|Parents and athletes hold signs protesting the firing of Paloma Valley cross country coach Mike McGregor.|
Wearing T-shirts that read "Team McGregor" and "We've Got Your Back," members of the girls and boys cross country teams and their parents held up signs and waved to passing drivers -- many of whom honked in support of their cause. McGregor, who has been a coach at the school for 13 years and a teacher there for nine, was fired last week following an incident at a meet at Temescal Canyon on Sept. 12.
Parents protesting the action said some adults witnessed a conversation between McGregor and Temescal Canyon officials concerning what McGregor said was an unsafe course for his runners. Parts of the course ran through a parking lot with moving vehicles. McGregor reportedly also complained about the confusing layout of the course and alleged that race officials directed some of his runners in the wrong direction.
Some time during the disagreement, McGregor used an obscenity (bull----) in expressing his frustration. McGregor, who didn't return phone calls on Monday, has admitted this but also has repeated his concern for the safety of his runners that day.
"Yes, I said a word I shouldn’t have said," McGregor told the Riverside Press Enterprise. "I’m sorry about that, but I was thinking about the safety of the kids. I’m responsible for these kids — I care deeply about them. I’m not gonna apologize for that."
Shirl Larios, whose daughter Brittney Ferguson is a senior runner on the team, said McGregor called his daughter last Tuesday to tell her had been fired and to let the other runners know. He has not been allowed any contact with the athletes in practices or meets since then. He remains at the school as a science teacher, however.
Hannah Doty, a freshman on the team, is in McGregor's biology class. She says it has been difficult seeing him there and no longer having him as her coach.
"The first day after, he was really quiet," Doty said. "He could hardly talk; he kept getting choked up. I try not to bring it up, but I have told him, 'Don't worry, we'll get you back.' "
Perris Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Greenberg and Paloma Valley Principal Brian Morris both referred a reporter to Leslie Ventuleth, Chief Human Resources Officer.
Ventuleth said she cannot comment because the issue is a personnel matter.
Another parent of an athlete, Elizabeth Valadez, said both Greenberg and Morris returned her phone calls but that neither would address the situation directly. Larios said Morris indicated school officials knew of prior misconduct regarding McGregor but said he couldn't discuss specifics. McGregor has denied this in previous interviews.
"Coach McGregor assured us he has nothing to hide; he's had no reprimands or things they could pull out to make him look bad," Larios said. "But the principal told all of us, 'If you knew what we know, you'd agree with our decision.' What could he have done if they're still allowing him to be a teacher? Brian Morris has encouraged the parents to back off (the protest)."
Larios and others said they will continue to protest outside the school, however, and will attend the Oct. 17 meeting of the district Board of Trustees. Ventuleth said members of the public are allowed to comment on non-agenda items at board meetings. In order to have an item placed on the agenda, she said, they would have to go through the superintendent's secretary.
Larios said she has made that request and was denied.
Hannah Doty's mother, Shannon, said the punishment and lack of response from school and district officials is unfair. Echoing the sentiments of many other parents and athletes, she said McGregor has been one of the most positive influences in her daughter's time at the school.
"She wouldn't have gotten this far if Coach McGregor hadn't inspired her," Shannon Doty said. "This has really hit her hard. She doesn't know how she will go another three years on the team without him as her coach.
"Coach is a very honest man. He takes care of his kids as though they were his own. I know I can drop off my daughter at 5 in the morning and know someone is taking care of her. We trust this man."
Among the protesters Monday was Paul Clay, a teacher at Heritage High School and president of the Perris Secondary Educators Association.
"This is a travesty," he said. "I think the punishment was excessive. The district has no progressive discipline policy. My experience has been that they are totally inconsistent with these things.
"My feeling all along is that all this has obscured the real issue -- how horribly handled that cross country meet was."
|Supporters of Mike McGregor lined both sides of the street outside Paloma Valley High.|