Canyon Crest Academy coach resigns field hockey post amid accusations of bullying

The Canyon Crest Academy varsity field hockey coach has resigned amid allegations of bullying from some players and their parents. Coach Rebecca Kingsbury announced her resignation from that post at the San Dieguito Union High School District’s March 5 meeting before a crowd of about 20 supporters.

“Please understand that this is not any admission of wrongdoing or guilt,” Kingsbury said in a tearful statement to the board. “I honestly believe that I am a good coach who always has, and always will, put her kids before anything else.”

Kingsbury, who led CCA to a CIF field hockey championship in 2014 and was also named the 2014 CIF San Diego girls lacrosse coach of the year, faced allegations that she exhibited negative behavior such as verbal abuse and bullying which some parents documented back to the 2013-14 season.

“I have never claimed to be an ‘easy’ coach, but I have always promised to be a fair one. I expect my girls to perform at their own highest level every day,” said, Kingsbury, who has worked as a coach at CCA for seven years. “I raise the bar high, and I give everything of myself to help them get over it.”

Superintendent Rick Schmitt said that the district has accepted her resignation from coaching the field hockey team, and looks to move on. She will continue as head lacrosse coach.

Rajy Abulhosn, a member of one of the six families who brought their issues with the coach before the board two weeks ago, said that Kingsbury not returning as field hockey coach is appropriate and “long overdue.”

“We obviously know that these issues are not confined to one coach, one sport, one program or one district,” Abulhosn said. “We want to use this as an opportunity to help CCA and SDUHSD establish firm guidelines and policies that are followed each and every time so that if or when it occurs again, the school has procedures in place to help those students who have been affected.”

Kingsbury said she had been aware of the allegations against her for several months as she had worked closely with the administration as they investigated the claims. She said Principal Karl Mueller “diligently investigated” every allegation, and they frequently discussed areas of improvement.

Kingsbury said she worried about setting a bad example for her players by bowing out when things got hard, as well as setting a precedent for other coaches faced with similar challenges.

But as she told Mueller and the board last week, if her presence became a bigger distraction for the program than it was a benefit, she would have to make the decision that was right for the girls, even at her own expense.

When the matter was made public, Kingsbury said her kids were placed in an “impossible position” where they had to choose between their teammates and their coach, and she did not want that to continue.

“As I’ve often told the girls, sometimes it’s just not your turn. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good player, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person. Sometimes it’s just about chemistry and what makes sense on the field that day,” she said. “There are going to be days when you are too tired, too hurt or too distracted to give 100 percent, and there is no shame for asking for a turn on the sidelines. I want to see CCA field hockey succeed in the future, and I’m willing to sit on the bench if that gives us the best possible chance.”

Many parents took the opportunity to speak in Kingsbury’s favor, after players and parents had spoken out against her at Feb. 19 board meeting.

Parent Rebecca Schmitt said she thought the situation came down to a disagreement over a coach’s behavior that is very typical of varsity sports. She said Kingsbury’s behavior was very much in line with that of other coaches, and if that is not acceptable, perhaps it is a community-wide issue where all coaches, male and female, need to be held to the same standard.

Several parents remarked that varsity sports are a “tough business” that require commitment, passion and mental toughness.

Doug Rafner said his freshman daughter was on the sidelines a lot as a back-up goalie, and said while she observed a lot of passion and desire to win, nothing gave her trouble with the way the coach was acting.

“This is varsity competition at the highest level. Of course it’s going to be difficult. Of course it’s going to be grueling. But it’s going to be rewarding,” Rafner said.

Several parents whose daughters played both field hockey and lacrosse under Kingsbury spoke on her behalf — saying that through six seasons of sports, they never saw her behave in a way that was over the line.

Parent Kimberly Carlson said her daughter graduated last year and now plays field hockey at Cornell.

“I never once saw bullying exhibited by this coach in six seasons,” Carlson said.

She said sometimes players have to serve as “understudies” and may not get the playing time they want. But, she said, it is not the coach’s job to make all players happy — her job is to help them develop their strengths to become better athletes and people.

Abulhosn reiterated that the six families’ concerns were never about playing time.

He said it was unfortunate that they felt compelled to speak out in a such a public setting, but he felt it was one of the factors that helped the CCA administration, the board and the superintendent understand the severity of the situation.

“Some seem to have a perception that this is a ‘victory’ or that there is a sense of happiness with this result. I can assure you there is nothing further from the truth. This has been a very stressful and difficult situation, especially for the brave student athletes who chose to come forward,” Abulhosn said. “I am not sure the word ‘happiness’ or ‘victory’ can be used at the end of a process filled with feelings of self-worthlessness, inadequacy, torment and intimidation.”

While no longer a part of the field hockey program, Kingsbury remains the head coach of CCA’s lacrosse team.

“I’m confident that my girls know how hard I fought for them, and I’m hopeful that in stepping away from field hockey, I can teach them there is more than one way to be strong,” Kingsbury said. “I will continue to support the program in any way possible and will always be proud to be part of their family.”

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