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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Suspension of Manny Alvarado riles parents

Longtime and highly successful baseball coach at Granada Hills Kennedy High has been suspended for three weeks for his role in an alleged hazing incident and it's not sitting well with supporters of the program.

February 05, 2012|Eric Sondheimer
  • Coach Manny Alvarado hugs Phil Avlas after Kennedy defeated El Camino Real, 4-2, to win City Championship at Dodger Stadium.
Coach Manny Alvarado hugs Phil Avlas after Kennedy defeated El Camino Real,… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Break out the pitchforks. A grassroots battle is unfolding at Granada Hills Kennedy High involving parents, students, teachers, administrators and alumni.

Parents and members of the baseball team say they intend to march outside the campus Monday morning at 7:30 in support of Coach Manny Alvarado, who was informed last week he will be suspended for three weeks without pay for his role in an alleged hazing incident.

The protesters want to send a loud and clear message to first-year Kennedy Principal Suzanne Blake that they don't appreciate hearing one thing from her in December, then learning a month later that everything had changed.

"We stopped all action because we were told, 'We're putting this all behind us. We're letting the healing process go forward,' " said Cindy Kuykendall, mother of Kennedy catcher Chris Mallon.

Alvarado was put on administrative leave after two students in his baseball class engaged in a fighting ritual outside the school's weight room in November. Blake characterized it as a "hazing incident" to parents. Alvarado was in the weight room and didn't see the fight, but he was in charge of their supervision.

Kuykendall said Blake told parents at a Dec.14 meeting that her investigation found prior hazing incidents in the baseball program. Blake punished the team by barring Kennedy from playing in two tournaments this spring, a loss of eight games, and required players and Alvarado to attend bullying-awareness classes. Alvarado was reinstated.

"We didn't agree that there was hazing, but we accepted it," Kuykendall said.

Alvarado and Kennedy players attended two classes on bullying last month. That was supposed to be the end of things. At least that was the impression parents and players were given. Then came word of Alvarado's suspension.

"We're not backing off any more," Kuykendall said Friday.

Alvarado, in his 24th season as coach, has been known for his integrity and old-school values. His teams have won five City Section championships and sent such players as Garret Anderson and Jon Garland to the major leagues, but his legacy has been helping unsung players succeed on and off the field.

"He's there to be more than a coach," Mallon said. "He wants to turn boys into young men. On and off the field, we're his boys. He would never want us to hurt anyone."

These allegations of hazing have hit him hard and made him consider what it all means. Alvarado is appealing the suspension.

"I wouldn't deny one kid would have it out for another kid," Alvarado said. "I'm not ignorant to think stuff like that doesn't happen. As far as organized hazing to be a part of this program, that hasn't gone on."

The question is what is Blake and the Los Angeles Unified School District trying to do to Alvarado? Blake is a former middle school principal who was briefly principal at the new downtown arts high school until being replaced in 2010.

On Friday, the LAUSD communications department released a statement: "The District responded to concerns, investigated and took appropriate action to ensure the safety of students on the Kennedy campus. Coach Manny Alvarado remains the baseball coach at Kennedy. Any litigation or personnel matters concerning Alvarado are confidential and cannot be publicly discussed."

Hazing and bullying are unacceptable activities in sports or anything else. Coaches and teams are warned before every season about the issue. But they continue to happen, and the consequences can be severe.

The problem at Kennedy is there's a lack of trust on all sides. This could have been a valuable moment to teach. Instead, it is rapidly deteriorating into a nasty tit for tat. The principal appears to have lost control and credibility. The school is being divided, and Blake is about to find out what Alvarado and the baseball team mean to a proud community.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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