After 17 years of coaching and teaching physical education at Patrick Henry High School, Walt Baranski, a fixture in the San Carlos community, has been declared in “excess” and will not return to the school this fall.
Baranski, 48, is one of five teachers at Patrick Henry who have been told they are no longer needed because of the school’s declining enrollment.
“Now you got to pick it up after 17 years and go find something else to do,” Baranski said. “I just want to go to a place where I can help somebody. I still got a lot of life in me, you know. If I’m dead wood, let me know. I got too much experience to sit around and not help somebody.”
More Seniority Than Most
Baranski’s situation is unusual in that his seniority at the school exceeds all but a handful of the coaches who will remain.
But his physical condition may have contributed to his current teaching plight. Baranski suffers from a degenerative arthritic disease known as ankylosing spondylitis.
It has slowly eroded his once-powerful, athletic body and has severely limited his ability to get around. Baranski depends on crutches, a wheelchair and a golf cart, but said the disability has not diminished his enthusiasm or hampered his ability to teach and coach.
“There’s not a damn thing wrong with my mind or my abilities,” he said. “Physically, I can’t do some of the certain things that are required.”
Baranski has not coached this year, which may be a major reason for being declared excess. Principal Shirley Peterson said she could not comment on personnel decisions, but George Flanigan, the San Diego Unified School District’s personnel director of teachers, speaking in general terms, said it is critical for all members of a physical education department to coach an interscholastic team as well as teach gym classes.
Flanigan, emphasizing that he sympathizes with Baranski’s predicament, said: “Anyone in physical education at the senior high level is coaching something. The high school PE department represents the core of your coaches, so that’s a real problem there if someone isn’t coaching.”
Physical education is now optional for high school juniors and seniors, substantially reducing the number of classes taught.
Baranski was Patrick Henry’s head junior varsity boys’ basketball coach for 15 years, the head junior varsity football coach for 12 years, and athletic director from 1978 to 1983, during which time he spearheaded a drive that raised $125,000 to install lights on the football field. He was the head varsity football coach from 1983 to 1986, when he stepped down after a 0-10 season.
Baranski said he was willing to coach this year but that neither of two positions available was offered to him. The positions of junior varsity girls’ basketball coach and head junior varsity football coach were filled by teachers with less physical education experience in the district, he said.
Baranski wonders how great a role his physical condition played in his being declared excess.
‘Why Don’t They Tell Me?’
“Are they saying I’m not capable of coaching?” he asked. “Why don’t they tell me that? If they come out and say, ‘Walt, I don’t think you can coach,’ then I ask why? Because of my condition? How can you prove that?”
Baranski says he is generally frustrated with the trend in high school curricula.
“We’ve gone down in enrollment. . . . Henry’s getting smaller, and we haven’t really lost any coaches,” he said.
“Where’s PE going? It’s not mandated after the 10th grade. In the 11th and 12th, you’ve got to take three math, four English, three social studies/language arts and three science. So the kids can’t afford time out for PE. All you’re getting is dead wood, the troublemakers of school. You lose numbers in PE, and they have to take the coach out and shove him somewhere else.”
In Baranski’s case, he was put into a consumer math class.
“You’re cheating those kids,” he said. “These are kids that don’t want to study, learn or go anywhere anyway, so you end up being a baby-sitter.”
More Challenging Courses
Because of school board dissatisfaction with courses such as consumer math--where the material is simplistic and the students do poorly anyway--the classes will be phased out beginning next year and students will be challenged in more difficult math courses.
The news of Baranski’s situation has reverberated around the Patrick Henry area. A number of people are preparing to approach the Board of Education with a plea for his reinstatement. Others are planing a letter-writing campaign.
“He’s one of the reasons I went into coaching,” said Frank Theroux, a Patrick Henry graduate who is now a coach at Helix High and who worked with Baranski briefly as a volunteer assistant.
“It was more than just coaching with him; he was teaching you about life,” Theroux said. “He was never involved in athletics for the monetary awards. It was always the relationship he established with the young people. I can think of a dozen people that he’s been involved with through athletics that he’s been a motivation or inspiration for them to continue on.”
Baranski has developed a close rapport with students over the years because of his unmistakable exuberance.
‘Major Influence on Me’
“I can’t believe that a person who dedicates that much of his life to school can be treated like that,” Theroux said. “It’s unfortunate. It just seems that there are ways they can get around that stuff, even if they are going to (a tougher) curriculum.”
Matt Kofler, a 1978 graduate of Patrick Henry who played professional football for the Buffalo Bills and the Indianapolis Colts, spoke of Baranski’s influence.
“I think Walt had a major influence on me,” said Kofler, who is coaching at Mesa College and finishing up his teaching credential at San Diego State University. “Not so much just the sports end of it. It’s the life end of it, dealing with problems that young people face and always keeping a real good attitude on things and giving a little guidance.
“He is an all-around teacher, not just a coach. I really appreciate the things he taught me, and, since I’m coaching now, I’m trying to pass some of those on.”
Craig McDonald, a 1980 graduate who is a co-owner of 11 Round Table Pizza restaurants, has worked with Baranski in setting up “Coach B’s Locker Room,” a Patrick Henry-decorated section of McDonald’s San Carlos restaurant.
Dedication and Commitment
“I deal with a lot of different high schools and a lot of different coaches,” McDonald said. “Out of all the people I have met, Walt’s dedication and commitment is 10 times greater than any other athletic director or coach I’ve ever come across. His life is that school. If he’s gone, it would just be devastating to the spirit of the whole school. He far exceeds anyone I’ve ever, ever met as far as a total commitment is concerned.”
John Thompson was a wrestling and football coach at Patrick Henry for 13 years. He was declared in excess last fall and is now teaching math at Crawford High. He was shocked at the news of Baranski’s predicament.
“He’s always been an upstanding person and done all the right things,” Thompson said. “He puts so much extra time, and I did too, but they don’t look at that.”
Baranski’s removal raises questions about the Baranski Scholarship Fund, which helps graduating seniors pursue their education. More than $2,000 was raised from 300 people at a 1987 dinner. Baranski said he expects to raise a similar amount at a golf tournament at the end of May--money to be given to the booster club to decide how to use it.
Theroux said that a group of 1978 Patrick Henry graduates recently got together to plan a 10-year reunion. They also talked about which teachers they wanted to invite.
“Walt Baranski’s name was on the top of everybody’s list,” he said.