a $12,000 deficit.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District, however, is facing a half-million dollar deficit for the the 1984-85 school year. Like most school districts in the state, Board of Education members needed to find ways to reduce the budget. They believe their methods will make for a stronger program in the future, and save the taxpayers money. Board of Education members claim alternative funding from the community must be used or athletics will be eliminated at the high school.
But some coaches charge the school board's forms of cost reductions are unusual.
Clearly, the battle lines have been defined. The coaches who have the job of implementing the new measures under the belt-tightening guidelines say the system won't work. Board members and administrators claim they have found a cost-efficient formula to save Laguna Beach athletics.
Hamera, an 11-year staff member, raised questions about the operation of the sports program over the past six months including:
- The hiring by the school board of Cedrick Hardman, a former National Football League star, as Haryung's replacement in which boosters and parents brought a petition to Dr. Robert Hughes, Laguna's principal, urging that he hire Hardman.
- The adoption of a 12-member task force recommendation that all funds for equipment, awards, supervision, entry fees and officials' fees must be provided by booster funds. The school board also approved a task force recommendation that an appointed official from the booster club represent each sport to determine how much money each sport should be allocated. Members of the community, booster club, coaching fraternity and school board served on the task force.
The coaches who quit say they fear a strings-attached sentiment when boosters are allowed to raise and control funds for the school's teams. The coaches also point to a $200 gift that was given to each coach following last season, which is illegal under the California Interscholastic Federation by-laws.
- The school board's approval that all preseason sports would be conducted under the auspices of Laguna Enrichment And Resource Network (LEARN), a non-profit organization set up three years ago to supplement the high school's programs in the wake of budget cuts. The LEARN summer sports camps will be directed by Gene Gravley, a Laguna Beach resident who had promoted sports camps in the area for the past three years.
The board acted on a recommendation by the task force of which Gravley served as the chairman and then resigned after he was hired as director of LEARN. But Gravley continued to serve on the task force, which some believe was a conflict of interest. Gravley denies there was a conflict of interest because of his association with LEARN.
- The elimination of the coaching period, a fifth-period in the school day that generally is used for planning and preparation of facilities during the season. At Laguna the coaches also teach academic courses, and have little time to prepare for organized sports. Coaches claim the period gives them a chance to prepare each day's training session. The district, however, saw a chance to save about $45,000 by eliminating the period.
Many high school not only have the free planning period for their coaches, but also have a full time athletic director. Hamera's duties as athletic director were secondary to his responsibilities within the English Department.
Laguna Beach will be the only school in the six-team Sea View League without a coaching period next school year.
Despite what some coaches claim are drastic changes in the sports program, some of Laguna Beach's athletic teams have endured. About 67% of the student body participated in organized sports, according to a two-year-old district survey. Participation is the name of the game in this sports-minded, affluent community that has only one high school and no divided loyalties.
The school has won three Southern Section boys' volleyball titles, two girls' tennis titles, one boys' tennis championship, four girls' cross-country league titles and one football title since 1979, the year Proposition 13 was implemented. Proposition 13, approved by California voters, drastically cut school funds through a reduction of property taxes.
But Haryung, a 22-year veteran at West Torrance and Laguna Beach high schools, paints a bleak future.
"I think the athletic program is taking a giant step backwards, " he said. "In terms of organization, staffing and funding, there's no way Laguna Beach can compete equally with the other schools. The district has tied the school's hands.
"I've been in coaching for 22 years and if you told what has happened over the past six months at the beginning of the school year, I would have told you, "You're crazy . . . that can't happen. But it has and what gnaws at me more than anything else is that the kids are the big losers in this whole situation."
Hamera and Haryung also point to the elimination of the school's coaching period and the financial support of school programs through community funding as potential problems in coming years.
"The final straw was the elimination of the coaching period," Hamera said. "How do they expect to us to compete equally with other schools without it? It's as if the district wants us to be self-sufficient, and if we're accountable, fine.
"I've been given increased responsibility and yet my salary as athletic director has been cut ($4,000 to $2,000) and I'm being asked to teach another period."
Hamera's salary reduction was one of the board's cost-cutting formulas.
Indeed, the board members are strapped when it comes to funding extra-curricular activities. The average tenure of service among the high school faculty is 18 years, and only two full time members have been added to the staff in 12 years.
