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Cal High basketball coach 'forced to resign,' implores school board to change policies

Original post made on Nov 30, 2012

In a tearful, impassioned speech to San Ramon Valley Unified's Board of Education on Nov. 13, California High School's Bob Donovan implored the school district to change its policies regarding parent complaints. Donovan, who coached men's varsity basketball for the past two years and from 1983-1990, was allegedly forced to resign amid unsubstantiated accusations.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 4:41 PM

Comments (15)

Posted by Mike, a resident of San Ramon
on Nov 30, 2012 at 9:59 am

The athletic system and coaches at Cal High are broken. My son played baseball. Coach Ward (who thankfully was pushed out for some other reason) started a private club prior to the season start (maybe breaking EBAL rules or at least skirting them) and extorted the parents to join for a fee. Ward also offered/made them buy products from him like special bats in order for the kids to have any hope of making the team.

In total 60+ boys participated in Ward's club/camp each year. Only 20-25 had any hope of making the team and he knew exactly who he was going to pick even before camp. During the first year he expected each boy to attend every practice (2-3 per week) which took away from studies or other activities. Camp started pretty much when school started yet the season didn't start until spring. Several months and thousands of hours were wasted by boys who never had a chance.

Parents are also at fault for this. They all think their kids are going to get a scholarship or will be the next Pro. They will do anything or spend anything to keep the dream alive. Coach Ward played into their hands.

BTW – My son did make the team. I'm not the disgruntled parent however I hated the process. Maybe Principal Cortes will take back control and make athletics fun again. These kids are not professionals. They don't need the pressure or stress.


Posted by Judy Gestring, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 2, 2012 at 8:52 pm

I am amazed that the school district would even listen to anonymous complaints. In all other school districts with which I am familiar, such complaints are not given any credence or attention. I am of the belief that parents should have the courage to provide their names if they feel so strongly about an issue. I would suggest that the teacher's association make this an issue when collective bargaining resumes. Otherwise it will be open season on teachers.


Posted by Mike, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 3, 2012 at 8:57 am

The reason people send in complaints anonymously is that the teachers retaliate against the kids. In the case of sports the kids don't make the team. In the case of bad teachers like Ms. Nguyen at Cal High she continues to abuse the kids year after year. No one can do anything precisely because of the teachers union. Let's make bad teachers part of the collective bargaining. I'm sure there would be 30+ parents a year willing to discuss Ms Nguyen if there were any hope of it making a positive change. My daughter got a B in her class but it was the most horrible experience of her high school career. It completely turned her off to math and science as a result.


Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of Danville
on Dec 3, 2012 at 8:11 pm

My husband and I viewed the complete speech given by Bob Donovan only just yesterday.

As I listened to Mr. Donovan as he spoke, I couldn't help but feel enormous compassion and empathy for him. From what I can see, in not only viewing Donovan's speech, but in viewing the others of whom spoke as well, he seems to be speaking with absolute clarity...the truth.

We have been residents in the Danville area for almost thirteen years and as with many parents, we have had several complaints of varying degrees with the San Ramon Valley School District. However, each of those complaints were addressed WITH OUR NAMES ATTACHED TO OUR COMPLAINTS, whether via email or on one occasion, a formal written complaint. In fact, I wasn't aware the district would even ACCEPT a complaint presented to it, anonymously.

How and why is it that Mr. Donovan was exonerated as to the complaints lodged against him, only to have to repeatedly have those same complaints lodged at him some days/weeks later?

With reference to the issue with Mr. Phelps, the charges were DROPPED against him (pursuant to statute of limitations issues). Further, the charge leveled against Coach Phelps occurred some 40 years, prior! The presumption of innocence SHOULD be the stance in this respect!

Further, Coach Phelps has been actively employed all these years for various high school and collegiate teams. How on EARTH, therefore, can Coach Donovan be accused of erroneous judgment because a coach with Mr. Phelps' background was invited into an OPEN GYM to view a practice? Where's the logic and common sense with that reasoning?

To ME, this entire and very sad story seems to have occurred because someone was afraid of a lawsuit, perhaps filed by a very disgruntled small group of parents with an axe to grind. And rather than deal with that, they fired a coach of whom by all accounts seems to have been extremely well liked by many of his students, peers and co-workers.

I am SO sorry to see this type of behavior with this school district, but yet I was heartened to see the amount of support for Coach Donovan as he spoke that evening.


Posted by Elliott, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Bayareamom, well said.

It is very unfortunate that future student athletes will not be able to be taught basketball by Coach Donovan.


