LAGUNA HILLS — These should be happy days for the Laguna Hills football program, but instead of celebrating their Southern Section Division VIII title, the Hawks could be losing their coach.
Ten days ago, Laguna Hills scored a resounding 56-14 victory over a favored La Mirada team. But now, the euphoria has turned to despair, at least in the coaches' offices.
Steve Bresnahan, the Hawks' head coach, is threatening to resign because of the action taken by the father of one of his players--a father who also happens to be the city's mayor.
Laguna Hills Mayor Craig Scott is outraged that the team's reserve players, among them his son Tyson, did not play in the blowout victory over La Mirada Dec. 12.
Scott took his complaint to Bresnahan but was not satisfied with the coach's explanation. Scott then decided to air his concerns in a letter to The Times Orange County. Scott wrote the letter on city stationery, which identifies him as Laguna Hills' mayor but does not list any other council members.
In the letter he wrote: "Triumph is less sweet when a team is divided between those who played and those who did not. This game is only the most recent example of a problem that is endemic in high school sports. Winning big is the objective I expect in professional competition. It is disappointing to see it, repeatedly, as the dominant objective in high school team sports. Why is the pursuit of not just victory, but crushing victory, more important than participation? Why do parents and school administrators allow coaches to be so heartless?"
Scott's stance is supported by at least one member of the city council and possibly the superintendent of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, Peter Hartman.
"I spoke with Dr. Hartman last week and he feels the same way I do," Scott said. "He feels this is an important issue I've raised. He was very supportive and positive. He feels this is an issue that goes far beyond Laguna Hills High."
Calls made to Hartman by The Times were not returned. If Hartman is in agreement with Scott, as the mayor insists, Bresnahan said he might be forced to resign as coach.
"If he's got the city council and the superintendent in support of him, then what are we trying to do here?" Bresnahan said. "We've done everything to benefit the football player. We've done everything the right way. I've spent more time with his son the last six months than I've spent with my son.
"I can find something else to do. There's other places I can go coach."
Bresnahan said he and his coaching staff have been badly hurt by the mayor's remarks.
"I know there's 42 kids feeling great about what happened, but there's seven or eight coaches walking around feeling blindsided," Bresnahan said. "To be called heartless is pretty tough. About the only thing the mayor could have said to hurt me worse was if he were to say we were child molesters."
Laguna Hills Principal Wayne Mickaelian said the mayor's letter took him by surprise.
"It really puts a damper on what the kids and the coaches have accomplished," Mickaelian said. "The irony is that they want to honor us in a ceremony in front of the city council. Help me with that. It's highly unusual."
The Laguna Hills football team has been invited to city hall Jan. 27.
"I don't want to be the focal point and that's what's happening here," Bresnahan said.
Council member Randy Bressette said the mayor showed the letter to all four council members as a courtesy before he sent it.
"I coached youth sports for five years and I always made it a point to play all my players," Bressette said. "I certainly don't want to second-guess the coach. He led us to the section championship. But you'd think with that kind of a lead, he'd make sure all the seniors played. I certainly can feel for the parents of the kids and can understand how a parent can be disappointed."
Bresnahan said he understands how Scott could be disappointed and admitted he could have used more team members.
"I can't change what happened," he said. "If I had it to do over again, yeah, I would have put the kids in for two or three plays."
Why didn't he? Bresnahan said once the game was in hand, his first objective was to try and get senior Michael Jones the all-time section rushing record.
"It was sent down to me that Michael needed only 40 yards to break the record," Bresnahan said. "It's something I said I would never do, but I figured Michael has missed 23 quarters. In this situation, I said, 'Let's try it.' "
Jones carried the ball a few more times and wound up 67 yards short of the record of 7,257. Bresnahan said there was still time left after Jones left the game, but by then, the sideline was chaotic.
"Coaches were being doused with containers and I simply lost track of time," said Bresnahan, who guided Laguna Hills to the section Division VII title in 1991 and has a record of 87-34-2 in 10 seasons at the school.
Mickaelian defended his veteran coach. "I don't think we're heartless," he said. "Sometimes we fail. It's not a perfect situation."
Bresnahan said Tyson Scott, a senior tight end/linebacker, played in the majority of Laguna Hills' games. He recorded four tackles and two assists.
"The sad thing about this is his son is a great kid," Bresnahan said. "Nobody was happier [after winning the title] than he was."
Craig Scott said he doesn't see a conflict between his role as the city's mayor and as a parent.
"I speak out on all sorts of issues," he said. "I think it's very appropriate for a person sitting as mayor to make a comment on something that has gone wrong within the high school. I think we have lost perspective. I wouldn't have said a word had the score been 36-31. . . .
"I want very much to congratulate the work of the boys and the team, but I'm very troubled by this matter, and that was my dilemma."