Enrollment has dropped to a new low of 996 students, smallest among Orange County's 57 public high schools, which has cost the school district approximately $2,300 in federal and state funds in the average daily attendance allotment.
A recommendation by Dr. Bill J. Barnes, Laguna Beach Unified School District superintendent, was made to lay off seven teachers, including Hamera, who has been on the staff for 11 years. The layoffs would have saved $150,000.
As a result of its cost-cutting research, board members realized the high school's athletic program was in trouble. Last summer, the board appointed a task force to deal with problems ranging from funding to training and staffing walk-on coaches. The task force recommended, and the board approved in March, the funding of athletics through community support.
Janet S. Vickers, president of the Board of Education of the Laguna Beach Unified School District, said the school is operating in an era when parents are looking for quality in their children's education without overburdening taxes.
Charlene Ragatz, a board member, said, "The board bent over backward to oppose the teacher layoffs. Those who are criticizing are not looking at the total picture." Barnes, district superintendent, predicts that in a year, "Laguna Beach High's athletic department will enjoy more community involvement which will enhance and maintain the program."
Hamera has serious doubts about the school board's decision that all money for . . . "equipment, awards, supervision, entry fees, official fees must be provided through individual fund raisers and/or donations from private sources."
The board allocated $19,100 for the 1985-86 athletic budget and all additional funds must be raised by boosters and supporters. Hamera foresees a situation where coaches must answer to boosters who bankroll the program.
"Anytime you have money provided by outside sources, there's bound to be problems," Hamera said. "The parents here raised about $7,000 last year for the football team, but there were strings attached.
"I knew that when I went to a meeting in the fall with our principal that was organized for the expressed purpose of organizing a fund drive. Instead of a fund-raising meeting, it turned into a vendetta to fire the football coach."
Haryung, who resigned with a 9-19-1 record in three seasons, said the proposed administration of the physical education department and its funding "is almost the Little League mentality."
He also claims some boosters were set on replacing him with Hardman as early as the third game of the 1984 season.
"My wife was overhearing boosters talking about getting me out and Cedrick becoming the coach at the games," Haryung said. "No one ever approached me face to face and questioned what I was doing. I worked my ass off just to be representative. We only won three games, but Don Shula would have problems winning at Laguna Beach."
Mike Mahoney, who served as the chairman of the task force following Gravley's resignation, admits that a Little League syndrome exists, but not to the degree Haryung claims.
"I'm sure a parent who is donating money to the program will have something to say to a coach," Mahoney said. "But the coaches are being hired and fired by the administration. A lot of us donate money. But that doesn't give you a vested interest in what the coach should do."
Success is generally measured in wins and loses and the Artists have struggled in the major sports of football and basketball. The Artists have won only two football titles in 17 years and haven't qualified for the basketball playoffs since the 1980-81 season.
Falconer, a walk-on coach who resigned following an 8-15 season, said apathy among the administration and the student body weighed heavily in his decision to resign.
"I always had the opinion that the school board would just as soon do away with athletics," he said. "I bought the uniforms for the basketball players the first year was I there. There was no budget. I don't blame Bob Hughes. He was very supportive."
This season, 23 of the 43 coaching positions were filled with walk-on coaches. Most walk-ons are college students or recent graduates who have other jobs. They earn about $900 for coaching three months.
There is a big turnover in walk-on coaches because they find it difficult to schedule time in the afternoon away from other jobs or college classes. Jim Toomey, the newly appointed athletic director whose brother, Bill, is a former U.S. Olympian, has advertised for seven football coaches, two tennis coaches, five soccer coaches and three basketball coaches in a walk-on capacity.
"The situation looks bad, but it's not," he said. "We're getting some district funds for the first time (since Proposition 13) and support from the community. I'm convinced we can turns things around. If I could fill every coaching position with a classroom teacher, the worst our teams would be is .500 in any sport."
Haryung questions that.
"I look at someone like Jim Toomey and think it's very admirable what he's doing," he said. "He's nuts. He cares so much about the school, that he's the only chance the school has from collapsing."
Toomey is one of the coaches who district officials claim will help to restore order in the Artists' sports programs.
Barnes, the superintendent, points to Ed Bowen, a faculty member for 22 years who will return to coach the boys' basketball team, as an example of a hopeful future. Bowen led Laguna Beach to a Southern Section 1-A division title in 1962 and the championship game of the 2-A division the next season.
