Play for Rancho Bernardo's junior-league team the Warriors and a player might get to play for the Broncos varsity team.
  • Play for Rancho Bernardo's junior-league team the Warriors and a player might get to play for the Broncos varsity team.
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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.

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Comments

Visduh Nov. 14, 2017 @ 8:04 a.m.

That school has more than its share of scandals. After a few visits there, many years ago, I decided to never return. The students were obnoxious and the teachers didn't seem to know what to do about it. In its first nine years of operation, starting in 1989, the school had four principals, and was on the fifth one at the start of its tenth year. That's a strong indication of something being seriously amiss.

The kid/parents will get a fat settlement out of this suit. And the record of the baseball coach is now tarnished. But is getting rough the way he turned out all those wins and pro prospects? It probably was.

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gottatellthetruth Nov. 14, 2017 @ 9:58 a.m.

The record of the high school coaches have nothing to do with this claim and should not be tarnished. The parent and lawyers filing suit are naming all the people in the lawsuit who they could hit with damages because they are greedy. I seriously doubt any court would award damages to a party if the school/district/HS coach is not found to be responsible. This lawsuit against the school/district/principal and HS coaches is frivolous, at best.

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gottatellthetruth Nov. 14, 2017 @ 9:40 a.m.

You are going to get a bunch of people who have never attended RB nor played baseball at this program commenting on this story. While they are entitled to their opinion, they are for the most part parroting gossip, are uninformed, or have an agenda against this school and their baseball program and its coaches.

We had a choice as to where to live, where to send our kids to school. RBHS, its teachers, administrators and coaches have always been nothing but professional and above reproach. I cannot say enough good things about this school.

While travel baseball has become the definition of competitive baseball until student-athletes enter high school, most parents and players quickly learn that "this isn't little league anymore" when they tryout for teams and either don't make the cut or don't get the playing time anticipated. At my son's Warrior team tryout, there were players who did not make the cut who cried after learning their fate at the tryout. I have known players who have deliberately gone to different high schools who did so because they wanted to play baseball and they knew their skills were not at the level necessary to win a starting position on the team. If baseball is that important in a kid's life, and they want to play in high school, they need to be realistic about their skills. Whether its because there are more skilled players on the team or there is a political agenda by the coach due to a relationship with another parent or player, this age is (for some) the first time they realize that their performance is what puts them on the field. My kid has played at RB, and for this coach. The coaches at RB will put the best 9 players on the field every inning, period. If you aren't performing, you aren't playing. Not sure that can be considered hypercompetitive. It's just competitive. It is not recreational league (Little League) baseball where playing time is distributed evenly because you paid the fee to play. What are you supposed to do, bench a player who is capable of playing well over a player of lesser skill? If the player in this story was not the best player for his position on his high school team, should he be in the line-up?

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gottatellthetruth Nov. 14, 2017 @ 9:40 a.m.

Again, this isn't a high school issue. It is an issue in which a coach of a club team reportedly being abusive with a player. Anything that the player or parents perceive that happened to that player in the form of lack of playing time or a roster spot on the High School team needs to also be looked at through the lens of a coach. Is that player the best player at his position? It really doesn't matter if the player or parent feels he is, what matters is the opinion of the coach filling out the line-up card. They apparently did not feel he was. High school programs and coaches are looking at player development as well, so they may see a player that has more potential for development and give that player preference in playing time as well. That's tough to hear as a kid and may not seem fair, but that is life in high school and college baseball. My son also had anxiety regarding his ability to make the starting line up. Most players do at some point. But the reality of the matter is that there are only 9 spots on the field. It's high school and time to grow thick skin. There have been MANY players who earned starting positions at the start of a season who find themselves replaced because they don't perform to expectations. That is life.

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Jgonnerman Nov. 14, 2017 @ 1:18 p.m.

I think the "baseball factory" term actually refers to Mt. Carmel/Blalock as that's where Billy Beane played

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gottatellthetruth Nov. 14, 2017 @ 2:02 p.m.

