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Suspensions Hit Highland

High school baseball: Eleven varsity players are punished for consuming alcohol at Las Vegas tournament. Assistant coach is fired for allegedly providing the alcohol.


PALMDALE — Eleven varsity baseball players at Highland High have been suspended from school for consuming alcohol at a tournament in Las Vegas last week, Principal Patrick Iaccino said Friday.

The players allegedly received the alcohol from first-year assistant coach Jeremy Holiday, who was fired, a team source said.

The players are suspended for five school days, until next Friday, and will miss at least two games, Iaccino said.

It has not been determined whether they will be allowed to return to the team after the suspension, Iaccino said. Sources said the players will not be reinstated.

Only five players were not suspended, forcing Highland to call up several junior varsity players for a Golden League game Friday against Littlerock. Highland defeated the last-place Lobos, 16-12.

The incident is the latest in a string of disciplinary problems that arose at the Bishop Gorman tournament, an annual high-profile event featuring top teams from the West. Players from Kennedy and Granada Hills high schools were reprimanded for breaking team rules at the tournament.

Holiday, 22, a former pitcher at Antelope Valley High and Moorpark College, did not return phone calls.

Iaccino said the suspended Highland players will not be expelled but must complete an educational program pertaining to "life choices" totaling eight hours.

"I'm disappointed in the players and for the players," said Todd Zucker, in his first year as Highland's coach after three seasons as an assistant at Lancaster.

"We talked with them before [the Las Vegas tournament] about the things they can and cannot do. They used some poor judgment."

Highland (9-9, 4-5 in league play) rallied from a 12-11 deficit against Littlerock (4-14, 0-9) with five runs in the sixth inning.

Robbie Rico, one of the players not suspended, had a two-run single to spark the rally. Matt Yriarte, a two-year starter, had two doubles and three runs batted in.

"These guys are like my family and I'd never say anything bad about them, but they let us down," Yriarte said of the suspended players. "The last couple days have been tough."

Highland played in the Bishop Gorman tournament for the eighth consecutive season. The Bulldogs won the championship last season and in 1993, and won three of four games this season.

Mike Van Cheri, who was Highland's baseball coach for eight seasons before resigning last year, said he was "disturbed" when Zucker informed him of the incident Friday.

"All these guys are my guys," Van Cheri said. "The kids who all got caught know [the rules]. They know what it's all about."

Highland is in fourth place, one game behind Palmdale for the final Southern Section playoff spot from the Golden League.

The Bulldogs have not missed the playoffs since 1996, a streak that could be in jeopardy. Highland plays first-place Lancaster twice next week.

"The kids we brought up played with a lot of heart," Zucker said. "It was a little bit of smoke and mirrors."

Iaccino said he did not consider forfeiting against Littlerock.

"Baseball will continue in our school," the principal said. "We've had to take players from [the junior varsity and freshman] teams who were not involved and create a makeshift team, so to speak. I'm not in the business of forfeiting games."

Several coaches, including Manny Alvarado of Kennedy, said they probably will not return to the Bishop Gorman tournament next season because of disciplinary problems.

A Kennedy starter was kicked off the team and six players were suspended for rules violations at the tournament.

Granada Hills players are facing possible disciplinary action for an incident involving alcohol during their trip to Las Vegas. Eleven players were held out of a game last Saturday, and the entire varsity team must attend an alcohol-abuse education program.

"In Las Vegas, there's a lot of temptation," Granada Hills Coach Steve Thompson said. "You've got gambling and alcohol all over the place.

"Another thing is that these kids are teenagers. When teenagers are left to their own devices, they make poor decisions sometimes."

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