It's been more than a week since news surfaced about a scandal involving the Burroughs High baseball team — underage drinking and alcohol served by an Indians' assistant coach.
The school fired the varsity baseball coach and three assistants and canceled the remainder of the season after discovering an assistant coach served players beer during a recent tournament trip to Arizona.
Indians Coach J.R. Schwer and the assistants, who were all at the mid-March tournament, were fired April 18. The coach, who said he learned about the incident just three days before he was let go, acknowledged that a large number of players were served alcohol by an assistant coach.
Burroughs Principal Emilio Urioste confirmed that 11 players who drank were suspended five days. They were scheduled to be back at school Monday. Seven athletes who were aware of the incident but failed to come forward were given two-day suspensions, the principal said.
There was also a Burroughs administrator who was present on the trip. That administrator is still at the school.
The Indians had nine games left on their schedule when their season was cancelled last week. The team was tied for third place in the Pacific League and was likely headed to the playoffs.
Since I broke the story, I have received a glut of e-mails and phone calls from individuals who feel the need to comment on the story. A large number of readers were upset with the school's decision to fire the head coach. An equal number don't believe the seven athletes who decided not to drink were reprimanded, and most feel the season should not have been cut short.
Many of the readers make valid points, and their voices need to be heard. Because most of the individuals want to remain anonymous, I am not including their names.
"It is TOTALLY WRONG to fire the head coach," one e-mailer stated. "I hear the phrases 'set an example' and 'no tolerance'. So let's take a look at this: You had an excellent coach, a good man…difficult to find these days. He has standards and rules. He hires good assistants, adult men with a proven track record. They make bad decisions of which he had no knowledge, so HE gets fired? Ok. Let's go with that standard. I'm the boss of four accountants of a large company. I hired them all. If one of them steals from the company and gets fired, should I be fired for hiring them? I hired skilled accountants with a proven track record and skills. They are adults and know the rules in life — 'don't steal.'
"Are we talking about the city of Burbank, who hires for the police and fire [departments]? Haven't there been numerous episodes of illegal behavior and misconduct over the years from these two [departments]? When those men have been let go, were their superiors also fired? Were their chiefs fired? Their captains? Their city managers? No, because when you hire grown men who know the rules, it's those grown men and their bad decisions that should be punished, not their superiors.
The e-mailer went on: "Coach J.R. Schwer should absolutely have his job back. Principal Emilio Urioste should have his back and Superintendant Stan Carrizosa needs to think before he speaks on local television."
Another reader commented through e-mail: "Not to add insult to injury to what has happened to the Burroughs baseball team, but I would like someone to investigate where was the school administrator who accompanied the team on the trip?…He should receive some kind of punishment as well, maybe suspend him for five days without pay."
One reader had an idea of letting the Indians continue their baseball season.
"I don't believe that the head coach should have been fired from Burroughs," the individual e-mailed.
"Just the [assistant] coach that bought the beer. What about the parents who accompanied the team to supervise? There's no mention of them. Why not have brought up the JV team to fill out the varsity players who didn't drink? I think the punishment is too severe for the crime."
In another e-mail a reader commented: "Mr. Urioste, how in the world can you fire the team's coach after learning an assistant coach bought the beer, then suspending seven team players who didn't drink?"
This reader was upset that the problem of alcohol abuse wasn't addressed along with the reprimands.
"This is a very serious situation, but the problem with "zero tolerance" is that there is no discussion of the problem in detail," the individual commented via e-mail. "Carte blanche firings and suspensions do not solve the inherent problem of alcohol abuse and misuse. The profound solution takes time and uses honest communication to get at the root of this problem."
Another e-mailer agreed the school was wrong in suspending the athletes who didn't participate in the drinking, and claimed there is nothing in the school's code of conduct that supports that decision.
"While it is clear that there are severe penalties for alcohol use, nowhere does it say that there are penalties for not reporting substance abuse by one's teammates," the individual wrote. "Certainly several students are being unfairly punished, while the administrator who accompanied the team is not being punished at all."
While most e-mailers and callers echoed many of the same sentiments, there were some who agreed with the decision of Burroughs High and the school district.
"We need to send a message that behavior like this is not an acceptable practice in our school systems," a caller said. "It is harsh, yes, to take away the season, but it should serve as a valuable lesson that when something wrong is done, there has to be consequences. The school did the right thing."
Another e-mailer commented: "Good for the school…The coach was in charge, and thus he has to be held accountable for what happened on his watch."
While the debate still rages, we are left with the fact that a group of young men broke the rules and are now suffering the consequences for their actions. However, should individuals who clearly did not break the rules, and a coach who claims he had no knowledge of the incident, also be subjected to disciplinary action?
I will leave that for you to decide.