April 25, 2001    Los Gatos, California  Since 1881

Los Gatos Weekly-Times
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    Dismissal leads to friction between head coach and school principal

    McCulloch calls Harmatz's actions 'inexcusable'

    Harmatz criticizes coverage

    By Gloria I. Wang

    The recent dismissal of a Los Gatos High School track coach has led to a conflict of authority between the man's boss, head track coach Willie Harmatz, and school administrators. Harmatz has apparently defied the school by retaining the dismissed coach, while the school's principal calls Harmatz's actions "inexcusable."

    On March 20, a letter from the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District and LGHS was sent to sprinting and jumping coach Chioke "Chee" Robinson. The letter informed Robinson of his dismissal. Administrators are not permitted to discuss the reasons for Robinson's abrupt dismissal because it is a personnel matter. As a result, some mystery surrounds the school's decision.

    Robinson had coached both the varsity and junior varsity track teams for the past two track seasons. While he continues to work with students after school hours as a personal trainer, Principal Trudy McCulloch said, "It was made very clear that he was not to be doing any coaching on our campus."

    Harmatz, however, says that Robinson is still coaching on-campus practices "every single day." He insists that the school never dismissed Robinson and that the only letter sent to Robinson, a year and a half ago, was about a CPR requirement, and telling Robinson to "use some common sense" regarding an undisclosed issue.

    An attempt made to photograph Robinson by the Los Gatos Weekly-Times, angered Harmatz, and he called the newspaper. When asked if he was defying the administration's action about Robinson, Harmatz replied, "Are you going to trust an administrator who hasn't stepped foot down here and hasn't seen a track meet before?

    "Why don't you go down to the main office and take Trudy's picture?" he said. "She does her job and I do mine."

    In response to Harmatz's allegations, McCulloch said that at least one of the administrators, including herself, is always present at every single track meet. "It is very clear that Chioke Robinson is no longer employed by the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District as a coach," she said, adding that Harmatz's behavior is "inexcusable."

    A second controversy arose when the LGHS student newspaper, El Gato, ran an article about the dismissal on April 4. The article mentioned some of the rumors about why Robinson was dismissed. McCulloch denied that the rumored stories about Robinson were true and said they did not factor into Robinson's dismissal.

    Harmatz says that printing the rumors only serves to further spread them. "It's the most ridiculous thing in the world," he said. "It's disgusting." Harmatz says that Robinson could possibly file a lawsuit against the student newspaper. He added that during the week of April 15, Robinson met with McCulloch and the El Gato faculty advisor, and the newspaper agreed to print a retraction.

    Advisor Julie Alonzo, however, says that no such agreement was made. McCulloch allowed El Gato to make its own decision, and after conferring with newspaper staff, it was decided that a retraction was not necessary.

    "From a legal point of view, there's nothing wrong legally with the article," Alonzo said, since the article was intended to dispel the rumors about Robinson.

    One of the rumors had circulated on campus in the past. Harmatz says that two years ago, two best friends on the track team had a fight over a guy. "One girl decided to spread false rumors about the other girl and [Robinson]," Harmatz said. "It was blown out of proportion completely."

    "I've been coaching for 25 years. I've gotten 20 [Central Coast Section] championships for the school--more than any other high school coach," Harmatz said. "I know what's going on in my team."

    Madeline Collins, track parent, phoned the Weekly-Times, and said that several parents had approached McCulloch with kind words for Robinson. "He's just a kid," Collins said. "I'm not saying that he's always been perfect, but I've never had the sense that, 'Oh, he's weird.'"

    Collins' daughter, Aly Chavez, has worked with Robinson on the track team for two years and continues to practice with him. Collins says that Robinson's behavior has never been inappropriate, and mentions that when Chavez was sick, Robinson came to her house with medication. "[Robinson's] just high-energy and fun," Collins said. "He's a black guy in this uppity white Los Gatos school."

    Attempts to reach Robinson for this article were unsuccessful; although Harmatz said he was going to have Robinson contact the Weekly-Times, no contact was made.

    When first called by the Weekly-Times for an interview by phone, Harmatz angrily repeated that he had nothing to say. He did, however, visit the newspaper's office minutes later, insisting that an article should not be written.

    A day later, an email, apparently from Harmatz, was sent to the newspaper, saying, "You do not have my permission to quote me or use my name in any other such article concerning news about assistant coach Chee Robinson." The email was signed "Willie."

    Because no agreement was ever made to keep conversations with Harmatz off the record, the newspaper disregarded the email.

    On April 20, Harmatz called the Weekly-Times trying to get information about what the newspaper's article would include. When this information was not provided, Harmatz hung up, then called back and said he would no longer provide track results to the paper.

    "Track doesn't exist to you guys anymore," Harmatz said.

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