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Parents back ousted baseball coach

01/13/2016, 5:31pm PST
By Pat Maio

A baseball coach at El Camino High School who was fired in December over a dustup with a student last fall has reapplied for his varsity job after several parents have rushed to his side.

Oceanside — A part-time baseball coach at El Camino High School who was fired in December after a confrontation with a student has reapplied for his varsity job, with the apparent backing of hundreds of parents, players and others.

The coach, Jason Schmeiser, was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 2 by the Oceanside Unified School District pending the outcome of an independent investigation into allegations that he “screamed” and used “expletives” when talking to a player who had lied about why he needed to miss a practice.

Schmeiser said he was later dismissed during a terse phone call with the school’s principal in early December. Parents have been fighting to get him reinstated ever since, but the high school recently advertised for a new baseball coach.

“I was surprised that (the job) was posted,” said Schmeiser, a substitute teacher who was paid $3,674 to coach the baseball team during the regular baseball season. “They know who I am. I’m a good person and was doing good things with these young men. I’m shocked.”

Schmeiser, who was 52-41 in three years at El Camino, was credited with leading a baseball renaissance at the school. The Wildcats were 66-160 in eight seasons before Schmeiser took over the program in 2013.

About 20 parents attended an Oceanside Unified School board meeting Tuesday, where they presented district trustees with a petition that included 451 signatures in support of the coach. Oceanside Unified spokeswoman Lisa Contreras declined to comment on Schmeiser’s firing.

“Personnel issues are confidential. The principal decided to go in another direction,” Contreras said.

The dust up began in September, when a 16-year-old player was caught lying about the reason why he needed to miss a practice.

The teen said he had a doctor’s appointment, but had actually left campus to buy flowers for a girlfriend, according to the boy’s father, Mike Wygant. Schmeiser caught the teen returning to campus with the flowers.

The coach acknowledged that he refused to hear the player’s apology, and yelled at him.

“I told him to go home and tell his dad, and talk about his baseball future,” said Schmeiser of the Sept. 21 incident, which occurred in front of other students and coaches in El Camino’s weight room.

Wygant said he later spoke with Schmeiser, El Camino Principal Alexander Bennett, and other district officials about Schmeiser’s behavior.

“The whole thing is unfortunate,” Wygant said. “He flagrantly used expletives. If a biology teacher had used that language in the classroom, that is unacceptable. He’s an educator. That’s not allowed.”

Music Watson, a spokeswoman with the San Diego County Office of Education, said the California Education Code doesn’t specifically prohibit swearing at students, but most school districts have broad policies discouraging “immoral conduct.”

Many parents of El Camino players rushed to defend Schmeiser. They met with Oceanside Unified’s lawyers and other district officials on Dec. 16 to urge that he be rehired.

Melissa Tamberg-Heffron, a parent who attended that meeting and whose son is a senior on the team, also started an online petition calling for the “immediate reinstatement” of Schmeiser. As of Jan. 13, 451 people who had signed the petition, a copy of which was presented to the school board Tuesday.

“I feel like they are just pacifying us,” Tamberg-Heffron said about district leaders. “At this point, we feel like we’ve done everything we could to get him reinstated.”

She said that Schmeiser brings a lot of passion to the job.

“Sometimes passion is interpreted as a negative. Did he yell at the student? Maybe,” she said. “(But) we want our coach back for our son’s future.”

Schmeiser isn’t the only coach at the school that has been dismissed this academic year. John Roberts, who was 14-12 in two seasons as head football coach at El Camino High, was dismissed in the fall without explanation. He told the Union-Tribune in December that he was “absolutely surprised” when notified by Bennett.

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