Nipomo girls wrestling team struggles as investigations of former coach continue

Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno during a practice.
Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno during a practice. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Nipomo High School girls wrestling team has a very different look these days.

The first high school girls wrestling team to form in San Luis Obispo County — one that had enjoyed success and steady growth since it was founded five years ago — had just five members dressed out and ready to wrestle at a recent meet against the massive Santa Maria and Pioneer Valley high school squads. Three more Nipomo team members sat on the sidelines with injuries.

It’s a stark departure from last year, when the team had 22 members and sent 10 wrestlers to the CIF-Southern Section Championships. Even prior to this season, 40 girls tried out in September, according to the now deactivated team Facebook page. Since then, participation numbers have dropped as turmoil surrounds the team and the investigation continues into former coach and Nipomo High School teacher Justin Magdaleno for allegations of inappropriate behavior with team members.

Two Nipomo parents associated with the program recently told The Tribune that the exodus of wrestlers can be directly tied to the ongoing investigation by the Lucia Mar Unified School District and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office after at least 10 female Nipomo High School students accused Magdaleno more than four months ago of inappropriate touching and sexually charged comments.

The Tribune is not naming the parents to protect the identity of their daughters.

Magdaleno, who The Tribune confirmed is still under investigation by both the district and Sheriff’s Office, has since been replaced as head coach of the program he formed in 2014.

New head coach Marisol Arredondo — one of three female coaches, along with Paloma Basulto and Sabraeena Shelton, who now lead the team — dismissed the notion that the decline in numbers has to do with Magdaleno but rather injuries and the inherent difficulties of wrestling.

Nipomo High School wrestling coach Marisol Arredondo (center) sits on the mat between assistant coaches Paloma Basulto (right) and Sabreena Shelton during a dual meet at Pioneer Valley High on Jan. 11. tgibson@thetribunenews.com Travis Gibson

“We have had some of the girls leave and some of the girls stay,” said Arredondo, a 25-year-old Santa Maria High School graduate, who took over as head coach in November.

She declined to answer questions about her predecessor.

Meanwhile, the status of the investigations remain unclear.

One parent said she was told recently by the Sheriff’s Office that the investigation is ongoing — but not much else.

“(The Sheriff’s Office) told me if he will be prosecuted, you will get notified,” the parent said. “They said it could take a year, it could take less than a year. I said, ‘I trust you and I believe in justice.’ 

District spokesperson Charles Fiorentino said in an email to The Tribune last week that Magdaleno remains on paid leave as the district’s investigation continues.

“I have no idea of where the criminal investigation with the sheriff is at,” Fiorentino said.

According to TransparentCalifornia.com, a public database, Magdaleno’s total pay for the 2016 school year was $80,578 with an added $18,627 in benefits.

As all of this unfolds, wrestling season marches on with the Central Coast Girls Wrestling Association finals set for Saturday at Righetti High School.

Basulto said there has been no added stress to the team in the wake of Magdaleno’s departure.

“We just have the normal challenges that every team has,” Basulto said.

A Nipomo High School female wrestler grapples with an opponent from Santa Maria High at the CCGWA League Duals at Pioneer Valley High School on Jan. 11. tgibson@thetribunenews.com Travis Gibson

When asked on Jan. 11 if the team’s record had suffered this season, both Basulto and Arrendondo said they were unsure of its record, adding “we have it written down.” Both were also unsure of the current number of team members and estimated it was “around 15.”

“The girls that are here want it and work hard every day at practice,” Basulto said. “They love the sport, and that’s why they’re here.”

Travis Gibson: 805-781-7993, @TravisDgibson

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