Parents, students and star alumni gathered in front of Granada Hills Kennedy High this morning to protest the pending suspension of Manny Alvarado, the school's beloved (and wildly successful) baseball coach of almost a quarter-century. Alvarado "was informed last week he will be suspended for three weeks without pay for his role in an alleged hazing incident," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Cindy Kuykendall, a team mom, tells the Weekly that about 200 people staged a "positive, peaceful protest" to decry the suspension -- one that could affect not only Alvarado but "our children's future."
The high-school baseball players "need to be seen this year in order to get picked up for college," she says.
Coach Alvarado was placed on one week of administrative leave in November when two students were caught fighting outside the weight room during zero period.
The school's decorated baseball team lost two tournaments as a result, says Kuykendall. She and other parents were furious with newbie Principal Suzanne Blake -- but backed down when she said Kennedy High would put the scuffle in the past and move on.
However, Blake later found alleged evidence of "prior hazing incidents" under Alvarado's watch, the Times reports.
The coach and his supporters have challenged the "hazing" characterization, and maintain that Alvarado was unaware of the misbehavior. (Which could perhaps be considered negligence in itself, but Coach's devoted fan club doesn't see it that way.) From a report on the original incident, via the L.A. Daily News' high-school sports blog:
"I'm not exactly sure what I'm being of accused of yet," Alvarado said. "No one has said anything to me. I don't know. ... Some kids were messing around. They were hiding it from me because they thought that was being a good teammate. But I don't know if that's even a part of it."
Alvarado did not describe the incident as hazing.
"I certainly hope not," he said.
His latest notice of suspension is even more mysterious. Though parents are lashing out at Principal Blake and her administration, Kennedy High Athletic Director Kevin Kanemura tells us the follow-up punishment "was a district decision."
Is it mere coincidence that the Los Angeles Unified School District is currently handling one of the biggest PR disasters in its existence, down at Miramonte Elementary South L.A.? At that beleaguered campus, the public was only informed last week that longtime teacher Mark Berndt had (allegedly) been feeding his own semen to third-graders in a sick "sex game" for years. Could this out-of-nowhere crackdown on Coach Alvarado be collateral of the bad-teacher witch hunt raging on the other end of the district?
Locker-room hazing is a serious issue. But Team Alvarado feels the Kennedy High baseball coach was unfairly targeted -- and that the district's seemingly overcautious/PC "lesson" isn't worth hurting the young players.
If Alvarado's suspension falls during the remaining season, the kids might miss more crucial games, Kuykendall writes in an email:
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"This has a direct impact on the Seniors college future. These are the ONLY times these players have a chance to be seen by College/Pro baseball scouts. With out these games our Seniors have NO hope in getting on a College team or a chance for any college scholarship money."
Looks like LAUSD might be removing one of the most positive influences at Kennedy (if Alvarado's hundreds of glowing reviews are true) in a sloppy effort to improve its abysmal record of faculty oversight.
We've contacted the district for the rationale behind the decision. Here's a video of the early-morning walkout -- attended by the likes of pro graduates John Garlan and Garrett Anderson -- from the Times. "We