A Rancho Bernardo High School student is suing the school district and the school's legendary baseball coach for retaliating against him after he complained that a freshman coach sucker-punched him in the back of the head.
The boy, who will remain anonymous because he is a minor, filed a lawsuit against the Poway Unified School District, Rancho Bernardo High School's former varsity coach (Sam Blalock), the school's principal, and former freshman coach Dan Kelly.
At the center of the lawsuit is the culture behind Rancho Bernardo High School's famed baseball program.
The school's baseball team was referred to as "the Factory" in the best-selling book that became the movie Moneyball for the number of future professional baseball players that attended there, including Cole Hamels and Allan Dykstra, among others.
Longtime coach Sam Blalock, who retired earlier this year, was the region's winningest coach and the second-most-winning coach in California history, with 946 wins during his career. Blalock has been called "one of the greatest high school baseball coaches in history" by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Blalock also oversaw the school's varsity baseball team, the Rancho Bernardo Broncos.
But the culture of winning, says the lawsuit, comes at a price.
According to the complaint, the boy earned a spot on the Rancho Bernardo Warriors baseball team in 2014 when he was an eighth-grader. The Warriors are to prep baseball what farm clubs are to Major League Baseball: an entry point for those hoping to gain a spot on the Rancho Bernardo High School team. Kelly was head coach for the Warriors and the Broncos.
In July 2014, during a practice for the Warriors, Coach Kelly discovered that some players had written, according to the complaint, "unflattering comments" about him inside the dugout. Kelly told Blalock about what he found and Blalock, alleges the complaint, told Kelly to find out who did it and dole out the proper punishment.
At the following practice, Kelly disciplined the team by forcing them through a rigorous training regimen.
Reads the lawsuit, "The Warriors coach set upon [the team] in the heat of the summer sun, meting out corporal punishment through forced runs and endless rounds of pushups, sit-ups, and other exercises. Kelly interrogated each of the players individually in the freshman dugout, and further compelled them to write verbatim what was written on the helmet cubbie to serve as a comparative exemplar to the actual scrawl. When the boys collectively and individually denied all knowledge of the dugout scrawl, Kelly became more angered and ordered even more physical punishment. The children grew exhausted."
Kelly allegedly continued. He ordered the players to do push-ups. He then straddled one player's back while he yelled at him. Kelly allegedly hit the boy in the back of the head. The boy collapsed.
An assistant coach was later overheard saying, "Fuck [Kelly], you could have killed the kid." The assistant coach later described the punch to a detective as "violent."
The boy's family filed a complaint with the San Diego Police Department and the district attorney's office.
The complaint states that because Kelly was coaching the Warriors feeder team and not the high school team, nothing could be done. He continued coaching the school's freshman team that the plaintiff eventually went on to play for.
According to the complaint, Kelly and Blalock retaliated against the boy for complaining to the cops by not letting him play. The following season the school decided not to renew Kelly's contract.
The retaliation, allegedly under Blalock's direction, intensified. The boy was not invited to play on Blalock's summer baseball team.
The boy's parents complained to school administrators about the retaliation. They said that other players blamed him for Kelly's firing.
The following season, junior varsity coach Kevin How allegedly told the boy that Blalock had ordered him not to let the boy play.
Meanwhile, says the lawsuit, the boy's vision began to deteriorate and his grades faltered. In November 2016 the boy's parents took him to a doctor for his vision problem. During an examination, the doctor concluded that the boy had suffered a traumatic brain injury from the punch, causing vision problems, among other issues.
In April of this year the family filed an administrative claim with the district; the district, however, rejected the claim for it not having been filed within six months after the injury occurred.
Attorneys for the family argue that the injury was not diagnosed until November and the boy continues to experience problems from it, thus allowing them to file the claim now.
In 2016, Kelly was hired as a minor league coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball club.
The lawsuit will move forward in superior court. The attorney for the boy declined to comment for this story.