By Katherine Lopez
As those of you know who read the article in La Prensa March 4, there are serious problems going on at Memorial Pool. The history briefly is that the City Aquatics Director, Marilyn Stern, undertook a series of actions against the parent volunteers and the children there that were clearly discriminatory. She did this in order to retaliate against them for seeking help because Ms. Stern was obstructing their access to a $5000 donation the city was supposed to be managing for them. Ms. Stern was angry that a member of the Park and Rec Board had intervened on their behalf with the City Manager’s office. With no authority, Ms. Stern ordered the children and the parents not to speak Spanish during practices and during swim meets. She refused to approve a design for the team shirts because it was too Mexican, and “We aren’t living in Mexico.” When the parents went ahead and paid for the shirts themselves, Ms. Stern ordered that no one could wear those shirts during official events. She threatened the team coach, Fernando Gonzalez, when she found that he had worn a shirt to the pool, and he was continually being written up and threatened that he “could lose his job over this.”
In fact, that has now happened. Fernando was informed on the evening of March 21, 2005, that he is being transferred from Memorial Pool and will no longer be allowed to coach. He was given a memorandum that stated that this action was being taken “for the overall good of the Aquatics Program.” Bill Deloatch, Deputy Director of the Park and Recreation Department, whose decision it was, has told callers that Fernando is “unorthodox.” Well, it happens that, that “unorthodox” coach has led these kids at Memorial into being the Number One pool in San Diego. That “unorthodox” coach has trained one kid, Ismael Diaz DeLeon, who has become a top swimmer, won dozens of medals, and was invited to the Olympics this year. That coach has motivated those kids, he has worked hard to organize and inspire them, and he has had a close relationship with the parents for years. That coach has won many awards and recognitions from the City for his work until these problems started. Fernando has been with the pool for seven years, taking over as head coach of the USA Team approximately five years ago. Since that time, Memorial Pool has excelled. Further, the pool manager was asked if Fernando had done anything as a coach that was “unorthodox” where his coaching of the children was concerned. He replied that Fernando was an “excellent coach.”
The parents held a meeting on Tuesday evening, March 22. There was a large turnout, despite the last minute notice, and each parent had a story to tell regarding Fernando’s dedication, his generosity and caring, which no doubt has been a big reason for the Memorial team’s success. One parent said that her child had been at the beginning level for three years until Fernando took over her coaching, and has since risen through two levels. Another parent said that she would “put her arm in the fire” for Fernando. The parents said that Fernando has acted as a mentor to the children, that he has made certain they are respectful, that they are disciplined and serious about their swimming, that he has made sure that the children do their homework and has assisted them with their home work, even that they have food to eat and clothes to wear. They also stated that Fernando has gone to all of the meets, unlike other coaches, when he wasn’t paid to be present. As one example of his dedication, the parents said that at a recent meet, Fernando was there earlier than anyone else, set up the gazebo, made breakfast and stayed until the end of the meet. Their description of their relationship with Fernando is that they are a family.
So what is going on here? If the City really believed Fernando was not following city policies, they would have made him aware of it a long time ago, when in fact the reverse is true, he has consistently received awards and praise for his work, until this past year. If it is true that he was not following city policies, they would and could have sent him for retraining, when in fact there is nothing in his personnel record to indicate problems until August of last year. More importantly, the parents themselves have never complained about Fernando’s coaching methods and these are not parents who are disengaged from their children’s activities at the pool. It seems pretty clear that the City has taken it into their minds to break the spirit and solidarity of the Memorial Pool for challenging their authority. This can not be allowed to happen.
The parents and children at Memorial Pool want Fernando Gonzalez to continue as their children’s coach, and they have decided upon a series of actions to make the City know how they feel and to change their position regarding removing Fernando from Memorial Pool. As a matter of justice, of unity and solidarity with these parents, you are urged to participate in any and all of these events.
Wednesday onward: Phone calling
The parents will be calling Deputy Director Bill Deloatch and City Manager Lamont Ewell to express their support for Fernando Gonzalez and to ask that the City keep Fernando as the coach at Memorial Pool. Please take a few minutes to call both of these officials, the numbers are:
William Deloatch: (619) 685-1306
Lamont Ewell: (619) 236-6363
The message should simply be one of concern: “I am concerned that removing Fernando Gonzalez as coach of the Memorial Pool is an unreasonable and unjustified action by the City, and the effect that will have on Memorial Pool.”
Friday, March 25: Boycott the Pools
On Friday, the parents and their children plan to stay out of Memorial Pool, and are asking that everyone cooperate by not going to City Pools on Friday.
Monday, March 28: Fernando Day
Monday will be Fernando’s first day at Colina Del Sol pool where he is being transferred. On this day, the parents will be leafletting at Memorial Pool during the afternoon and afterwards will be taking their children to swim at Colina del Sol Pool instead of Memorial to show their support for Fernando.
Update: Monday, we will stage a demonstration in front of the offices of Bill Deloatch, Deputy Director of the Park and Rec department at 3 in the afternoon. Details will come in a later e-mail.
Tuesday, March 29: City Council Appearance
Update: Tuesday, City Council will not be meeting, therefore that action is postponed for now.
There will be other actions planned in the coming days and weeks. These parents are committed to keeping Fernando as their coach, and that he not be punished for actions taken by his superiors. Remember, this all stemmed from the fact that the parents at Memorial simply exercised their basic right to complain about the actions of a City official, Ms. Marilyn Stern. Now the Park and Recreation Department has acted in a manner intended to break the spirit of Memorial Pool.
PLEASE HELP MEMORIAL POOL STAND AGAINST THIS INJUSTICE.
SHOW THEM YOUR SUPPORT IN EVERY WAY YOU CAN.