Mike Benge July 29, 2013 TWEET COMMENTS 10

Under Fire - Page 2

O'Brien and Arcadia High School's cross-country team at the Nike Cross Nationals in 2012. Photo by Maria De La Rosa

A Pasadena Star News article about the meeting paraphrased several speakers’ comments:

“A single mother said O'Brien was a father figure in her sons' lives. Another parent said O'Brien called her to see if she would take a student in who was having a difficult home life. A former student said he lost the use of his legs during a snowboarding accident in college and O'Brien came to his bedside and inspired him to compete in the wheelchair race at the L.A. Marathon."

One student, who said she once attempted suicide, said O'Brien saved her.

‘This man has taught me hope, taught me courage and taught me perseverance,’ she said. ‘What you have taught me saves my life every day.’"

When contacted regarding the issue, Superintendent Joel Shawn responded: “Because of the personnel and privacy issues involved, I am unable to answer your questions. Any change to the current decision will be made prior to the beginning of the school year, which is August 27.”

So, what really gives here? The reasons school officials gave for O’Brien’s firing appear superficial, and deeper personal conflicts are likely responsible. O’Brien admits to being “painfully honest, even blunt” but says none of his actions warrant such harsh action. He cites a few conflicts over the past few years for contributing to strained relations, particularly between himself and head track coach, Chris Schultz. But O’Brien has made it clear to officials that he is willing to follow whatever protocols may be necessary to continue as the Arcadia High School coach, “to do what’s best for the kids.”

He even offered his services as assistant coach to the newly named head coach, Michael Feraco, O’Brien’s previous assistant coach (whom O’Brien says implored Shawn to reinstate him) with about six years’ experience, but was denied. Officials went so far as to say he is to have no contact with the cross-country team members. He offered other conciliatory options to Shawn, but all were rejected.

Now, O’Brien is standing his ground, saying, “I want the whole enchilada back, and want to take the kids to the national championships meet again and see what we can do.”

Along with other issues over the past few years, O’Brien says one thing that rankled officials is his outside USATF summer team that includes over 100 athletes and the kids have dubbed “O’Brien’s Army.”

The genesis for starting the camp, says O’Brien, relates to a new school policy that requires athletes to train only on Arcadia school property for the summer-school sport camp, which would relegate them to the track. “It is simply inadequate and not a workable way to train cross-country athletes,” says O’Brien. So he says he respectfully declined to work for the school program and began the club to give the kids the best opportunity to be successful. Each August, O’Brien takes around 40 team members for a high-altitude training camp—where they run almost exclusively on trails—in Mammoth, California … which is where he will be this summer when the school board reaches its final decision.

View this YouTube video to better understand O’Brien’s impact on his students and athletes and his current situation.

Here is the Keep Coach O Brien at Arcadia Facebook page started by his supporters; it has garnered over 4000 Likes.

For perspective on O’Brien’s 1989 Angeles Crest race, click here.


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