Posted by Ms. Bunny, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 4, 2012 at 9:02 am

Interesting that JUST NOW? People are seeing a 'broken' system of coaching at California High School, when it's been problematic for the PAST 15-18 years. My son played football and the antics that went on in coaching were a sight to behold. He begged us not to "say anything" though I did. The power these gentleman had was skewed beyond belief.
It was a terrible experience for our family. I yanked him out, finally, after some "damage done".

Disgusting situation, to state the VERY least. Maybe now? They'll resurrect fairness and enact GUIDELINES for these so-called SUPERIORS who are in charge of CHILDREN but frankly? A few who aren't fit to lead a herd of buffaloes to a waterhole.


Posted by Coach, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

As a long time teacher and coach in the district (I retired a few years ago) I have a comprehensive and balanced perspective on this whole situation.

1. This is nothing new. Parents have always hovered over their children in this valley. With a community belief that if your child does not get to college the whole family has failed, the pressure is intense on the students to get the grades or an athletic scholarship to get to the perfect college.

2. Complaints against coaches are more often than not at least partly connected to a child not getting enough playing time or maybe even being cut from the team.

3. I do not accept the notion that the district does not support their employees. In fact regarding this situation, I have heard from good sources that last year the district and school administration pushed hard against the anonymous nature of the complaints. At the same time, they can not completely ignore serious complaints, even if anonymous. As for what led up to the action this year, I suspect we will never know the full issue, as employees are protected from public comments from their employer.

4. As for Bob Donavan he is an interesting person. While he is very sensitive to his own situation, many of us know that he does not hesitate to critique and criticize others.

I hope this perspective is helpful.


Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of Danville
on Dec 4, 2012 at 11:45 am

Coach: I would like to address your comment; thanks for posting.

I never knew this situation had occurred with Donovan until just a few days ago, so granted I have no real definitive background information regarding this incident (other than what I read in the Danville Express and then researched later on via the Internet).

But having said that, it seems to me that if what Coach Donovan states is true (and thus far, I've not seen anyone refute this), then he was FIRED for having brought Coach Phelps into an open gym to view, along with another coach, that day's practice.

So from a potential legal standpoint, not to mention a moral one, the decision of this District to fire Donovan because of Phelp's appearance in that gym, was entirely incorrect.

I mention legal standpoint because as I've stated above, the complaint against Phelps was dropped!

It is my understanding Phelps had ONE complaint lodged against him in 2010 - a complaint of which 'accused' Phelps of a lewd act SOME 40 YEARS PRIOR (back in 1966). The case went all the way to the Supreme Court; that charge was DROPPED because it failed to meet the statute of limitations time limits.

So in viewing this incident objectively as possible, I don't care what some folks may or may not feel about Donovan from a personal/emotional standpoint. The facts APPEAR to be that a complaint was lodged against Donovan (complaint number one). Said complaint was investigated; Donovan was fully exonerated AFTER a student admitted that Donovan never dropped the "F" bomb in front of the Coach's students. This said student allegedly stated (according to various reports), "The Coach doesn't use that kind of language."

Yet another complaint ensued (again via anonymous email). This complaint was also investigated and once again, Coach Donovan was exonerated.

Finally, another complaint ensued, at which time Donovan was called back into a meeting to discuss PRIOR complaints of which he had ALREADY BEEN EXONERATED.

Then the ball was dropped on him and he was FIRED by this District because, as Donovan states during his speech before the Board, because he had asked Coach Phelps to preview - IN AN OPEN GYM - the team's practice that day. Another coach was asked to view this practice, along with Phelps that day.

From a legal (not to mention constitutional) standpoint, by all accounts Coach Phelps, SHOULD BE presumed INNOCENT; he has NOT charged with a crime. Period.

Phelps' career was ruined with this ONE complaint and it has obviously followed him throughout his entire career. YET, he continues to coach, not only for various high school teams, but at the collegiate level as well.

If Phelps was your husband, son, or just a beloved friend, how would any of you feel if this had happened to them - and he was actually innocent? How would you feel if Phelps was YOUR friend or loved one and this one complaint was lodged against him because of a personal grudge by someone - perhaps a disgruntled parent? And that ONE complaint, perhaps lodged against him by a disgruntled parent and/or student, followed him throughout the entirety of his career?

I have seen this type of behavior on the part of parents repeatedly (and not just in this district). Look, we all love our kids and want the best for them. There are times when parents DO have legitimate reasons when filing complaints against various personnel in this district (I should know, I've been one of those parents).

I used to play in what they called Ponytail Softball, starting back when I was ten years old, all the way up to the age of eighteen years. My memories as to how our parents behaved, are absolutely atrocious. My own parents (one a former high school cheerleader, the other a typical high school jock), were in some ways every bit as controlling and complaining as the other parents. I witnessed for myself how vicariously parents can live through their kids during these sporting events. It's just absolutely unbelievable.