I also have to question the agenda of the parents/player in this case. I am not justifying, condoning or dismissing the allegations, but why did this parent not press charges immediately against the coach? Why would he allow his son to play for this coach for his freshman season? Why now?

If this coach, as the story relates, was such a loose cannon and they felt their son was in mortal danger, why would they allow him to play or be around him at all after that incident? Was it because they thought they could hold this over the coaching staff's head as a trump card to ensure their kid was kept on the team? If these events were reported to law enforcement and had merit, why did law enforcement not take action with an arrest? Perhaps they felt the claim had no merit if they investigated? This story forces people to ask more questions than it answers.

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Dorian Hargrove Nov. 14, 2017 @ 8:43 p.m.

Thanks for all of the comments. You make some valid points. As for why the school, Blalock, and the principal were named - in addition to Kelly - you may be correct that it may be for legal reasons. In regards to why the player and the family did not go to the police, they did.

At the time of publication the district was unaware of the lawsuit and the attorney for the boy's family would not comment so early on. I searched for Kelly's contact info but could not find it.

Oh, and as far as "The Factory" goes, I got that from several sources. This is one I just pulled up: https://www.perfectgame.org/Articles/View.aspx?article=9425

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/pomerado-news/sdpn-rancho-bernardo-high-baseball-coach-blalock-2011dec01-story.html

Thanks again for the input.-dH

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gottatellthetruth Nov. 15, 2017 @ 6:53 a.m.

So they went to the police accusing an adult of assaulting their child and the police did nothing? Doesn't that beg more questions of you as a reporter? Doesn't that intrigue you and make you want to ask more questions as to why the police and parents didn't take action immediately?

In your story you stated:

"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."

It makes zero sense that the police could take no action "because Kelly was coaching the Warrior feeder team." He either committed a crime that could be prosecuted by the district attorney or not. Whether or not the law is enforced is not dependent upon which baseball team the kid is playing for.

You obviously know the name of the student suing the school and could have looked up the students statistics on Maxpreps.com to see if he did or did not receive playing time. I know who this player is. I know that he played in 90% of the games during his freshman season, which is hardly a conspiracy to keep him off the field. The average player went up to bat 56 times during that season. This player exceed that number. Again, I don't see a conspiracy to keep him off the field. In his second season, he again played in 93% of the team's games and had an above average amount of opportunities at the plate. His 3rd season he played in far fewer games, because at this point he was being passed by younger, more talented players. But he still played in more than 1/2 of the team's games and received the opportunity to go to the plate on par with the team average.

So the concept that this kid was systematically deprived an opportunity to play baseball at Rancho Bernardo is without merit. The numbers don't lie, he had as fair an opportunity as any player. Your reporting that Coach Blalock directed the coaches not to play him are not supported by the facts. All you reported is what the kid said in his complaint. Before you publish something that is going to disparage a person's reputation you should do a little digging yourself to see if the claim has any basis in fact. This claim does not.

Another fact that you seem to take at face value is the claim of a traumatic brain injury. Apparent an eye doctor is qualified to diagnose a traumatic brain injury now. I assure you, they are not.

Which again begs the question: Why is this student and family bringing this lawsuit now? What is the catalyst for it when he seemed to be happily trudging along playing baseball during his high school career? That is the question that you as a reporter need to be asking.

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Dorian Hargrove Nov. 15, 2017 @ 4:12 p.m.

Thanks again for the comment. I am not the judge. I report on the courts as well as other beats for the Reader. I found a lawsuit wherein a family and their minor son made a claim that a coach sucker punched him. That punch resulted in a TBI. I am not a doctor. As for whether the DA's office pursued this, I am waiting to find out more.

I believed, wrongly in your opinion, that the lawsuit was newsworthy for a number of reasons. The first being that a student, a minor, stated he suffered a traumatic brain injury from his coach hitting him in the back of the head. The second is that fact that RBHS baseball is known for its baseball program.

