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Wrestling coaches on administrative leave

POSTED February 9, 2004 12:00 a.m.
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Jaime Guerra is a dedicated coach. Guerra started working with wrestlers at the junior-high level last school year in an effort to boost interest in the sport at the high school. The move paid off as more than 35 students, including a host of freshmen, joined the this year's team, which has already surpassed last year's win total.

"He was building the program up so much," said Ceres co-team captain Ryan Rodriguez.

On Wednesday, Guerra and assistant coach Frank Madrid were put on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the year for poor judgment. Volunteer assistant coaches Adam Borges and Garrett Hall were also dismissed.

"Through the course of the investigation there has not been anything that would warrant any legal action taken against the coaches," said Ceres High Principal Steve Thiessen. "There have been activities that have risen my concern."

Added Guerra: "He doesn't feel like it's appropriate to let us continue on with the allegations that were presented to him, which was the back slapping and the pictures. He's not being fair to the kids. He's not being fair to me."

A parent of a JV wrestler contacted Thiessen and the Ceres Police Department after her son came home from a practice with a welt on his back. The welt turned into a bruise.

The Ceres Police Department conducted a preliminary investigation.

"She brought us the photographs and talked to investigators," said Brian Weber, CPD Division Commander. "Based on the information we have, there doesn't appear to be anything that rises to criminal behavior that requires our involvement.

"I'm confident the school district will do a thorough and complete investigation and the matter will be resolved at their level."

The alleged incident took place after a practice during winter break. The team played dodgeball. The losers agreed to line up on all fours, close their eyes and get slapped on their backs by the winners.

"I let them play a couple games after practice," Guerra said. "None of the coaches participated. We were kicking back, doing paperwork."

Added Ceres co-team captain David Burris: "Everybody was participating and having a good time. No one was singled out."

The coaches had also been running drills for wrestlers that were late to or missed practices.

"Any type of drill that is done with punitive measures in mind shouldn't be conducted with high schoolers or any child," Thiessen said.

The JV wrestler was thrown into "The Pit" once.

"If you miss practice and you don't have a note from a parent or a doctor, you do one of two things," Guerra said. "Option one is the pit. It's a drill that uses a lot of energy and it's mentally tough. The bottom guy's job is to hold the base. The top guy's job is to turn him. The bottom guys isn't allowed to stand up. Option two is physically tough. You run two miles before practice, do 50 sprint walls, 50 pushups, 50 situps, climb the rope three times, have a 12-minute match with a coach or a varsity wrestler and run two miles after practice.

"If you want a competitive and tough team you have to have strict drills that are going to make the kids compete to their highest potential. Look what the Army and Navy do. They push those kids to the limit."

Added Rodriguez: "If you miss practice in any sport you have to make it up. It's not punishment."

Parents from the wrestling team met in Thiessen's office for 21/2 hours on Thursday.

"The parents are pissed right now," Guerra said. "They totally disagree with everything that happened."

Sandy Keidel, the mother of a freshman wrestler, is concerned.

"I feel bad for the kids and coaches because it wasn't handled right," she said. "The principal is being unfair."

A handful of parents, including Keidel, spoke to the Ceres School Board Monday night. They were upset because Thiessen refused to let them know why the coaches were dismissed.

"We have the right to know what happened," she said.

Added Thiessen: "I've tried to ensure them that their kids are not in danger."

Walt Hanline, superintendent for CUSD, said the investigation will probably be completed by the end of this week.

"The investigation is not over," he said. "We don't know all the facts yet."

Former Ceres High wrestling coach Bruce Scott will fill the coaching vacancy for the remainder of the year. The suspended coaching staff will not be allowed to participate in practices or matches.

"The kids are suffering from it," Scott said. "Hopefully they could put it aside and reach the goals that they set at the beginning of the year."

Guerra, Madrid, Borges and Hall will continue to support the team.

"Obviously I can't be in the room with them," Guerra said. "We're still allowed to come to the matches."

Added Rodriguez: "Every single person on the team knows the coach is a good guy. Everyone is behind him. We're trying to get him back." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier
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