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Ayala Discrimination Suit Nearing Trial

October 26, 2000|LANCE PUGMIRE

Allegations of racial discrimination at Chino Hills Ayala High School dominate the case of Frierson-Johnson vs. Chino Valley Unified School District that is proceeding toward trial after the district's decision to reject a settlement last week.

The suit, which involves school-grounds issues as well as the basketball program, follows an earlier settlement, confirmed by district sources as $40,000, with Gloria Gulliford, the mother of a former lower-level Ayala basketball player. Leslie Humphrey, the mother of another lower-level player, said she too has filed an intent to sue based on similar race-themed grounds.

Henry Frierson, who is African American, was a basketball player at Ayala whose mother, Sherelle Johnson, believed was dealt limited playing time as a guard in 1996-97 because of favoritism displayed by then-freshmen team coach Roger McCoy, father of guard Marc McCoy. The younger McCoy, who is white, was second-team All-Southern Section last season, helping the Bulldogs to the I-AA championship game.

Frierson, now in college, eventually transferred to Diamond Bar High and was second-team all-Sierra League guard last season behind Ayala seniors Marcel Burke, who is African American, and Chris Pacana, Filipino American. The 1999-2000 Ayala team had 13 players, nine of whom were minorities.

While the suit contends district officials were slow to react to racially charged incidents--such as "Whites Only" painted over a drinking fountain, the distribution of Nazi flyers and the presence of a group of youths identifying themselves as skinheads--there are also charges that basketball coaches practiced retaliation, including denying promotions and reduced minutes, against players who mentioned discrimination.

Tom Gregory, the only varsity head coach during the school's 11-year history, said he welcomes the trial.

District general counsel Ron Vera said the earlier settlement, in which the district admitted no wrongdoing, was a move based on nuisance value, an effort to avoid legal fees exceeding $40,000.

Federal judge Ronald S.W. Lew is expected on Monday to issue an order for the case's day in court. Vera said that date may come as soon as 10 days, or may be pushed back to December.

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