Less than a week after Cabrillo High School basketball coach Gary West was reportedly notified that he would be dismissed from the team, a steady stream of the coach's supporters stood before the Lompoc Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday night and asked that the coach be reinstated.
West, who was not on the sidelines when his team took on rival Lompoc High on Friday night, had apparently been notified that he was being fired before that game. According to some people close to the program, West made a short, emotional statement to the team that day before saying goodbye.
No specific reason was given by the board on Tuesday for West’s dismissal, and the coach did not return a phone message for comment Tuesday night.
Both LUSD Superintendent Trevor McDonald and Lore Desmond, an assistant superintendent in human resources at LUSD, also declined comment Wednesday when asked about West's status or if the coach was the subject of any investigation.
"I cannot comment on any of that; it's a personnel matter," Desmond said.
Cabrillo High Principal Jeff Wagonseller said Wednesday that he was unable to provide any details about West's situation, but he did confirm that West was still currently working as a counselor at Cabrillo.
Still, 20 or so supporters — mostly former players and parents of current and former players — skipped the Conqs' game Tuesday night at Orcutt Academy to go to the district boardroom, where they unanimously supported the coach who was in the midst of his 15th season at the school.
“I think what happened here is a travesty,” said Tom Woodard, whose sons played for West.
Suzanne Harris, a parent of a current and former Cabrillo basketball player, added: “You, as a board, can reinstate Gary West. You can fix this. And I beg you to do so.”
West has not been a stranger to controversy at the school.
The coach, who often displays high energy and emotions on the sideline, was placed on leave before the 2010-11 season after he was accused of getting into a physical altercation with a student on campus. West returned to the team about a month later after LUSD completed its investigation of the incident. Then-Superintendent Greg Kampf said at the time that “disciplinary steps” were taken.
West also was the target of a complaint in 2006 by a parent who accused him of favoritism and abuse of his authority. Those claims were reportedly investigated by the school, the district and state sports authorities and were found to be unsubstantiated.
Some of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting pointed out that those incidents don’t tell the whole story about a man who was at least once named the All-Area Boys Basketball coach of the year.
“I wish you could get a peek into the rest of (his life) the way we have,” Harris told the board. “I learned to understand that he’s passionate because he loves those kids.”
Josh Harris played under West at Cabrillo for three years. Harris told the board Tuesday that West was and remains a positive, supportive figure in his life.
“I would have never imagined in my freshman year of high school that my soon-to-be varsity head coach would be just as naggy about me going off to college as my parents,” he said, drawing some laughter. “But that’s just how coach is. He cares and loves each and every one of his players and builds lifelong relationships with them.”
Sidney Bowen, like some other parents Tuesday, told the board how the coach had made a positive difference in his son's life even though his son only spent one season on the basketball team.
“My son is in college now, and I never would’ve saw that,” Bowen said.
“My only hope was that he’d be on the team and get in the yearbook," he added with a chuckle. "It was always a struggle with my son to get him (motivated) academically. That year he was on the basketball team was a relief for all of us because he was excelling in school. He had never done that. Coach West (changed) that."
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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