People have different motives for filing lawsuits. Again, I am not a judge, nor am I the jury. I report the news. If you would like to go on record and tell me more than I am more than happy to write a follow-up.

My email is [email protected]

Please contact me anytime.

Thanks.-dH

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Visduh Nov. 15, 2017 @ 7:38 p.m.

One thing I've seen in many years of following newspaper reporting is how someone will tell the paper or reporter that a story didn't belong in the paper. In other words, it wasn't newsworthy. gottatellthetruth, after a series of lengthy comments, is essentially saying that this story isn't newsworthy. But it is! Some time back, when the North County Times was still publishing and allowing anonymous comments, there was one commenter who frequently told the paper to "pull a story." The usual reason was that it was tragic and that the family was suffering. Isn't that news, then? I always thought so. News can hurt, but it informs the public about unfortunate events. Dorian does a very good job of reporting news; as a result he makes a lot of folks squirm.

We might wonder about the identity of gottatellthetruth, who just signed on to the Reader yesterday. But we will wonder and never know, thanks to being able to comment anonymously.

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gottatellthetruth Nov. 16, 2017 @ 7:25 a.m.

Visduh, I am glad you made that comment. Did I at any time make a comment that this story is not newsworthy or should be pulled? Please, let me know where I did that, because it certainly was not my intent. You clearly make the comment in your initial post that you feel getting physical with athletes is how the Rancho Bernardo baseball program and the coaches has achieved long-term success. That is a dangerous accusation, Visduh, which of course you are free to make under the cloak of anonymity.

What I did comment on was the shoddy reporting. The reporter clearly only reported one side of this story and did not question even the most basic of assertions and claims made by the claimant that stick out like a sore thumb. So, instead of trying to suppress this story, I am actually asking the reporter to dig a little deeper, to ask the questions that need to be asked, and to develop the story to a point where it is representative of the whole story, not just one side of it.

I am pretty sure the entire story is gleaned from lawsuit paperwork from the court system. There is no actual "reporting" going on here, he is simply regurgitating legal paperwork and offers nothing more than the claims of the student and his parents. That is pretty one-sided and again, a little digging (since he knows the name of the student) would shoot holes in the story about the conspiracy to keep him from playing.

I am glad you stated in your initial comment that you looked at this school and decided not to go to it, because that allows people to see you have an agenda against the school. This is an award winning, successful school that constantly produces student who graduate and thrive in college and society. The sports programs are successful and well run. But again, this story appears to be slanted as a smear campaign against the school, the school's baseball program and coaching staff. It is clearly evident that the gentleman accused of the assault was running his own private club team and the player was allegedly assaulted while playing for that team. According to the crack reporting by Mr. Hargrove, it is evident in the story that the student was not even enrolled at the high school when the assault occurred.

Assaults (especially against minors) are investigated by law enforcement and charges (if warranted) are brought by the district attorneys office. Why did this not happen? Seems to me that is a large part of this story that Dorian Hargrove completely missed. Heck, that's a huge question that as a tax payer I want to know. Making "people squirm" is not good reporting unless the reporting is factual, accurate and communicates both sides of story accurately. Mr. Hargrove should follow up on this story and address the questions that need to be answered. That is reporting.

Notice what I just did there, Visduh? I asked the reporter not to "pull the story," but to dig deeper. Perhaps you understand now there is a difference.

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gottatellthetruth Nov. 16, 2017 @ 7:46 a.m.

Put your name, address and phone number out there for the world, Visduh, and I will do the same. In this environment. anonymity allows people to speak freely. Unfortunately, it also allows people to bully as your comment "We might wonder about the identity of gottatellthetruth, who just signed on to the Reader yesterday. But we will wonder and never know, thanks to being able to comment anonymously." clearly is intended to do.

Everyone has an agenda in life, Visduh. I question why the reporter felt compelled to print the names of the baseball coaches named in the lawsuit but not the school principal. Was it too hard to find that? Makes me question his perspective as well.

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