"The fact that a quality coach like Ed Bowen would return to athletics under the current economic atmosphere is encouraging," Barnes said.
Bowen understands the dilemma he faces.
"I'm hoping after one year, we'll go back to the coaching period," he said. "But for one year, it looks like I'm going to eat it."
Vickers insists the decision to dissolve the coaching period was done to alleviate overcrowded class rooms and to reduce costs. Laguna Beach's student-teacher ratio is 24 students per teacher with 40 instructors and 966 students, which is considered on the medium to low side of the educational scale. The dissolution of the coaching period affected only eight of 40 full time teachers.
But the dissident coaches ask, is it fair to ask Laguna Beach to compete against other schools whose coaches have the luxury of a coaching period? Said Vickers, "I don't know if the elimination of the coaching period will make a difference or not. The decision is not closed. If it was not a productive measure, we would re-examine the issue."
Boosters and school board members claim they are trying to build the program, not tear it down. They pointed to the task force, which helped create a $19,100 budget for athletics. They also cited the proposed additions of a full-time weight room aide and part-time trainer to the program next school year.
The task force tried to establish order in the athletic department by suggesting monthly coaches meetings, orientation meetings for new coaches and rule book orientations for walk-ons. These, say district officials, are encouraging signs.
"I made an application to join the task force because I thought athletics had hit rock-bottom at the school," said Gravely, the LEARN director. "I was annually being asked to donate money to the program and was wondering why I was putting money into a program that was deteriorating."
Laguna Beach athletes will pay LEARN $79 for 6 to 10 weeks of varsity instruction during the summer. The camps include weight and strength conditioning and varsity level instruction from Laguna Beach's coaches. Gravley insists the program is not mandatory for the school's athletes. He said he does not have any type of incentive clause in his contract based on how many students participate.
"This is not a mandatory program for the students and a high school coach has the option of forming his own summer program," he said. "If the coach wants to do this on his own, he's perfectly welcome to do so."
Another figure who some coaches have questioned his motives is booster Bob Cheatley, who owns a glass manufacturing firm at Costa Mesa. Last fall, he was a key person in raising money for the football team, which his son, Jim, is a member.
Although Cheatley was not a member of the district's task force, he attended most of its meetings. The dissident coaches charge Cheatley was dictating what the task force should recommend.
"Absolutely not," Cheatley said. "I'm not even the type who gets involved. But I had never seen such a can of worms the way the school's teams had been run. How could the kids win and have a positive attitude when there had never been an athletic budget?
"I don't see anybody trying to dictate the program with money. We're trying to establish a new attitude of success and pride. Some are supporting morally, some financially. We just want to get the sports programs on a positive note."
Cheatley claims rumors that he was using football booster money to influence standard school hiring procedures were started by a small group of dissenting coaches who were unhappy that they lost their coaching period and who had not received financial support in the past.
"The football boosters aren't throwing out money like everyone is saying," he said. "I think those rumors got started because we have more money coming in than ever before. A group of disgruntled coaches who are unhappy have started all this. They don't know what they're talking about and the losers in the end are the kids."
Cheatley did admit that each coach was paid $200 from booster funds at the conclusion of last season. Vickers compared the payment to a birthday present, saying, "It's like a thank you gift . . . too small to worry about."
Southern Section administrator Dean Crowley disagrees.
"It's illegal, no question," he said. "You can't reward coaches for things like that. The only stipend a coach may receive must come from the school. You can't give stipends. It's a violation."
Crowley said if the Southern Section gets a report of such a stipend, he would advise the school principal that it is a violation of CIF rules.
Jim Lawler, booster club president, predicts Laguna Beach will return to prominence within two to three years.
"This past year, we had the best membership drive we've had for the past three years," Lawler said. "We have 131 members in the booster club and raised over $8,000 in our membership drive. I thought the task force brought out a lot of positive things."
Though most schools began spring football this week, Hardman postponed his practice while he continued to look for assistant coaches.
Meanwhile, Hamera continues the task of cleaning out his desk and making the move to the English department. He wonders if there are alternate ways to run the athletic program without what he calls, experimentation. And he offers this advice:
"We must continue to pursue quality coaches and the community must place their trust in trained educators. We need a consistent source for funding. We're in last place when it comes to funding."