Ukiah coaches' suspensions reduced by NCS appeals panel

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A three-person appeals panel formed by the North Coast Section decided last month to drastically reduce the suspensions of eight Ukiah High School coaches, section and Ukiah Unified School District officials confirmed recently.

The original penalties, based on a strict one-for-one formula — one day of suspension for each day on the job without proper certification — ranged from one to three years of ineligibility. After reviewing the facts of the case and listening to a presentation by school officials, the appeals panel shortened the one-year suspensions to 15 practice days for six coaches, and the three-year suspensions to 30 practice days for two coaches.

Despite repeated inquiries by The Press Democrat, the district declined to name the eight affected coaches, saying it was a confidential personnel issue that had been addressed in a closed hearing.

Officials did express relief at the outcome.

“The ruling is fair and due process was followed,” Ukiah principal Dennis Willeford said in an email. “We self-reported the incident and have been very forthright in all aspects of the situation. The panel took that into consideration when reviewing our appeal. We pride ourselves in providing quality athletic programs for our students and modeling the type of integrity and sportsmanship we expect. The clerical error has been corrected. The consequences have been assigned. We are moving forward.”

The problem arose when a group challenged the qualifications of volleyball coach Kristi Barrington early last spring. Barrington’s employment packet was in good standing, according to the school district, but in the process of reviewing it they discovered that the employment checklists of eight coaches did not include check-off of a mandatory coaching-education class.

At that point, the district self-reported the oversight. After the NCS’s original ruling, Willeford wrote an appeal to the section. The appeals panel met Aug. 22 and included Craig Kinser, retired commissioner of the Coastal Mountain Conference; Jason Krolikowski, assistant principal at Dougherty Valley High School; and Linda Sawyer, former athletic director at Las Lomas High.
They determined that while Ukiah High had violated the letter of California Interscholastic Federation bylaw 22.B.9, it had not done so knowingly.

“There might be an administrator out there somewhere who would have said, ‘Let’s not worry about it,’” NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon noted. “But they followed the rules and reported themselves. And they have taken steps to insure it doesn’t happen again.”

Willeford believes the matter is settled now, though he does worry about the short-term effect on the school’s reputation.

“I’m concerned we may have lost potential incoming students to Ukiah High because of the coaching controversy,” the principal said. “Some athletes, who attended our local feeder schools, have not enrolled at Ukiah High.”

Willeford does not believe the uproar scared away any coaches. He said the school has had trouble filling a few vacant positions, but that is not out of the ordinary. One of those positions was the girls tennis coach — a role now being handled by Willeford himself.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.