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PREP EXTRA / A weekly look at the high school sports
scene in the Southland

A Blow to Coaching

Reaction: Alleged assault on South Torrance's Peabody stirs outrage from his colleagues.

October 26, 2000|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

High school football coaches throughout the Southland reacted with shock and dismay this week upon learning of an alleged postgame assault that was waged upon South Torrance Coach Brett Peabody by members of a player's family.

"It's totally unbelievable," Corona Centennial Coach Matt Logan said.

"Sometimes you think you've seen it all, and then it reaches a new low," Lakewood Mayfair Coach Mike Fitch said.

John Martinez Sr., 34, and his brother, Anthony Martinez, 23, both of Lomita, were arrested after the incident that occurred about 10 minutes after South Torrance's 24-21 loss at North Torrance on Friday.

John Martinez's son, John Jr., is a senior running back and linebacker for South Torrance. John Jr. gained more than 1,000 yards last season, but his offensive role had been diminished by the presence of a talented sophomore.

The elder Martinez was reportedly angry that his son had only three carries in the loss Friday night and allegedly confronted Peabody as the coach walked across the field.

According to police, after a short conversation between the men, Martinez, without provocation, hit Peabody from behind and knocked him to the ground where he was also struck by Anthony Martinez.

Peabody sustained several blows but was not seriously injured, according to police. Chad Nammack, a South Torrance assistant who tried to aid Peabody, also suffered a black eye.

Torrance police booked the Martinez brothers on suspicion of misdemeanor battery and released them. A Torrance police spokesman said detectives are continuing their investigation and more serious charges could be filed.

"It's very open-ended right now," Sgt. Kevin Kreager said. "There is a probability that more charges might be brought. We're not closing the door on anything."

Neither Peabody nor Martinez could be reached for comment.

Peabody is expected to be on the sideline for South Torrance's home game Friday against Compton Centennial. John Martinez Jr., who quit Monday, has decided to rejoin the team and is expected to be in uniform.

In a written statement, Arnold Plank, superintendent of the Torrance Unified School District, said that the district is taking this misconduct "very seriously": "Anyone who attacks a coach, or any school employee, is committing a very serious offense. This type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. . . .

"Fortunately, this is an isolated incident for our district. Our parents are generally very supportive of the coaches and students."

Most coaches said that the overwhelming majority of parents at their schools are also supportive, which is why they found the incident at South Torrance so disturbing.

"There is just no excuse for a father to do that--I don't care what it was that made him angry," Franklin Coach Armando Gonzalez said. "You can't do that as a parent."

Torrance Coach Rock Hollis said the incident, "reflects what's going on in society" and that it probably will not be the last of its kind.

"It's not going to happen every week or every other week, but it's going to happen," Hollis said. "Just because we're high school athletics does not mean we're immune to it."

For decades, high school coaches enjoyed almost unquestioned authority about their methods and personnel decisions. But longtime coaches say dealing with disgruntled parents about their child's playing time has become a more delicate and time-consuming issue in the last 20 years.

"Their kids, in their eyes, are all Heisman Trophy candidates," said Palisades Coach Ron Price, who has been coaching for 37 years.

Jim Brownfield, past president of the California Coaches Assn., said the problems begin at the youth sports level.

"The parents don't seem like they respect the authority of coaches or anybody anymore," said Brownfield, who was a high school coach for 25 years. "They're ready to do war right there on the field."

Many high school coaches say they meet with parents as a group before the season to discuss team rules and procedures for addressing concerns with coaches. Some have parents and athletes sign a code of conduct.

Those measures, however, do not stop concerned parents from taking to the field, especially at game's end.

Some coaches are open to immediate discussion.

"I usually talk to the parent as long as they are calm," Westchester Coach Larry Wein said. "If they get to be insulting or out of control, I tell them the conversation is over and I leave."

Other coaches will not address playing-time concerns without a cooling-off period first.

"The parents have the right to question a coach, and as coaches we have a responsibility to answer," Crenshaw Coach Robert Garrett said. "But we also need to pick an appropriate moment and place to deal with it. Immediately after a game is not the place and time. There is too much emotion."

Said Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman: "I tell them, 'Talk to me on Monday,' mainly because I'm probably as hotheaded after a game as the parents."

Many coaches said the best way to avoid confrontations is to keep parents and spectators in the stands while teams exit the field to their locker rooms or to awaiting buses. The extra minutes for reflection are often enough to avoid ugly scenes.

"With football being so high intensity, I can see how someone can get out of control," said Santa Maria Righetti Coach Greg Dickinson. "There is a need for schools and districts to make sure there is proper security and personnel near activities and athletic events."

Matt Logan, 33, has only been the football coach at Corona Centennial for four years and said he hopes to enjoy a long career. But incidents such as the one involving Peabody are enough to make any coach pause.

"Things have changed," Logan said. "I remember, a long time ago, when it was perfectly acceptable for a coach to smack a player. Now you have parents smacking coaches."

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