Santa Fe Public Schools fired head boys basketball coach David Rodriguez on Friday, ending two months of investigation into an alleged hazing incident that occurred aboard a school bus returning from a game at Rio Rancho High School in February.
Rodriguez met with Santa Fe High Principal Mary Massey, Assistant Principal Zack Boatman and district athletic director Sara Baca on Friday and was informed of the school district’s decision, which affects only his coaching position. Rodriguez said he returned as a teacher of the E-2020 online classes at Santa Fe High School after a seven-week leave of absence on Wednesday, not Monday as district Chief of Staff Theresa Baca told The New Mexican on Thursday.
Theresa Baca, who is not related to Sara Baca, said the district’s human resources department conducted a thorough investigation into the incident and handed its report to Superintendent Joel Boyd last week, and Boyd supported the department’s recommendation to open the position to applications. Boyd was not a part of Friday’s meeting, she said, and is out of town until Tuesday.
Theresa Baca declined to specify any details of the investigation, saying it was a personnel matter.
Rodriguez, a 1979 Santa Fe High graduate, coached the Demons for the past six seasons and was 57-105 in his second stint with the program. He coached at the school from 1992-2002, and has an overall record of 169-244.
Rodriguez guided the Demons to three state tournament berths in that time, including this year’s Class 6A State Tournament. Santa Fe High, however, withdrew from the tournament March 2 after the surveillance video of the team’s Feb. 5 bus ride after a win at Rio Rancho High School was released to the media and created a furor.
It showed groups of older players piling on younger ones while the coaching staff sat in the front of the bus paying no attention. The video did not include audio, so it was unclear if the coaches were aware of the fracas taking place some six to 10 rows behind them. A 15-year-old freshman, confirmed as Wylee Oellien by his father, Rich Oellien, on Friday, suffered a broken nose in the incident.
“I’m sorry to the parents and kids for what has transpired, and especially to the young man who got hurt,” Rodriguez said. “He got hurt on my watch, and I take full responsibility for it. The kids’ welfare is my responsibility, and I am very sorry for the problems this has caused.”
Rodriguez said he had no contact with his now-former players during his leave of absence, which coincided with the length of the second investigation. Sara Baca handled the initial inquiry in the days after the incident and issued one-game suspensions for four varsity and three junior varsity players involved. Santa Fe High handed down three-day suspensions from classes for the players. Rodriguez opted to sit out the Feb. 9 game against Rio Rancho Cleveland that his players also missed.
The release of the video to the media on Feb. 29 and the resulting backlash from the community led the school district to reopen the investigation and opt out of the state tournament.
However, some parents of Santa Fe High players were disappointed at Rodriguez’s dismissal and outraged at the district for its handling of the matter. They also indicated that they felt the players’ actions were not as bad as they appeared on the video.
Christina Claude, mother of Santa Fe High senior Julian Paras, said Rodriguez was an instrumental role model for her son who was generous with his time and taught players the importance of respect and discipline.
Claude said she hopes that the incident will help the school district clarify rules and procedures about putting coaches in different places in the bus.
“What the kids were doing was just fooling around and playing,” Claude said. “To the freshmen, it wasn’t a big deal until someone hit a bit too hard. I agree that things shouldn’t go that far. I think they were all so overjoyed and exuberant and things just got out of control.”
Rodriguez said the school district does not have an official bus policy for its athletic programs, but added that he hopes this incident will change that.
“Every trip a team makes, every field trip a class takes — I think change has to happen,” Rodriguez said. “No bus should move until coaches or teachers are in position in the front, middle and back of a bus. Honestly, I’m glad this happened. I encourage the Legislature to make this into a state law.”
Rich Oellien, who is also the head golf coach at Santa Fe High, took issue with a New Mexican column that compared the bus incident to other hazing incidents, including the one at Las Vegas Robertson in which six upperclassmen players sodomized several younger players during a preseason camp in 2008.
Oellien declined to have his son interviewed, but he said Wylee Oellien told him that the player who hit him in the nose was immediately apologetic and helped him back up.
“I’ve never felt like it was a Robertson thing,” Rich Oellien said. “When a [columnist] said it was like the Robertson thing, it sickened me. The way the whole thing was portrayed, I think they took a lot of it out of context.”
The elder Oellien said reliving the events of Feb. 5 through a second investigation upset his son. He added that the players were putting the incident behind them when the school district pulled the team from the tournament.
“Wylee and a lot of kids have had their lives turned upside-down,” Oellien said. “I think everybody was through the incident with the initial punishment, and then Dr. Boyd started punishing everyone over again.”
Theresa Baca said the coaching position will be posted for announcement on Monday and the district would like a new hire as soon as possible.
Rodriguez has worked in the school district for 28 years, but he has no plans to retire at the moment.
“My immediate goal is to get back in the classroom and help the seniors graduate,” Rodriguez said. “I can say I did my best for my kids and all the people who stood by me, I want to thank them. People got hurt over this, and now we can get back to work.”