EVERETT — The Everett School District recently declined to renew the contract of Cascade High School wrestling coach Brooklyn Obregon, a decision that sparked an outpouring of support for the coach.
As of Wednesday, an online petition urging the district to retain Obregon had collected more than 1,600 signatures.
Obregon took over as Cascade’s head coach in 2011 and directed the boys and girls programs for six seasons, during which the Bruins had 13 state-qualifiers and three state-placers.
Coaching contracts in the Everett School District are issued on a year-to-year basis, district communications director Leanna Albrecht said, and the district went through its “standard process” when determining whether to renew Obregon’s contract.
“There were many factors that were taken into consideration in determining not to extend a contract to Mr. Obregon for next year,” Albrecht said. “And that included concerns regarding communication, regarding student-athlete safety, regarding compliance with building and athletic policies and also program participation.”
Obregon disputes some of the reasons given for his contract not being renewed, and in a March 17 e-mail to his supervisors and others said he felt “discriminated against.”
According to documents and emails obtained by The Daily Herald through a public records request, Obregon has received multiple letters of reprimand during his time as the Bruins coach, including two in 2016. He also was suspended for three matches during the most recent season for violating district and Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) policies regarding student-athlete eligibility.
The district reprimanded Obregon for allowing an injured and ineligible athlete to practice; for communicating with an athlete one-on-one via social media and encouraging her to withhold information from others; and during practices engaging in “inappropriate behavior” such as profanity, racist jokes and singling out of athletes.
When district officials decided not to renew Obregon’s contract, they gave him the option to resign, which district athletic director Robert Polk said is common practice for coaches whose contracts aren’t renewed. Obregon said he chose to not resign and that he doesn’t agree with the reasons behind the district’s decision.
“But there’s no need to harp on that,” he said. “It would just upset me or make me sad. I was told that this is not a disciplinary action. I’m not being punished. They decided to go in a different direction, and I understand they have a right to do that. That’s the verbiage of the contract. It’s clear. They don’t have to have a reason.
“I want to be very clear — I wish the world for this team. I have a Bruins wrestling tattoo on my body. I named my dog Bruin. I had Bruins wrestling logos painted on the side of my car. I love this team and wish them the best. They said they wanted something different. I hope it works.”
Obregon works in campus security at Cascade and runs a USA Wrestling program that uses the school’s facilities. Polk said Obregon is free to continue both endeavors, adding that “he can rent the facilities and run his (wrestling program) as he always has.”
Obregon said he plans to continue his security work and wrestling program.
“I’m going to keep working for kids,” he said. “I know I can make a difference as a security officer. I have a (USA Wrestling) team that I work with that draws from all over Washington. I want to continue in the future to work with kids in any capacity that I can.”
Obregon said that after receiving the letters of reprimand from the district, he “changed anything (the district) asked me to change.”
“I continued to work on whatever I could to be the best employee I could be,” he said. “I sent many inquiries to the athletic director asking him to let me know anything I could do better in any capacity. I sent him e-mails asking him if I could be doing anything differently because I want to do my job to the best of my ability.”
A letter from Polk dated Dec. 2, 2016, reprimanded Obregon for “unprofessional behavior, allowing an ineligible athlete to practice, and allowing an injured athlete to practice.”
According to the letter, a Cascade wrestler suffered an injury during practice Nov. 28, 2016. The athlete visited a doctor, who advised the athlete to restrict his exercise in physical education and athletics for one week and gave the athlete notes to present to his P.E. teacher and wrestling coach.
The letter states the athlete gave Obregon a copy of the doctor’s note describing his restrictions, but that Obregon directed the athlete to participate in the practice session, which included live wrestling drills.
Cascade athletic director Robert Aguilar met with the athlete and the athlete’s counselor Nov. 30. According to the letter, the athlete said Obregon, moments prior to the meeting, told him to tell Aguilar that he only participated in stretching and conditioning drills during the previous day’s practice. The athlete said Obregon also told the student that Aguilar had “issues” with him and would like to fire him, the letter states.
Also on Nov. 30, it was discovered the athlete hadn’t submitted district-required eligibility paperwork, which was the second time in two years that an ineligible athlete had practiced under Obregon, according to the letter.
On Dec. 2, Aguilar verified that the athlete had been practicing since Nov. 21 without clearance from the district office. According to the letter, Obregon said during a Dec. 1 meeting that he didn’t know who the athlete was and that the athlete hadn’t been practicing.
The district recommended Obregon be suspended from coaching for three matches for violating WIAA and school-district policies regarding athlete eligibility. Obregon served the suspension during the team’s Dec. 8, Jan. 3 and Jan. 5 matches.
Obregon disputes the district’s findings.
“He wasn’t ineligible,” Obregon said of the athlete. “He came down to practice, and there was never a doctor’s note. I never saw one. I asked him about it, and he thinks he gave it to me, and I don’t think he ever did. I never received a doctor’s note. He had a scratch in his eye, but I couldn’t see it. I went and got headgear, the wrestling facemask that covers the entire face, and told him to go out and practice. If I knew he had a note, I never would have disregarded it. Never.”