Our kids have GOT to grow up in this world and understand through compassion, empathy and understanding that NO ONE IS PERFECT; we all make our mistakes. We've taught our son, now nineteen years old, that he won't always have Mommy and Daddy to stand up for him; that he will have to learn to advocate for himself eventually. I have warned him that he will most likely, at some inopportune time, run up against a bully or two, a teacher he won't like, a landlord he won't care for, etc. That's life and he'll simply have to deal with it.

I may not have all the details regarding the above issue, but I can darn straight smell something's afoul, nonetheless.

Still, I'm just heartened to see all the support Coach Donovan had during that board meeting; wish I'd been there. I would have been another supporter.


Posted by D.K., a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

Yes we all make mistakes. I for one was that parent who put my all into introducing as many sports possible to my three sons who have all gone thru the SRVUSD system from K-12 and found myself being so critical to how things should be done and far too involved in trying to make sure my sons were happy. If I had to do it again I would allow the system to take its course (within means of safety and wellbeing) and let my sons learn to win or loose, pass or fail, pick and choose, and roll with the punches and learn how to manage. Yes I tried to not let my sons be hurt but by doing that I only made things worse. Instead of trying to find something wrong with everyone else, Principals, Administrators, Teachers, Coaches etc, I really needed to look at my own damage I was causing to my own child. I know one of the reasons we moved to this area over 30 years ago is because of the schools and why not stop trying to change them. I know it is a hard thing to do when it comes to our children but take it from someone with experience, strength and hope. Once your kids are gone all is in their hands and all you can do is hope that all the good you taught them will benefit them until the end.


Posted by Ms. Bunny, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 7, 2012 at 10:10 am

All well and good in theory but as a parent? -It is forever and always important to speak up and be heard when things go awry AND ARE NOT RIGHT with these sports programs that affect our children. PERIOD. This is part of being a responsible parent, as well...If we had not acted upon inappropriate coaching way back when? It would have clearly sent the message to our son that it's okay, just ignore it; look the other way; it happens; it's acceptable when it fact? IT IS NOT. Parents must ALWAYS speak up, for "better or worse" when it comes to their children and education in ALL respects.


Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm

D.K.,

Your words were enlightening; you've obviously learned from your experiences.

Bunny: Yes, it is important to be an advocate for your child. I have been an advocate for our son while he attended school in this district.

As an example: When our son reached a certain age, we taught him that he would have to start becoming more responsible with regards to his homework. There were those few occasions when he would say he simply 'forgot' to do his homework. I resisted hovering over him; I would ask ONE time and one time only, if he had completed his homework for the day. So, unfortunately for our son, on those few occasions whereupon he'd 'forgotten' to do his homework, he found himself receiving either a failing grade - for not turning in his homework - or worse, losing the ability to make the grade up.

After a few of these type occasions, HE LEARNED. He learned to be more responsible and by the last two semesters of his senior year at Dougherty High, he came home with a 4.0 GPA.

Kids need guidance; they don't need parents hovering over them all the time. Sure, when certain events happen (and they will) when you as a parent feel you MUST intervene, then that's what you do. But learning to know the difference between guidance and just plain old helicopter parenting, is something perhaps all of us could learn...better.

From my own perspective, anyway. It takes courage to allow your child TO FAIL - at times - in order to learn his/her own life lessons.


Posted by Tim B, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 8, 2012 at 12:54 am

I was intrigued by this story as it unfolded at the board meeting that night. Its unfortunate that mr. donovan chose this night as it was to be a night of celebration and recognition for some special friends and outstanding people in our community. Nevertheless, it is an open forum and I wouldnt want to stop our freedom of speech rights. As an attorney of 32 years, I learned 32 years ago that there's three sides to every story. So I did some digging on my own and talked to school admin that I have known for years, coaches past and present at cal high that coached my children and nieces and nephews over the last decade. What I learned was that the basketball program had a number of violations under mr. donovan that were investigated by not only the school board but also the NCS (cal high sports governing body). I learned that the school had to forfeit games played for allowing 2 ineligible players on the team. I learned that Mr. donovan had numerous parent complaints, not just one rogue, anonymous parent as it was portrayed. I leaned that mr. donovan was indeed confronted at a game by an angry parent which is absolutley not ok under any circumstances. I leaned that off the court mr. donovan is known as a nice guy overall and has a soft spot for those kids that may need a little help. Hes known to show the special kids attention which is to be applauded. I learned that his approach and tactics in his two years since replacing Coach Wilson lacked good judgement and fired his JV coach for questioning his leadership and decision making. I leaned that the basketball program suffered significantly when he took over for Coach Wilson. The program quality declined, quality of coaching declined, fundraising declined, the summer camp program was almost non existent. I learned that a committee was put in place to hire the new coach that comprised of players, parents and administrators. I learned that donovan was not the choice of any of the players or parents in that committee yet he was appointed by the school as coach. I learned alot and I was surprised at how freely people shared the other side of the story when asked. I dont know if firing Donovan for having a accused sexual child abuser at practice is right or wrong, (lets remmember he wasnt brought to trial despite the efforts of the Disrict Attorney because the statute of limitations has expired)But, would an innocent person apologize to the boy in a secretly taped conversation by the police that he felt guilty for what he had done.? . Thats in the public record for anyone to judge his guilt/innocence, "In a conversation in August at Phelps' Alameda home that was monitored and tape-recorded by police, the 57-year-old coach told the alleged victim, now 49,that he regretted inappropriately touching the 11 year old Catholic grammar school student in Oakland, investigators said in court papers.


