Maybe it took inciting from famous retired baseball coach to break down the wall between the Santa Cruz City School Board and a frustrated community.
"You should do something about this RIGHT NOW," implored Bill Dodge, the former Santa Cruz High baseball coach who was inducted into the California Baseball Coaches' Association's Hall of Fame just weeks ago. He was talking about the Aug. 9 firing of popular first-year baseball coach George Arnott, 36, after a couple of parents complained about his use of swear words.
And, as if the ice had been melted, the Board started to move toward a compromise and respond to public comments, including one by Stephanie Mendoza, a longtime athletic director at Mission College in Santa Clara, who offered to co-coach the team with Arnott.
"I've never played baseball, but I know the game," she said. "I've been around it since I was 3 months old." Her son plays for Santa Cruz High.
She said she could help advise Arnott, a passionate baseball coach who got married on the Santa Cruz High field and sunk his own money and time into fixing it up for the team.
Parents have been frustrated with the fact that not only do they want Arnott back, but that the district hasn't been able to replace him and the students should already be practicing and working toward getting onto college teams. And, the Board has failed to put Arnott's case on the agenda, saying it's a personnel issue.
The Board has played the issue close to the vest and kept within the letter of the law, hiring an outside investigator to decide whether Superintendent Gary Bloom violated policies by firing Arnott without going through proper procedures.The investigator's report will be handed in Nov. 1, after she has interviewed more than 20 people.
The Board also proposed a new committee to study how coaches and sports should be handled in the district. Right now most coaching is done by volunteers and barely-paid community members, when in the past it was handled by full time teachers. People who regularly follow government are used to endless committees studying issues, but these sports parents -- more than 500 of whom signed a petition supporting Arnott -- wanted action.
When Board President Deborah Tracy-Proulx told Mendoza to send in her resume -- and even stoic Bloom smiled -- there was an almost palpable sigh in the room, as if Democrats and Republicans in Congress finally found a way to work together.
Another famous coach also surprised the room. Former San Francisco Giant player and current Colorado Rockies minor league manager Glenallen Hill urged support for Arnott and urged the board to follow procedures in handling coaches and student needs.
"I've never seen anything like this," said teachers union president Barry Kirschen, of the way the meeting lost its usual frigid formality.