Mira Costa Varsity Baseball Coach Cassidy Olson has been suspended until March 25, the result of an investigation into allegations that he subjected his players to verbal abuse and bullying.
After receiving complaints from parents of current and former players, Mira Costa administrators and staff, Principal Dr. Ben Dale, Vice Principal Ian Drummond, Athletic Director Don Morrow and assistant coaches from the baseball program, conducted interviews with each baseball team member.
In a letter last year addressed to parents, Dale wrote: “We have concluded our review of the baseball program and wanted to inform you that Coach Olson’s coaching activities will be restricted for the first half of the upcoming baseball season. From now through March 24th, Coach Olson will coach during 6th period only but will not be present at scrimmages, games, tournaments or any other team activities that take place outside of the regular school day. On March 25th he will return to his full coaching duties. I appreciate all of your support and cooperation during this period and look forward to continuing our strong baseball program.”
In the meantime, the program is in a holding pattern, with all fall league games cancelled until the restriction is over and Coach Olson reinstated.
“Unfortunately, I feel that restricting my coaching duties for half the year is only going to hurt the players, but I understand the position the district is in when parents threaten litigation,” Olson said.
Olson, who is also a teacher, continues to instruct his classes.
Attorney Joseph Di Monda represents six parents who hired his law firm, Christopher Angelo & Joseph Di Monda of Manhattan Beach, to represent them in a case against the coach after parents felt nothing was being done by the administration to address their concerns.
The parents previously enlisted the help of retired Judge Joyce Fahey, who is also a former two-term Manhattan Beach mayor and Manhattan Beach Unified School Board trustee. Fahey conducted a poll of parents affiliated with the program and 37 responded with complaints about Coach Olson’s interaction with players.
The trouble, according to several sources who wish to remain anonymous because they have a child in the program and are worried about possible backlash, started during a previous season when rumors of drug use within the program circulated. This prompted Olson to hold a closed door meeting during which players reportedly said they were not allowed to leave until the culprits were identified.
Parents were concerned that under these circumstances kids said they felt forced to say anything in order to leave the room. The parents took their concerns to Principal Dale but felt their issues were not addressed and that they were quickly brushed aside.
A letter from Judge Fahey to Manhattan Beach Unified School District Superintendent Mike Matthews prompted the school's investigation.
“What you had was a situation where kids were settling old scores with each other,” said Di Monda, describing what the students said transpired during the closed door meeting concerning drug use. “We have a problem when you take young kids and through the use of intimidation force those kids to say things they would not normally say.”
According to Di Monda, parents were not allowed at the meeting and kids felt like they were being held in the room against their will.
“I can’t comment on any specific allegations,” said Olson, who disputes Di Monda's version of the drug use incident. “What I can say is the drug issue was two seasons ago in 2010. None of the current players were involved in that issue in any way. Our seniors were sophomores at the time and none were involved. These accusations [by parents] have always been about playing time. But I will say that the bottom line on this whole thing is that I understand when you hold kids accountable that some people have a problem with that. "
The allegations against Coach Olson revolve around interactions with players in which, according to Judge Fahey's letter to district officials detailing the reported abuse, "... the coach has created a hostile environment in which he continually bullies players and subjects them to verbal and physical abuse."
In the letter Fahey gave to administrators, one parent wrote: “One player was made to run for 2 hours straight during a practice of his teammates while the coach yelled severely abusive remarks in front of his teammates. The punishment was allegedly necessary because the player had an exceptional game the night before - and was being accused of not being a team player.”
Another parent wrote: “My son cried in my arms and said, ‘What did I do to make Cass (Coach Olson) hate me so much?’… (Olson) does not have the tools that are required to be a mentor and leader.”
Olson said in response: “As a parent of a young child, if I had any reason to believe that my son was being abused I would go directly to authorities immediately. These parents waited months to bring up these allegations.”
Di Monda said many parents have come to the defense of Coach Olson but added that doesn’t mean the abuse didn’t happen.
“We know that just because one person had a terrific experience with Coach Olson it does not dismiss the other person’s experience,” he said. “Like many people who abuse children, we believe that Coach Olson had positive experiences with many kids but that he also has a very dark side.”
Another teacher and MCHS coach who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said, “What we have here is a clear case of the inmates running the asylum. What you have is six parents out of 75 complaining about the treatment of their kids, and because of the threat of litigation, the administration has been forced into a corner. These parents have some very unrealistic expectations for their children and therefore attack anyone who stands in the way of these expectations.”
The turmoil has driven a wedge within the team, pitting player against player and parent against parent, say those close to the situation. Each side is blaming the other for the controversy that now engulfs the program.
“I'm very grateful to [administrators who were in on the investigation] Don Morrow and Ian Drummond for taking the time to interview every single player in the baseball program,” said Olson, who felt vindicated by the results of the investigation. “I am glad that this thorough investigation and the report that it generated completely cleared me of these very serious charges and allowed me to continue coaching."
Olson said after he is reinstated as head coach, fences will need to be mended between the parents and coach.
“I will have an open line of communication,” he said. “And I also know we will have to do a lot of game building and forgiving if we want to move forward positively.”
Olson, who has been a teacher at Mira Costa for 10 years, has a record of 53-43 in his three seasons at the helm of the Mustangs. The team won the Bay League title and advanced to CIF semi-finals in 2010, which was the farthest a Mira Costa team has gone since 1983.
What do you think of the way the school handled the allegations against Coach Olson? Share your thoughts in the comments.