This article may seem out there when it comes to high school sports, but coaches field these things all the time. Yes, we do. I could tell stories...
Castro Valley hoops coach can't win
Angry parents get a panel to pick team, cry foul when daughters don't make cut
- C.W. Nevius
Thursday, November 30, 2006
The results are in at Castro Valley High School. That's where a group of parents were in an uproar over girls varsity basketball coach Nancy Nibarger and demanded that her team be picked by a six-person panel. This week the team roster was posted.
None of the disgruntled parents' daughters made it.
If you think that's poetic justice and the end of things, you clearly haven't been following the situation. The parents are not going to let this go.
"The panel was a joke,'' Patty Goodman, the wife of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman, who has been in the vanguard of the angry parents, wrote in an e-mail exchange with me on Wednesday.
Really? Wasn't the panel their idea?
"The bottom line is that the parents got what they wanted,'' says Clay Kallam, a veteran East Bay women's basketball coach. "But they didn't like how it turned out.''
Sadly, the accusations and innuendo continue to fly. Patty Goodman, for example, wrote to me that "There has been a letter written by one of the panel members stating that the coach was displaying inappropriate behavior during tryouts. Nibarger even got in his face.''
"That absolutely never happened,'' says Bob Oates, who was appointed "ombudsman" by the school board to attend and oversee all the team's practices this season. Oates, who retired as principal at San Leandro High 11 years ago, says he did not know Nibarger when he took the job.
Not only that, he said this week, "I was going to look for anything" to confirm the behavior the parents were complaining about. "And if it had happened, I am sure I would have seen it.''
But try to convince the parents of that. On Internet bulletin boards, they rage that the panel was stacked with Nibarger supporters and that she ran the process. In fact, Nibarger says not only had she never met the panelists before, but "to this day I don't know their names.''
Assistant Principal Marci Plummer, who joined Castro Valley High in August, says she chose one of the panelists from a list submitted by the parents' group and then chose two longtime, "equitable and fair basketball experts whose reputation precedes them.''
And, in case there is any doubt, Plummer adds that the final decisions on cuts were "consensus-based and supported by the vast majority of the group.''
Nope, the parents continue to insist. It was a conspiracy. They wanted Nibarger fired this year, and if they couldn't get that (and they couldn't after formal complaints to the principal, district and school board), they were going to make her life miserable.
After a 12-hour meeting with the school board in August, Nibarger was ordered to have an ombudsman watching her during practices. Nor would she be allowed to pick her own team. The six-person panel -- which included Nibarger and her two assistants, each of whom had one vote -- would do that.
The restrictions seemed so unreasonable that coaches around the Bay Area expressed their outrage, and the entire 12-person football staff at Castro Valley eventually resigned. But Nibarger stayed and hopes the worst is over.
"We don't need any more war,'' Nibarger says. "Everybody loses in a war.''
Oates, who was a high school athletic director in Southern California before moving to the East Bay, and whose daughters graduated from Castro Valley High and played sports there, might have the best perspective.
"I believe the Goodmans and the other parents are fabulous people,'' he says. "And I think they honestly believe what they have heard. But I think what we will find is that when it is our children that we believe have been treated unfairly, we will go to the ends of the Earth.''
The elusive part of the story is what it is that Nibarger has done. Jay-Marie Hill, a co-captain on last year's team who is now a student at Stanford University, says Nibarger barked at her when she wanted to go to a church event instead of a basketball tournament. Although Hill had a sprained ankle and couldn't play, Nibarger wanted her there as a team leader. The two had words and, depending on whom you speak to, one of them hung up on the other.
"I told her two weeks later that I felt very disrespected by that,'' says Hill, who elected to come to the game after all but was hurt by the fact that Nibarger didn't say hello. "To me, that just shows a lack of character.''
Frankly, it sounds as if Nibarger could work on her communication skills. That's what the school board said after its meeting. But at least Hill had the maturity to go to Nibarger and speak to her personally instead of hiring an attorney.
Still, that incident was all it took to fracture their relationship. Hill, who once spent lunch hours in Nibarger's office chatting, and got a glowing letter of recommendation from her coach, now says she supports the unhappy parents. There's even talk of a lawsuit for "violation of civil rights.''
You think you have a civil right to be on the basketball team?
The season began Tuesday night at the Castro Valley gym, where Nibarger's Trojans were clobbered by powerhouse Foothill High of Pleasanton. But despite the drama swirling around, at that moment it looked like nothing more than a high school girls basketball game.
About 130 parents and friends sat in the bleachers as girls sprinted up and down the court. It isn't hard to imagine that this is how it will be next year. The unhappy seniors will be gone, their parents will be on to other things, and we'll be back to the game -- maybe a little older and wiser.
"There's a lesson here for everybody,'' says Mark Neal, an assistant principal at Creekside Middle School in Castro Valley and one of Nibarger's assistants. "But nobody is listening, because everybody is so upset about what happened to them.''
C.W. Nevius' column appears Thursdays and Saturdays in the Bay Area section. His blog, C.W. Nevius.blog, can be found at SFGate.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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