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Desert Debate Lingers After Coach Resigns in Victorville

August 11, 1990|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VICTORVILLE — It is a hot, dry summer day in this desert town, but conversation lingers over the events of a December night and the following eight months.

In this city of 40,000, 90 minutes northeast of Los Angeles on Interstate 15, it is simply known as the Ollie Butler case.

It began with a postgame incident on Dec. 6 involving Butler, Victor Valley High's basketball coach, three of his players and two officials and has since affected every San Andreas League athletic program, the Southern Section's Executive Committee and the entire Victor Valley school district.

It also polarized the town, which was recently named the second-fastest growing area in Southern California, into pro- and anti-Ollie Butler factions.

From the beginning it was clear that neither side would go down without a fight. Butler and the five-member Victor Valley school board took on all comers. At one point, in May, the fight was receiving more attention in town than the murders of two Victor Valley High students.

Finally, after months of threats, suspensions and protests, it has ended, claiming victims on both sides.

No longer will Butler, 59, winner of 605 games in his 33 years of coaching, pace in front of the Victor Valley bench, although he will remain at the school as a history teacher. He was forced to resign as coach on June 19 after the Southern Section threatened sanctions against the school. Butler's two main opponents, district Superintendent George Davis and school Principal Julian Weaver, also chose to resign.

It is hard to picture Butler as the main character in any such drama. Could such a polite, gray-haired father of four really be at the center of such turmoil? He is described by backers as a sweet, lovable man, concerned about what's best for his players.

Or is he the vicious tyrant depicted by his opponents, who say that he was a rude, self-centered coach?

Butler anticipated last season would be a good one, what with several key players returning from a 19-8 team and Butler himself closing in on 600 victories.

After winning three of its first four games, Victor Valley appeared to be as good as its billing. But on Dec. 6, Butler's dream season became a nightmare.

Here is the sequence:

--Dec. 6. Three Victor Valley players--senior Thomas Wilkins and juniors Carlton Hyder and Michael Butler, Ollie Butler's son--were involved in a brawl with officials Al Jury and Dick Smith after a 53-51 loss to La Verne Damien in the Riverside tournament at Moreno Valley High School.

Ollie Butler had argued with Jury during the game, and Jury had called a foul against Victor Valley, giving Damien the two free throws that won the game with two seconds left.

According to witnesses, the officials stayed on the court after the game--they had another game to work--and an argument ensued between players and officials, grew into a shoving match, then a free-for-all.

--Dec. 8. Weaver, Victor Valley's principal, suspended all three players and Butler, and the Southern Section ruled the players ineligible until a hearing could be held.

--A week later, Butler was reinstated as coach by Weaver.

With three of its best players out, Victor Valley won only three of its next 10 games.

--Jan. 19. After hearing six witnesses during nine hours of testimony, the Southern Section's Executive Committee was unable to reach a decision and postponed continuation of its hearing for nearly three weeks.

--Feb. 8. The Executive Committee banned Wilkins and Butler for life from high school athletics and suspended Hyder indefinitely.

--Victor Valley won six of its last eight games and earned a playoff berth, finishing the season with a 12-11 record.

--March 20. The Executive Committee decided to censure Butler--which is its harshest form of punishment for a coach--and banned officials Jury and Smith from officiating Victor Valley games for three years.

--April 5. Weaver told Butler that he would be fired, effective May 1.

--Superintendent Davis resigned, partly because of the school board's support of Butler.

--May 7. The Victor Valley school board overturned Weaver's decision and reinstated Butler.

--May 8. The Inland Basketball Officials Assn. threatened to boycott Victor Valley games as long as Butler remained as coach.

--May 22. The Inland Football Officials Assn. agreed to support the basketball officials with a boycott of Victor Valley games.

--May 10. Victor Valley Athletic Director Ron Butts resigned because of Butler's reinstatement. (He decided to stay after Butler's subsequent departure.)

--May 29. The San Andreas League high school principals voted to suspend Victor Valley's basketball team from league play and all of the school's other teams from playoff competition for the 1990-91 season as long as Butler remained coach.

--June 6. Southern Section Commissioner Stan Thomas announced that the Executive Committee probably would support the San Andreas League's request to ban Victor Valley from the Southern Section.

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