Read more: Web Link.

I learned all of this was known for years by coaches and educators including Mr. Donovan . I leaned he even told his students he was fired from coaching for allowing mr. phelps near the boys. Sounds like an admission of guilt to this old attorney..

Nevertheless, I'm certain the three sides of the story rule pertains to this drama as well. There is mr. donovans story, there is the other side of the story and then there is the truth.

Im going to conclude that there was so much noise and distraction from the shortcomings of mr donovan as coach and program director that everyone grew tired of the drama and constant complaints about all things true/false/perceived or embellished to keep donovan in that position. too many mistakes , oversights, rule breaking, poor communication and judgement should result in the removal of a coach . The phelps matter only cemented the need for his removal. Thats how I see it at least.


Posted by Bayareamom, a resident of Danville
on Dec 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Tim:

Thank you for providing more information on this issue; it certainly does shed some more light on these events.

Your last paragraph above caught my 'ear.' The DRAMA involved. Wow. All this drama - makes my head spin. FOR A SPORT; in high school. All this fighting and bickering.

Found myself actually reliving the drama/horror when I played girls' softball as a kid.

There is room for sports in our lives, but it just seems to bring out the absolute worst in adults, not to then mention some of the kids. It's hard enough just getting through school, let alone deal with all the nonsense involving sports.

It's NOT the end of the world if you lose a game! I often wonder what's really going on inside parents' heads when they get so gosh darned wrapped up in these sports activities. Is it something they really want for their kids, or is it something else - something entirely unrelated to their kids' sports activities.

The only thing I think I would disagree with you on, is that several students have written various comments on the Web in support of Coach Donovan. It does seem to me, judging from the speeches during that board meeting, that several students and teachers alike, DID support Donovan.

But as I've said, I didn't know anything about this situation before I read this story at the Express. But from what I witnessed during that speech, something really seemed askew. IF what Donovan states is the truth - as far as complaints lodged against him and his ensuing exonerations - then I still stand by my initial feelings about this issue.




Posted by Ms. Bunny, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 9, 2012 at 9:07 am

Well stated Tim...There are always a few in support of a coach under these circumstances and that is all very well and good. BUT, the bottom line must prevail. A few too many mistakes say's it all...

Thank you for shedding greater light on this very real problem!


Posted by Mark, a resident of San Ramon
on Aug 13, 2013 at 8:23 am

The Reason why cal high has so many academic and sport related issues stems from a total lack of leadership. When you bend to the crowd instead of doing the right thing you create problems we see at cal high. When you hire people who are your friends or just because you dont want to do the work of finding the bery best candidate you get the personel issues we see at cal high. When you have a teachers union that protects poor or plain incompetent performance it reflect poorly on all the excellent personel.
This all stems from a total lack of leadership from the top and the fact teachers become administrators. The only way to currently combat this total lack of competence is to start a charter school. Fire everyone. Bring back only the top performers.
Parents: Go to the district and ask for the teachers results. Grades,star test averages, number of kids dropping any given teachers class. This will show you exactly what i am talking about. These incompetent teachers ask for more money but we cant even get them to help our kids after school. Not one teacher has come up with an after school program or made any extra effort to give more time to teaching. Boy do they put in the extra time when it comes to the bargaining table. They spend more time during and after school discussions than they do in class teaching. Where are the teachers working extra hours to inspire and help the students. Now not all are like the above. There are a few exceptions. But for the most part its not for the kids. When it comes to the union character definately doesnt count. If the union is talking its not for the students. $90,000 a year plus benefis for 8 total months of work. Beautiful new buildings in which to work. What are the students getting? Academic Abuse. No leadership. Propaganda. Boy does the district spend a lot of money on propaganda.
Ask your kids. They will tell you who the poor teachers are. Go get their performance records. You can tell just by the drop rate who is not performing. Start demanding excellance. Dont belive wht you are told. Go find out


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