Calif. baseball player: ‘Coach illegally benched me’

A former high school baseball player at a California high school says he was benched in his senior year by his new coach because he didn’t participate in certain fundraising activities for the team, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports.

The former Los Altos High School student is suing the school district and his former coach for $150,000 or more, claiming that “repeatedly” benching him during his senior year, especially after he had reportedly been a starter for three years prior to coach Gabriel Lopez being hired, showed a pattern of “harassment and bullying.”

The student’s attorney and his father believe the senior was benched because he didn’t raise any money for the team during fundraisers conducted by the team.

“It’s more of a targeted situation” than a standard case of a coach using his own judgement, the paper quoted the student’s attorney, Michael Ponce, as saying. “These are repeated actions by the coach, which we feel, my client and I, as well as his father, feel are intentional. They’re targeted against (my client) specifically.”

California laws make it illegal to bench athletes or deny them participation in school activities just because they fail to raise money for a school group but not because they fail to show up at fundraising activities. The San Diego Unified School District has published specific guidelines on this matter:

As with donations, school districts, schools, programs and classes can and do engage in fundraising activities and programs, and this practice is also permissible as long as the raising of funds is voluntary. A student who is asked to but does not raise funds may not be denied participation in an educational activity. A requirement to raise funds in order to participate, even if there is no mandated amount to be raised, is the same as requiring a fee.

The prohibition on the requirement for an individual student to raise money is to be distinguished from a requirement to attend a fundraising event as an element of participation in an activity, in the same way attendance at practices, games, rehearsals or performances are an expected aspect of participation. For example, expecting the members of a vocal ensemble to attend a fundraising concert that is on its calendar of events does not violate the “free school” guarantee, so long as attendance is the only requirement. Another example is when members of an athletic team are expected to help out with a fundraising sale at a Back to School Night or Open House – just as a coach can expect players to attend practices and games, he/she can expect players to attend a fundraising event as long as the requirement is to attend rather than to raise money as a condition of participation in the activity or program.

A specific point of contention in the lawsuit appears to be a “varsity vs alumni” game, in which the current team plays against a team made up of graduates of the school.

“The game is supposed to be a fun day, especially for seniors on the team,” the lawsuit states, and “every senior on the team played except for” the plaintiff.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.