Last Friday was the second day of a new school year and Paula Duncan probably wanted to visit classrooms, greet students in the hallways of Sheldon High School and do the things principals normally do on a daily basis.
Instead, she spent almost an entire hour in her office that afternoon with the Citizen talking about allegations some parents have leveled against Huskies’ head baseball coach Mike Hughes. They’ve demanded Duncan fire Hughes who has been the head varsity coach just over a year. Prior to that he coached the Huskies’ junior varsity squad under former head man John Misplay.
Though noticeably concerned about the entire situation she admitted she was more worried about the affects something like this would have on her student/athletes.
“We’ve got to work with our kids because our kids undoubtedly, without knowing who it is, potentially start to look at each other a little differently,” she said. “They feel like they can’t trust each other. Frankly, parents are important, but the kids are more important. Our job at the high school is to worry about our kids.”
She was just handed the investigation of the matter by school district officials after Jim Smrekar, the district’s athletic director, determined that some of the boys allegedly recruited to play baseball at Sheldon were cleared to continue their high school career.
One boy, who just transferred to Sheldon this fall after playing summer baseball with the other varsity players under Hughes’ direction, will likely be ineligible for the coming year. Duncan gave her athletic director, Denise Aguilar, the unenviable task of informing the parents and the boy the apparent CIF rule violation.
“Denise is quite good and quite clear that we’re going to do things the right way,” Duncan said.
She said the final decision on the player’s eligibility will be up to officials at the Sac-Joaquin Section office.
“We haven’t filed any paperwork, but the family has been informed that this will probably happen,” Duncan said.
But at the core of the parents’ complaints is the allegation that the boys who played for Hughes on the Outlaws were guaranteed starting spots on the Sheldon varsity next spring.
“This is unfair to those that choose not to or are not asked to play for the Outlaw tournament team,” the parents wrote in their letter.
“I just started looking into that,” Duncan said.
When asked if Hughes definitely will remain on the athletic staff as varsity baseball coach, she responded, ”Nothing has been decided. We haven’t completed going through every piece (of information). Right now he is our baseball coach, absolutely. I have to do some more investigation.”
“As far as any summer ball team, I just haven’t got all those pieces, but I will make certain that all the CIF regulations that pertain to those kind of teams are happening,” she added.
Duncan has already asked Sheldon baseball booster club president Steve Davidson to share all financial records with Elk Grove Unified School District financial officer Rich Fagan. One of the parents’ allegations in their lengthy letter demanding Hughes removal was how money raised by the boosters was being used to benefit Hughes’ club team, the River City Outlaws.
“Obviously we want to make sure everything is clean and separate, as we’ve always wanted,” Duncan said. “(Fagan) will share with us his input and then we’ll sit down with the boosters and offer our advice.”
Booster clubs and their activities and fundraising efforts are not under the auspices of the local school or school district administrators.
“Booster groups are separated groups from high schools and we have no authority over them,” Duncan explained. “They fundraise, they have their own board, they have their own bylaws, they have their own (tax exempt I.D. number). They don’t cross with us.”
Duncan says Davidson has agreed to comply with her request.
As far as the alleged use of tobacco during practices and games by the coaching staff, Duncan responded, “Our district and our section, as educators, we would never condone or tolerate alcohol, drugs, tobacco, profanity – as much as we hear and can control – we will address any of those and not tolerate it – period.”
A big concern, too, for Duncan was the parents’ claims they tried to have a face-to-face meeting with Aguilar to hand-deliver the letter emailed to the Citizen on Aug. 10.
“Denise never got a voicemail, I never got a call, I was here all summer, except for a week-and-a-half off,” she claimed. “We knew nothing. I did not have one parent call, come in.”
Frank Hadfield, who emailed the letter to the Citizen but claims he didn’t write it, did initially phone Smrekar and discussed the issue with him.
“He was instructed to contact the athletic director and he didn’t do it,” Aguilar claims.
So for now Duncan has handed the job of binding the Huskies’ baseball players together over to Aguilar to hopefully mend some hurts that have been inflicted because of this situation.
“One thing Denise has to do is put the kids together and make sure they are all okay, that’s a bigger process than people think,” Duncan added. “Morale is huge and feeling good about one another, supporting one another and being a team doesn’t just start when you play your first game, it’s a whole attitude.”
Duncan says Aguilar and Hughes will be spending time with the players this fall to bond together.
“Boys aren’t the most emotional-driven, wanting-to-share-things athletes in the world because they’ll act like, ‘it’s no big deal, I’m okay’,” she said. “They aren’t necessarily okay. We have to make sure they understand this isn’t about them. We still care about them. We have to make sure these kids are okay with each other.”