Paso Robles High School softball coach Berkley Baker was dismissed Friday following a clash with parents that resulted in both sides bringing grievances to district administration.
The problems started to bubble late in the 2017 season — despite the team being one of the top squads in the PAC 8 — when Baker said he reported to the school’s athletic director two separate instances of misbehavior among players.
Baker said the alleged misbehavior among groups of upperclassmen and freshmen went ignored by the administration.
“They decided, in my opinion, that they were just going to sweep it under the rug and cover it up, and to me that is a violation of board policy,” Baker told The Tribune.
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Unhappy with Baker’s handling of the incidents and his overall coaching tactics, parents brought their complaints to the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District meeting last Tuesday. Several days later, Baker was informed by the school that he would not be allowed to return to coach the team this spring.
A district spokesperson confirmed to The Tribune on Wednesday that Baker’s coaching contract was not renewed.
Baker declined to elaborate on the conduct of the students, but parents of one Paso Robles softball player said their daughter and other players were accused of bullying younger teammates. The parents said the district investigated the incident and decided no punishment was necessary. Baker disagreed.
“To me there are some very serious things that happened,” said Baker, who served as a school board member for the Paso Robles Joint Union High School District from 1992-96. “I felt it was serious enough to put my job on the line to do something about it.”
Parents painted a different picture to The Tribune and the school board.
“(Baker) told my daughter she would have a slim chance of making the team and if she did come back she would be suspended for six weeks for an incident that we were not aware of that happened last season,” one parent told The Tribune on Tuesday.
At the public meeting, one parent accused Baker of “fat shaming” players, among other harsh coaching tactics. Baker denies these accusations. According to the parent, Baker also gave preferential treatment to the younger players who he coached previously on his travel softball team.
Following Baker’s dismissal, parents told The Tribune they are happy with the way the school handled their complaints against the now former coach.
“The school handled it very well,” one parent said. “They were very thorough and very quick with a response. I believe they took (my daughter’s) concerns very seriously.”
The friction caused all five senior players from last year’s team to quit, according to one parent. But with Baker now gone and the search for a new coach underway, the parent said many girls plan to return and try out for the team in 2018.
The parents said they brought their issues to Paso Robles High athletic director Anthony Morales, principal Eric Martinez and district athletic director Rich Clayton before bringing the allegations in front of the school board.
Baker led Paso Robles to a 19-8 record and a second-place finish in the PAC 8 last season in his first year as head coach. Baker’s replacement will be the fourth coach to lead the team in four years.
Late last year, Paso Robles High School was involved in another coaching mess when then head coach Larry Grant left the football team one game into the 2017 season. Grant was replaced by current head coach J.R. Reynolds.
Baker said his relationship with Morales became extremely contentious recently, but he doesn’t feel like he was treated unfairly by the district.
“I coached because I enjoyed it. There are a lot of kids that I really care about up there, and there are some great kids up there, both in ability to play and character,” Baker said. “When things settle down, they should have a really good year.”
The softball head coach job has been posted to Edjoin.com.