A parent revolt at Mira Costa High has resulted in the suspension of varsity baseball coach Cassidy Olson until March 25.
Olson will have restricted coaching duties until his reinstatement if the ruling holds.
Olson supporters plan to appeal to the school board at its Feb. 6 meeting.
"For the players, (the sanction) is terrible," said Geoff Wells, president of the Mira Costa baseball booster club and the father of a senior player. "Almost half of our season without the head coach and without longer than a one-hour practice."
Olson can only have contact with his players during his sixth-period P.E. class through March 24, according to Mira Costa Principal Dr. Ben Dale.
"He will not be present at scrimmages, games, tournaments or any other team activities that take place outside of the regular school day," Dale wrote in a letter addressed to the 'Mustang Family.'
"On March 25 th he may return to his full coaching duties."
A group of unhappy Mira Costa baseball parents hired the law firm of Angelo & Di Monda to look into the coaching tactics of Olson in the hopes of having the coach removed from his post.
A lengthy document by Joseph Di Monda, who is representing the group of parents who have or recently have had a player in the Mira Costa baseball program, cites the reasons why they think Olson should be fired as baseball coach.
The document quotes anonymous parents, who describe Olson's alleged "abusive behavior, intimidating tactics, bullying and hazing of their children."
For example, in the document, Parent C8923 writes: "The boys on the team live in constant fear of this man and the parents, for their children, do as well. One particular boy on the team even mentioned to his father, after an extremely difficult practice with Coach Olson (who was) in a complete fit of rage, that (Olson) was screaming and swearing in their faces and that 'he actually feared for his life at a point.' It is very difficult for the boys to deal with Coach Olson's rage because they can't even go to an assistant coach for support, for they, too, are all afraid of Olson, and in fear of losing their jobs."
Parent H6881 writes: "My son cried in my arms and said, 'What did I do to make Cass hate me so much?'"
Mira Costa interim Athletic Director Don Morrow is in the unique position of having had a son in Olson's program. Morrow's findings run contrary to that of Di Monda.
"Over the years, I have known many of Coach Olson's players as students in my class. Never did I hear them comment about an intimidating, bullying head coach of baseball," Morrow said. "There were never any allegations of abuse of any kind. Further, my son participated in Coach Olson's program and I had the chance to watch the program first hand. I saw an organized, disciplined program that made it to the CIF semifinals."
Morrow, who also is the longtime and respected Mira Costa football coach, recently talked to nearly every member of the baseball team looking to find evidences of abuse, bullying and intimidation.
"An overwhelming number of players found the program to be tough, disciplined, and stated that they enjoyed playing baseball for Coach Olson," Morrow said. "I found there to be no such program of intimidation and bullying. Many players said they loved playing for Coach Olson and appreciated all he did to try to make them better as students and athletes."
Morrow's findings were submitted to the Mira Costa administration. He recommended that Olson be reinstated immediately.
Principal Dale chose not to comment on exactly why Olson was suspended, but in his letter, he states: "We have concluded our review of the baseball program and have forwarded our findings to Dr. "(Mike) Matthews, Superintendent. The results of the findings were largely positive and we concluded that there is no evidence indicating physical, mental or emotional abuse. We do have serious concerns about some specific items that I addressed today with Coach Olson."
Later in the letter Dale writes: "Hopefully, this situation will help the players understand that even good coaches like Cass can be held accountable, take responsibility, then come back stronger. I believe this is an important life lesson that will serve our athletes well."
Olson, who suspended some players for drug use two years ago, disputes the allegations.
"This has never been about mistreatment of players. It has always been about playing time," Olson said. "Some parents are mad that I held their kids accountable for using drugs and others are just disappointed in their child's career."
Olson said he simply holds kids accountable, and that certain parents don't like it.
"I am far from perfect and learning everyday, but I would not change a thing I did in regards to the parents who are complaining," Olson said. "I have learned that in this community when you hold kids accountable for their actions you make some enemies and some of these parents will stop at nothing to get their way."
Olson said that disgruntled parents are becoming an epidemic in Manhattan Beach.
"As the father of a 1-year-old, I'm worried about the future of our community. The principal told me that there is a different parent group trying to get all 23 varsity coaches at Mira Costa fired," Olson said. "I was almost fired based on anonymous complaints. Thankfully our athletic director, Don Morrow, stepped in and insisted on interviewing all the players."
Multiple varsity head coaches at Mira Costa have been let go in the last couple of years, including in boys basketball, girls basketball and recently in lacrosse, where coach Chris Jewett was reportedly forced out in December by a group of disgruntled parents which also had hired an attorney who filed complaints.
Olson would like to see more support from the administration for all coaches.
"If coaches don't have support from the administration against these attacks, Mira Costa athletics will decline," said Olson, a former UCLA baseball player. "What are my assistant coaches supposed to do while I am restricted, play the kids whose parents have a lawyer over the kids who deserve to play? They are scared of being sued."
Like many coaches at elite programs, Olson always has Mira Costa play a tough nonleague schedule before its league slate, which is meant to help players improve and gets them ready for the kind of competition they might face in the playoffs. It paid off in 2010 - Olson's first season at Mira Costa - when the Mustangs won the Bay League and reached the CIF Southern Section Division II semifinals.
"We are tough but fair with our players, it's not always roses and sunshine, that's the real world," Olson said. "I played Division I baseball and know what it takes to get there, so we prepare them. I'm proud to say we have 13 players in the last three years now playing D1 and 24 playing total in college at some level."
Olson, who also is a history teacher at Mira Costa, said the ruling will only hurt the program.
"I understand the position the district is in when lawyers get involved, but this solves nothing," Olson said.
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Staff writer Carley Dryden contributed to this article.