Berkeley High Hires New Soccer Coach after Parents Complain

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 12, 2008 - 09:55:00 AM

Berkeley High School replaced its soccer coach Tuesday because of what some community activists said were complaints filed against him for disrespectful and racist behavior. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan acknowledged that a group of parents had complained to school authorities about former coach Eugenio Janu Juarez but refused to comment on specifics, since it was a personnel issue. 

“Some parents had asked the principal for the removal of the coach,” he said. “A position opened up after that, and we replaced Juarez. Parents aren’t always happy with coaches; it happens a lot of times.” 

Juarez, who has coached the Berkeley High boys’ soccer team for the last nine years with a one-year break, also teaches Spanish at the school’s World Language program, Coplan said. 

Juarez could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Messages were left for him at the Berkeley High reception desk, but the calls were not returned. 

Berkeley High Vice Principal Pasquale Scuderi cited personnel issues for not commenting on the incident. 

“We have hired a new coach and are extremely excited about it,” he said. 

Long-term Bay Area soccer club coach Phil Scicluna, who took over from Juarez on Tuesday, runs his own soccer coaching company and was an assistant coach at Berkeley High for two years before he was hired to lead the team. 

Juarez played a prominent role in supporting the family of Berkeley High student Yonas Mehari, who was shot to death during a family feud in North Oakland on Thanksgiving Day in 2006. 

In an interview with the Planet at that time, Juarez condemned the shooting and later dedicated the 2006-2007 soccer season to the memory of Yonas at a memorial service at the Berkeley High football fields. 

Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA) lead organizer Belen Pulido-Martinez told the Planet that she’d been told by parents that Juarez had been disrespectful toward his students over the course of his nearly decade-long tenure at the high school. Martinez said one of the BOCA parents complained to her last year when her son refused to attend soccer lessons because of Juarez’s behavior. 

“When parents told Juarez it was not acceptable to pull children’s ears, he replied that it was an old Mexican custom,” Martinez said. “I am Mexican. I have never heard of such a thing.” 

“He used bad words with the kids and called them feminine names,” she alleged. “He would make Victor into Victoria and so on, and scream at them in front of their parents. Although he was Mexican himself he was racist towards the Mexican students. He told them they would drop out of school. He used sexual language towards the Latina girls, telling them they would get pregnant and drop out. Kids started dropping out because of his terrible behavior. Soccer is one of the few games kids can play after school, but they just didn’t want to do it anymore after all this.” 

Martinez said that parents were not willing to speak directly to the Planet because they feared retaliation against their students. 

A group of parents from BOCA met with Scuderi, who supervises Berkeley High’s athletic department, in February to discuss the problem. 

“We worked with Scuderi to solve the problem, but something that bothers me is that he never told us we could file a complaint,” she said. 

Martinez said the group did their own research on the complaint process and filed a complaint with Scuderi when they met with him again at the end of February. 

“I don’t think he expected that,” she said. “Three weeks later he wrote a letter apologizing about the situation and telling us that the school would hire another coach to assist Juarez, who would ‘keep an eye on him.’” 

Martinez said the parents grew even more angry when they heard this and decided to take the matter up with the district. The group met with the district’s assistant superintendent, Neil Smith, in March and filed a second complaint against Juarez. 

Smith hired an investigator to watch over Juarez, Martinez said. 

On April 10, at a BOCA meeting with district Superintendent Bill Huyett at St. Joseph the Worker Church, parents complained to Huyett about Juarez. 

Huyett told the group that district officials were investigating the matter and that he was working with Smith to hire a new soccer coach. 

Martinez said the incident highlighted the absence of a proper complaint procedure in the district. 

“They don’t have a person to file a complaint to,” she said. “We suggested to the superintendent that he hire a person who can handle the complaint database, so that the forms don’t get lost and we can follow up with the district.” 

Scuderi said that BOCA members had been invited to participate in the selection of the new soccer coach.  

“We invited input from community members and I think the team is headed in a much better direction now,” he said. 

Berkeley High Athletic Director Kristen Glencher refused to comment on Juarez, but said the school was happy with his replacement. 

“Phil is highly ethical and really knowledgeable about soccer,” she said. “He has a real quiet strength and a great character, and he expects a lot from his team. He will bring strong leadership to our boys’ soccer program.” 

Scicluna played soccer at Livermore High School and at St. Mary’s College, where he majored in psychology. He played professionally for the Cameroon Spartans in Malta and for a semi-pro team in Michigan.