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Norwalk High Baseball Coach Ousted After Field Usage Controversy

By Loren Kopff

Hews Media Group-Sports Department has learned that Norwalk High School has parted ways with varsity baseball head coach Ruben Marquez last Thursday afternoon over a series of events that dates back to this past summer between the baseball and football coaches over the field usage at the high school.

The lower level baseball coaches were also relieved of their duties.

Marquez, who was hired in late November of 2013, received a text message on Oct. 18 from Norwalk athletic director Quoc Nguyen saying that he and Norwalk principal Dr. Ryan Smith wanted to meet with him on Oct. 20.

The meeting never developed but Marquez received another text message saying that the meeting would be changed to last Thursday at 1:15 p.m.

All parties involved talked about the usage of the baseball field and how the baseball program wasn’t supposed to use the field because the lower level football teams were practicing in the outfield of the facility. The meeting lasted less than one hour.

Nguyen said through e-mail that he couldn’t really talk about why Marquez was fired.  Smith couldn’t comment too much on the firing as well but did talk about the future of the baseball program.

“I’m not going to be able to get into too many specifics with this,” Smith said. “What I will say is that we are constantly evaluating our programs and at this point in time we felt it was best to take our program in a new direction. We’re thankful in the work that coach Marquez did.”

Marquez says he received a text message recently saying that the baseball field was going to have some maintenance work done on Oct. 28. That date was then changed to Oct. 23 and because of that, the baseball team had to play a game at Holifield Park last Saturday.

But when the playing surface at the park wasn’t safe, Marquez moved the game back to the high school. Marquez believes the final straw was the fact that the team went back to the high school and played on the baseball field even though no one was doing any maintenance on it at the time.

“My other coaches [and I] and the parents were fighting for field space because the football team was always using our left field and center field and they were never using their football field,” Marquez said. “You have 80 yards of not being used on the football field but they’re using our left field and our center field and we can’t proceed with our program and go forward with the program. For us to get better, we’re always complaining and I think too much complaining…they had had enough of it.”

But the issue doesn’t stop with just the lack of usage time on the field the baseball program got.

For several months, Marquez was constantly verbally harassed by football personnel and on many occasions, profanity-laced conversations erupted.

“The threats started in the summer time,” Marquez said. “They threatened me in a fight and violence and [started] cussing me out, telling me that, ‘you just started here and this is my school. I brought all of the kids in’. This is something we told the principal and the athletic director and they never did anything about it. So, it’s like beating a dead horse.

“Football has taken over and [the football personnel] somehow has been bullying me and threatening me during the whole summer,” Marquez added. “Now, we have taken pictures that I have sent to the principal and to Quoc, the athletic director and they don’t do anything about it. This has happened year in and year out.”

One incident took place in early July after Marquez had a meeting with Norwalk vice principal Jennifer Panagos to discuss the baseball schedule and to straighten things out. After the meeting, Marquez was watering the baseball field when someone involved with the football program walked over and asked Marquez, ‘what the (expletive) are you doing’? This was witnessed by three or four baseball players.

Following the incident, Marquez was given a warning from Smith. Two days later, Marquez was written up for his final warning by Felipe S. Ibarra, director of human resources for the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District.

Marquez claims that he never received a copy of the memo documenting that meeting, which was held on July 14. In the memo, it states that Marquez received a verbal warning not to engage in any unprofessional behavior to include profane language with any staff members or any students of the district.

The memo went on to state that Marquez is to engage in collaborative professional interaction with all staff members, in particular coaches of other sports with regard to sharing training space anywhere within the grounds of Norwalk High School.

“Should you violate the directives given above, I, as the director of human resources, will immediately release you from your at-will employment with the district,” Ibarra said in the memo.

Marquez says that by law, he was to receive a copy of that complaint but when asked about it, he was told that the complaint was personal and it is to remain in their files.

In addition, Marquez claims that his car was vandalized during the summer and he has proof that the football players were the culprits to that. Marquez also says that football personnel has complained to him and his coaching staff about taking pictures of the football team using the baseball field for practices.

“During the summer time, when football had their fields closed, they found football fields and places for them to practice,” Marquez said. “When they told us they were going to close the baseball field down, I asked where are we practicing and they [told us], ‘we don’t know yet, we have nowhere’.”

There was also an issue involving junior varsity baseball coach Daniel Chatman, who was told he couldn’t be on campus because he didn’t have his CPR certification card. However, Chatman had all of his credentials and he coached last season. Marquez complained to administration that there were several football coaches who had not been certified and was told that he should mind his own business.

Marquez met with a group of 15-20 parents and coaches last Friday evening to discuss the events that had transpired the previous 24 hours. During that meeting, some of the parents voiced their displeasure at the way the high school has been treating the baseball program and how they have been favoring the football program.

“They don’t really care about baseball,” one parent said. “Football is number one here. Football is their priority here at our school. They went to the final game last year, so they think, oh, football is a way to make a name for ourselves. How about if we took our kids and played baseball on their football field? How do you think they would feel?”

“Like I told the parents, we were there for the kids,” Marquez said. “Like I told the principal, we were walk-on coaches. We missed a lot of work to be there. We were there 24/7. We were there with the kids every single day. That was our number one goal; to be there with the kids and improve the program. We want this program to succeed. But it doesn’t help us if the district or the principal or the athletic director doesn’t help us out. We cannot practice and build a great program when we can’t use the baseball field.”

Bill Wenrick, a special educations teacher at Norwalk, has been hired as the new varsity baseball coach. He becomes the fourth coach in as many seasons to take over the program.

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