HEMET — Just last week, the front-page story in the local paper--right up there in the top right corner--was headlined, "Hemet Kiwanis quits barbecue; Valley Kiwanis likely new host."
And then the local football coach and his wife were arrested for allegedly providing sex to players.
If a town can be turned on its head, this place is testimony: Probably nothing else could so rattle a community and attract out-of-town reporters like moths swarming to a spotlight.
"It's like, Hemet is open to sex. We're going to be on 'Current Affair' and 'Hard Copy,' " giggled 17-year-old Holly Hurst.
Hemet High School Spanish teacher Murray Hawkins, president of the local teachers association, could only shake his head.
"We're feeling every possible emotion," he said. "It's like we're going through stages of mourning when somebody dies. There's absolute shock and disbelief among the faculty.
"When the word first started getting out about the investigation, some people asked, 'Oh, what happened, did the coach give a football player a beer?' And we'd say, 'Oh no, it's nothing like that.' "
On Tuesday, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department arrested Randy Brown, the 38-year-old head football coach at Hemet High, and his 31-year-old wife, Kelly, on charges of committing oral copulation on at least two football players, and conspiracy to commit oral copulation.
The couple are free on bail and scheduled to be arraigned in Riverside Municipal Court next month. They could not be reached for comment.
Authorities said the coach was suspected of setting up sex between his wife and at least two youths who were team members at the time but are no longer students.
And this community of 35,000 learned it's in for a ride.
Television news crews, shooed off campus by school officials, set up along the street and nabbed anyone they could for interviews. The tabloid news-entertainment programs called for the story.
"And I got a call from a reporter from Australia who said, 'Well, mate, what's happening up there?' " said school board member Bob McPherson, enlisted by his colleagues to serve as spokesman in the hot seat.
"This is the pulp the press lives for," he said.
If it's pulp for headlines, it's also the stuff of gossip and speculation among local residents. Some folks were loud and firm in their defense of the Browns; others spoke in more somber tones that there may be something to it.
"If they made an arrest, they have to have pretty good evidence," sighed Marc Searl, owner of BJ Sporting Goods store on Florida Street, the town's main drag. His own son was the team's quarterback this past season.
"My first reaction is disbelief," Searl said. "And the biggest impact will be on the players themselves and the stigma this will have on the football program.
"Here's a guy that the players put on a pedestal, and all of a sudden reality sets in with these allegations, and these are hard things for a 17-year-old to accept."
Two men plowing through bacon and eggs at Millie's Restaurant were talking about "the scandal" even before a reporter butted in.
"I'm sorry, but the media has already hanged the guy," said one of the men, who declined to identify himself because he is a school district employee.
"Did you see Channel 9? They made it sound like he was guilty because he was arrested. The commentator left little doubt. They sure didn't stress that this was only an allegation."
The other man chirped in. He's a retired teacher--wouldn't give his name, either--and had just come from a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous where they were talking about "the scandal."
"There were 50 of us there and not a one of us believes this," the man said. "I got a call this morning from Iowa--Iowa!--because it's news back there! This guy is even a closer friend of Randy than I am, and he doesn't believe a word of this.
"You know how doctors have malpractice insurance? Teachers need it too," he said.
Others in town weren't so protective of the coach and his wife. One young man, a recent graduate of Hemet High, would only smile. "Man, I can't tell you some of the things I've heard," he said.
On campus, teachers were alternately saddened and angry, students reported. In second period, all the football players were beckoned to the team room, only to be told by assistants to keep a stiff upper lip and hang in there, and that a new head coach would be named on Friday.
Third-generation Hemet resident Robin Burkel graduated from Hemet High School, teaches there as a substitute and serves as the president of its PTA.
"When something like this happens, it gives the whole teaching profession a black eye, the whole school a black eye, the whole town a black eye," she said. "But there are an awful lot of people in this town working hard to make our schools good, and I just hope something positive can come out of this."
Burkel said many people "are taking these allegations seriously, but others are in total disbelief. I've got six kids of my own, and with the press making this so graphic, it's not an easy thing to address with the kids."
The parents, she said, resent aggressive TV news crews that are calling everyone they can who is listed on the football team roster. "Everyone is being dragged through this," she said, "and everyone might come out losers. There's going to be a stigma, no matter what."