ARCADIA >> In a letter sent to the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section sometime in late June or early July, the Arcadia Unified School District alleges numerous rules violations by Arcadia High School’s fired cross country coach. Among those allegations are “hundreds of instances” of the popular coach recruiting middle school students, punishments for athletes who didn’t participate in illegal Sunday practices and an attempt to place illegal flags on a course to gain a competitive advantage.
The undated letter, sent by Arcadia High Principal Brent Forsee to the CIF-SS, was publicly released for the first time under a Public Records Act request filed with the school district by this newspaper.
Fired coach James O’Brien, through his attorney Adrianos Facchetti, also released the letter. However, Facchetti vehemently denied the allegations.
Among the alleged violations dating back to 2009:
• Mandatory Sunday practices that Forsee said were verified by current and former athletes, “Captains were directed to organize these workouts and report back to our coach,” Forsee wrote. “Athletes not in attendance at these illegal workouts would either be barred from racing that week or receive other consequences for missing.”
• In person, by phone and in writing contact with middle school students “by the hundreds” was made before their promotion date, Forsee claimed. “The coach had been previously directed not to contact these students directly and to work with the Arcadia High athletic director,” Forsee wrote. “Despite this directive more solicitations were sent in the spring of 2013.”
• A “clear and intentional” violation by placing more than 20 orange flags along a race route intended for competitive advantage, documented by a CIF State Meet course manager.
• An issue in 2006 of recruiting a top eighth-grade runner for which the coach was reprimanded.
O’Brien has previously called the violations “bogus.”
Facchetti sent a three-page response to the newspaper disputing each of the alleged violations.
O’Brien’s attorney said athletes were not punished if they chose not to run Sundays.
“The athletes that chose to take Sunday off would simply need to run an extra mile or two per day in order to reach their weekly mileage totals,” he wrote.
Facchetti said O’Brien would send letters on school letterhead and time the mailing date so that students received recruiting letters on the day they graduated middle school. O’Brien would sometimes follow-up with a phone call a week after the letters were sent, Facchetti said.
“No one at A.H.S. ever told my client not to contact athletes, whether by mail or by phone,” Facchetti wrote.
Regarding the illegal flags, Facchetti said the allegations were “simply false,” and were made by the management of an invitational meet.
On the issue of the recruitment of a successful eighth-grade runner in 2006, Facchetti said O’Brien was not reprimanded by the high school or CIF-SS. He said the issue was resolved and the CIF-SS dropped its investigation of the claim.
Some of the alleged violations were discovered when students and parents were giving testimonials about the coach at a parent meeting held after O’Brien was fired. The school district’s decision to fire O’Brien, who led the team to two national championships in three years, caused a public outcry.
More than 50 parents and athletes spoke at a school board meeting urging the school board to reverse the district’s decision.
The school board upheld the decision and released a public statement accusing O’Brien of a “win-at-any cost mentality.”
O’Brien supporters have launched a recall effort of three school board members.
O’Brien, who remains a physical education teacher at the school, has vowed to fight his removal as coach.