A letter from Aguilar dated Jan. 4, 2016, reprimanded Obregon for “unprofessional behavior.”
According to the letter, Aguilar met with Obregon on Dec. 9, 2015, to discuss a concern brought to Aguilar’s attention by a Cascade wrestler. The letter states Obregon and the wrestler participated in a private Facebook conversation regarding the wrestler’s desire to quit the team.
According to the letter, Obregon asked the athlete not to tell anybody about her decision, as he was “on the verge of getting my other coach paid because we have seven girls on the team and if they find out that you’re leaving he won’t be able to (get) paid.”
The letter states the wrestler felt “guilty for quitting” as a result of her conversation with Obregon.
Aguilar wrote in the letter that “asking a student to withhold information from others is unethical and very damaging for you as a coach, as an adult who works with youth, and as a representative of our athletic program.” The letter states Obregon also disregarded a district directive for coaches to avoid one-on-one digital conversations with athletes.
“She had quit and come back multiple times,” Obregon said. “I was trying to make sure we maintained our numbers. I asked her to not continue to make a big deal of it or make a scene. I just wanted to keep our numbers up. She told me in person that she wasn’t 100 percent sure what she wanted to do.
“(The Facebook conversation) didn’t start out as (private). It was a group or team (conversation), and when one person responds, I guess I didn’t realize that they can respond individually and not as part of a group. I didn’t realize everybody didn’t see (what was being written). I would not intentionally communicate with one person. When I realized what had happened, I removed myself from the whole thing.”
An undated letter from Polk reprimanded Obregon for “inappropriate behavior” during practice sessions.
The letter states Polk met with Obregon on Jan. 24, 2012, to discuss concerns raised by members of the Cascade wrestling team. Those concerns included his use of profanity at practices, his use of jokes that could be perceived as racist in nature and his “singling out” of wrestlers in an attempt to motivate them.
Obregon expressed remorse for his comments and actions during the meeting, according to the letter.
“That was a long time ago, my first year,” Obregon said. “I’ve worked on (those issues) a lot since then. I didn’t realize I was swearing. And I would never say any racist thing. I made a joke about my own ethnicity. I was talking about myself. I didn’t understand that somebody would perceive what I said a certain way.”
Obregon said his ethnic background is Filipino, Spanish and Italian.
In a March 17 email sent to a group of individuals including Polk and district Superintendent Gary Cohn, Obregon wrote that he felt “discriminated against.”
“He (Aguilar) has made me jump through hoops and has discriminated against me for many years,” Obregon wrote. “I (have said) that I’m just going to endure what he’s asking of me because as long as I do what he’s asking I won’t be stirring the pot and I can out last his harassment. This was before he was our (athletic director). There has been a long history of this, Dr. Cohn and Mr. Polk, and I believe you’re only getting one side of the story.”
When asked by The Herald to comment on his relationship with Aguilar, Obregon declined.
Candy Raymond, the mother of Andrew Raymond, a Cascade wrestler, started the online petition to retain Obregon as head coach.
The petition (www.thepetitionsite.com/814/495/083/retain-brooklyn-obregon-as-cascade-hs-head-wrestling-coach) states, “The issues cited for his dismissal are weak and undocumented. We wish for him to be retained as we feel him being let go is unjust to the wrestling team, their families and the community.”
“We just wanted to do something, in any way, that we could to let the administration know that we mean business,” Candy Raymond said. “There’s no rhyme or reason (to the administration’s decision) — just nitpicking stuff. It’s a shame that this had to happen.
“If he doesn’t get reinstated, we hope to make the administration squirm and make them realize that what they did was wrong.”
Raymond said she wasn’t surprised the petition has attracted so much attention.
“I know there are a lot of people out there (that feel this way), but I didn’t realize the breadth,” she said. “It’s great. It’s like, here’s your proof that he’s a good coach.”
Obregon has had an enormous influence on the lives of many student-athletes, Candy Raymond said.
“After working with Brooklyn, my son was a whole new person — he had a different demeanor, a different kind of confidence,” she said. “(Brooklyn is) an awesome man, very well-respected. When you see him interact with kids, it’s genuine, it’s heartfelt. He talks to them on their level.
“This is one person I will go to bat for any time because he’s been so true. After seeing what Brooklyn and (his wife) Cindy have done to help kids, if Brooklyn needs help, I’ll be there for him.”
Polk said he understands the widespread support for Obregon.
“My son was a wrestler in his program,” Polk said. “And so from a parent perspective, I saw Brooklyn work with kids. He’s very supportive of kids, and we see that. I see that as the athletic director.
“And so all those things that people are talking about with regard to Brooklyn and working with kids, there are a lot of examples of his good work in that area.”
Obregon said he was “elated” to find out about the petition.
“It was tear-jerking,” he said. “Of course you never know how many people truly listen to you, and after reading some of those (statements on the petition), I guess I know now they were listening. You don’t know how many people you really reach. You hope you are. But you never really know until you go through something like this.
“That meant the world to me. Over 1,600 people spoke up and said something. They thought I was a positive influence on their kids, and that I was able to make a difference. When it’s all said and done — wow. I was able to help a lot of people.
“If I never coach again — and I hope I will — that means a lot.”