A group of Canyon Crest Academy field hockey parents and students are calling for a coach to be fired after players allegedly suffered verbal abuse and bullying.
Several parents and two field hockey team members tearfully addressed the San Dieguito Union School board at its Feb. 19 meeting, detailing how coach Rebecca Kingsbury had chosen her “A Team” favorites and tore down the others with “horrible” insults and negative treatment.
Although a group has lodged complaints about the coach for the past two seasons, Kingsbury has been reinstated for the 2015-16 school year.
“I’m tired of the games the administration is playing at CCA,” said senior Madison McIntyre, fighting to speak through tears. “I’ve been dealing with this situation for two long years and I’m afraid if I don’t speak up now, I’m afraid someone might pay with their lives.”
Player Hannah Manchel said the coach made her feel “invisible, worthless and humiliated” and said she feels the district has minimized her feelings. She said while she may be graduating, she doesn’t want this coach to treat another group of girls badly because the negative effects of her actions don’t end just because the season did.
“I can’t stand aside and let that happen,” Hannah said.
As the girls spoke, Melanie Farfel, CCA’s student representative on the board, grew increasingly upset. Melanie spoke up at the end of public comment through tears, saying that she had experienced similar poor treatment by the coach when she led the school’s lacrosse team.
The issue was raised during public comment, so the board could not discuss the topic.
Superintendent Rick Schmitt said that the board cannot discuss personnel matters but noted the members have heard the complaints and will continue to investigate the situation.
Kingsbury issued a statement saying that the allegations against her are untrue.
“From my seven-year head coaching career at CCA, across two sports, there are dozens of players and parents who can attest to my character as a person, and as a coach who cares deeply about every kid,” said Kingsbury. “I am truly overwhelmed by the level of support I’ve received over the last few days, from both current and former athletes and families, as well as other coaches and members of the community.
“I’m disappointed with the fact that a few families are willing to go to this length to attack my integrity,” she continued. “It represents the challenges that all coaches face in today’s world of youth and high school sports.”
At the meeting, the parents presented the board with a detailed timeline of incidents of Kingsbury’s alleged behavior and meetings dating to the 2013 season with Principal Karl Mueller and then-Athletic Director Jeff Copeland.
Despite complaints throughout the 2013 season, Copeland nominated Kingsbury for “CIF Female Coach of the Year,” and she was brought back to coach a second season in 2014.
This season, four families notified Mueller of Kingsbury’s behavior via emails and face-to-face meetings. According to the parents’ documentation, at the beginning of the 2014 season, two players missed a game because of the ACT exam. When the team lost, Kingsbury texted them a message saying “thanks a lot.”
According to the complainants, players were allegedly told that they “didn’t fit in,” were personally blamed for losses, told that they were “terrible” and that they “sucked.” There were also complaints about playing time.
Parent Kari Abulhosn said she watched as her daughter Izzy’s self-confidence and excitement about playing the sport were replaced with sadness, tears and doubting her abilities to the point where she was paralyzed on the field.
After one practice, the Abulhosns met with Kingsbury to discuss their daughter’s treatment and were told her comments were taken out of context. The Abulhosns allege that Kingsbury said she had difficulty figuring Izzy out because their daughter “has no personality.”
“Her one connection with CCA was stripped away,” Kari Abulhosn said. “I’m angry that my child was harmed from a school activity, a school we thought was safe.”
After the fifth field hockey practice where her daughter Madison came home crying, Sandi McIntyre met with school administration. She said Madison did not want to play for Kingsbury any longer, but she refused to let the coach “win” by driving her to quit.
“It has been our experience CCA only wants to preach about bullying, but doesn’t want to do anything about it,” McIntyre said. “One child being bullied by a coach is one too many.”
As this is a personnel issue, said CCA Principal Mueller, he could not comment on the specific steps taken to support the school’s student athletes.
“In all aspects of our school community, bullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Mueller said. “As an academic institution committed to continuous improvement and growth, we are working closely with our staff (and in collaboration with the Positive Coaching Alliance) to focus on nurturing and fostering a positive experience for all of our student-athletes.”
Parent Rajy Abulhosn said he was stunned that their concerns were brushed off as some kind of misunderstanding.
“CCA has chosen to ignore the numerous witnessed and verified incidents in which the coach has humiliated players and crushed their spirit and self-confidence,” he told the school board. “We are here in front of you to show our daughters that standing up to bullying does not have to lead to victim-blaming and indifference.”
As Kingsbury attested, some current and former players and parents have rallied to support her, including Doug Rafner, whose daughter, Miranda, was a freshman on the varsity squad this year.
“I can’t comment on what the others experienced, but Miranda loved being on the field hockey team,” Rafner said. “It was a great athletic experience for her, and she enjoyed the coach.”
Schmitt said that over the past two years, he has received up to 300 e-mails in support of Kingsbury.
“Does it really matter how many girls had a great experience?” asked Kari Abulhosn. “A bully doesn’t bully everyone. Does that make what happened to our children any less important?”