Taft Principal Outraged After Being Starr-Crossed : Recruiting: School probe reveals violations by Toreador football coach, whose fate will be determined this week.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taft High Principal Ron Berz, reacting angrily to rules violations committed by football Coach Troy Starr, said Saturday that the coach's often stormy tenure could come to an end later this week.

After completing an internal inquiry that determined Starr had committed recruiting violations, Berz said he was "disappointed and embarrassed" and said the 32-year-old Starr could lose his coaching position depending on the outcome of a midweek meeting between the pair.

Berz said he expects to meet with Starr Tuesday or Wednesday and characterized the conference as "the first formal step toward possible disciplinary action." Berz said he expects the meeting to be "very, very intense and thorough."

Starr refused to comment Saturday.

Taft last month began investigating charges that undue influence violations had been committed by Starr and last week reported its findings to the City Section, which placed the football program on one year's probation. Berz has not ruled out taking the next step--firing the coach.

"I'm not only concerned about this one incident, but ones I might not be aware of," Berz said.

Starr, who in two years at Taft has compiled a record of 19-7, has previously ruffled feathers:

When Starr took over at Taft three years ago, two prominent players from the San Fernando High attendance area enrolled at Taft. Starr previously had served as an assistant at San Fernando.

The players, Jerry Brown and DaShon Polk, are two-time All-City Section selections and will be heavily recruited seniors in the fall. Former City Commissioner Hal Harkness spoke with Taft administrators soon after Brown and Polk enrolled to ensure that Starr's talent "pipeline" had been capped.

Last season, Taft drew fire from the coaching staffs at Cleveland and Reseda for running up scores. In the final moments of a 39-13 victory over Reseda, Starr screamed an expletive at Taft administrator Tom Abraham, who attempted to dissuade the coach from ordering an onside kick.

Reseda Coach Joel Schaeffer was so incensed that he called for Starr's resignation. Berz admonished Starr, who apologized to the Reseda players--but not to Schaeffer.

Berz did little to defend the recent actions of Starr, who hasn't made many friends in the coaching community.

"What kind of message does (running up the score) send to the players?" Berz said Saturday. "All of this is the exact opposite of what we're all about at Taft."

The undue influence violations were uncovered almost by accident. Berz said he received an anonymous letter last month that detailed illegal contact between Starr and a junior high student from Sherman Oaks, Dante Clay. The letter stated that Starr escorted Clay on a weekend tour of the Taft campus and that the player was given a team T-shirt and cap.

Contact between a coach and player from another school is against state rules. After receiving the letter, Berz directed Taft athletic administrators to investigate and the charges proved true.

Berz said he was told by City officials that Clay, a running back who will be a sophomore in the fall, may also be subject to sanctions, which could result in a loss of athletic eligibility. Under the City sanctions, any violations committed by Taft in the next year could result in forfeitures or increased sanctions. Starr also will not be allowed on school grounds during weekends without approval from Taft administrators, Berz said.

The punitive actions taken against Taft are the first for a City Section school since the state's open enrollment policy took effect last month. Berz said Taft coaches in all sports were given "extensive and detailed" verbal and written instruction regarding the new rules, which allow students to attend district schools outside their enrollment area.

Berz said that Starr was not as forthcoming as he would have liked during the school's investigation. "Let me put it this way: We had to do the investigating," Berz said. "I want to see him come clean (in our meeting)."

Whether Starr is retained or not, Berz made it clear that he has grown weary of problems related to the football program.

"I hired him," Berz said of Starr. "My judgment and credibility are on the line, too."

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