By Keith Lair Staff Writer
James O’Brien, who led the Arcadia High School cross country team to two CIF State and the last three CIF-Southern Section championships, has been fired.
“The only reason I was given was, ‘We want to go in a different direction,’ and despite my pressing the issue for a legitimate explanation, the party line was, ‘I am not at liberty to discuss it any further,’” O’Brien said.
Early Tuesday, athletic director Ryan Press could not discuss the situation.
O’Brien coached the Apaches to their third consecutive Southern Section title and second State title in the last three years last November, then led a team made up of his Arcadia runners to a surprising victory at the Nike Nationals championship in Portland, Ore. a week after taking the state crown at Woodward Park in Fresno. It was the team’s second national championship.
The decision was made in a meeting Monday. Also, softball coach Maurice Sibolboro was let go after one season in a separate meeting on Monday.
“I really feel terrible for these kids,” said O’Brien, who coached the team for 17 seasons.
In a way, the decision by the Arcadia administration is not surprising, considering the rift that gradually developed between O’Brien and track and field coach Chris Scholtz. O’Brien said earlier this year that Scholtz did not want him to help coach the team this past season.
As a result, O’Brien formed a spring physical education cross country conditioning class in which 80 of the cross country team’s 88 runners joined.
The scope and size of the conditioning class was evident at open events at meets such as the Pasadena Games, where the distance events were dominated by athletes from O’Brien’s Army.
Of the top Apaches, only senior Mitchell Pratt and freshman Phil Rocha joined the track and field team, and shortly after the season began, Pratt, who recently accepted a scholarship to run at Navy, suffered a stress fracture and did not compete for the season.
Rocha had the west San Gabriel Valley’s second-fastest times in both the 800 and 3,200 and area’s fourth-best time in the 1,600 this past season, but did not compete at the CIF-SS preliminary meets in any of his events, even though he won the 1,600 and his 9:40.33 time in the 3,200 was fast enough to advance.
The other top Arcadia cross country athletes, including Star-News boys and girls runners of the year Estevan De La Rosa and Roni Yamane, opted to train in O’Brien’s class. De La Rosa, a senior-to-be, was second in both the CIF-SS and State races last season. Yamane, a senior-to-be, won the Pacific League title and advanced to state as an individual.
Because of the defection, the Apaches did not have a distance runner in the CIF-SS finals or CIF-SS Masters meets for the first time in four years.
Sibolboro coached the Apaches to an 18-7 record in his season. They defeated Crescenta Valley for the first time in 13 games and took second in the Pacific League with an 11-4 record. In the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs, they lost to eventual semifinalist La Habra ion the second round.
“He did some real positive things for the program,” Press said. “It was not a good fit. He is a very good person.”
By Keith Lair Staff Writer