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Coach Arrested on Suspicion of Molestation

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A volunteer football coach at Estancia High School was arrested at his home on suspicion of showing sexually explicit videos to two boys on separate occasions and molesting one of the boys on school grounds, police said Thursday.

Robert Allen Harrington, 55, was booked into Costa Mesa Jail on Wednesday on suspicion of a lewd and lascivious act with a minor and oral copulation with a minor after Costa Mesa police searched his home in the affluent Mesa Verde neighborhood. He was released on $50,000 bail.

News of the arrest stunned those who know Harrington, who only last year was commended by Estancia officials for outstanding work in the athletic department.

Edward H. Decker, a school board member in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, said that Harrington had earned a reputation for impressing on the football players the importance of academics.

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“He was the guy who was always making sure the kids kept their grades up and making sure they went to class,” Decker said. “I heard about it last night, and I woke up this morning just hoping it wasn’t true.”

As football practice at Estancia let out Thursday, several players and students said they could not believe the allegations against Harrington, known to them as “Bobcat.”

“No way,” said Aaron Dew, 17, a senior and a member of the football squad, who said he had been lectured by Harrington more than once on the importance of paying attention in class. “He was a very inspirational person.”

Athletic Director Tim Parsel said he had not been told of the arrest.

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“Not knowing all the facts, I really don’t know what to say,” Parsel said. “But I worked with Bob for five years at Estancia, and I’ve known him to be very solid. He’s been a real solid supporter of athletics for a long time.

“I’d be very surprised if this one is true.”

Harrington was not available for comment Thursday. His son, Michael, also a volunteer football coach at Estancia, said that his father was out of town and that the family had no further comment.

It is not known if the school plans to take disciplinary action against Harrington. Principal Peggy Anatol did not return repeated phone calls. Head football Coach John Liebengood and several of his assistant coaches refused to comment.

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Newport-Mesa Supt. Mac Bernd said Harrington had been employed by the district as a football coach in the past but is now a volunteer coach and receives no salary.

Bernd said that since Harrington worked on campus with students, he had gone through appropriate background checks and was found to have a clean record.

The investigation is ongoing and has not yet been referred to the district attorney’s office, said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Tom Warnack. The two incidents allegedly occurred over the past two weeks, Warnack said.

Also contributing to this report were Times staff writers Lisa Richardson and Lee Romney.

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