Ethan Cochran, a senior at El Diamante (Visalia. Calif.) High School, is a model student. The bright, well-mannered teenager has steadily maintained a 4.25 GPA and is ranked third in his class.
He’s enrolled in four advanced placement classes. He leads the school’s orchestra for the fourth year, participates in the California Orchestral Directors Association statewide honors symphony and is attempting to start a tutoring club to serve La Joya Middle School math students.
He was also a student athlete. While he planned to play on the school’s soccer team, his schedule didn’t allow time for the school’s mandatory strength training class. Ethan signed up for the school’s PE waiver, but was met with backlash from coaches and discouraged from trying out.
Fed up with the school’s policy on weightlifting, parents have taken action against the school.
“These are student athletes,” said Roland Soltesz, a lawyer considering legal action against the school. “They are not athletes who happen to be students.”
Soltesz’s daughter, Madison, is also a student athlete at El Diamante. Like Ethan, she has a rigorous academic schedule.
“She would start her day at 6:30 a.m. and come home at 3:30 p.m. and crash for two hours,” he said. “We would have to drag her out of bed.”
At the end of last school year, El Diamante’s Principal Angela Sanchez met with students and parents to discuss the issue of having to choose between academics and athletics.
“For a long time, there wasn’t a waiver,” she said. “After listening and hearing concerns, we developed a waiver process, which was rolled out last spring.”
The plan was simple, a waiver would allow students with heavy academic schedules to opt out of taking a strength training class and participate in sports.
“We weren’t arguing that weight training wasn’t beneficial,” Soltesz said. “It just shouldn’t be required as an academic course.”
It was also made clear that a “full schedule” consisted of six academic class periods. It was also agreed by parents and faculty that any coach had the right to require strength training as a part of the team’s practice schedule during the season.
“We felt it was going to be a good situation,” she said. “I anticipated there were going to be things that I couldn’t anticipate.”
“It’s not perfect and we are still trying to figure it out,” she added.
The waiver was rolled out in the spring and roughly 50 to 60 students took advantage of the waiver –– many without any backlash from their coach.
However, Ethan and Madison were both told if they waived PE they would be cut from the team.
Ethan says he was harassed, on multiple occasions, by two coaches after choosing to apply for the waiver.
On the first day of school year, Ethan and several other students were approached by their coaches about their choice to waive strength training. Ethan was pulled out of an orchestra by the boy’s varsity soccer coach, Augie Gonzalez. Gonzalez told him, despite his waiver being approved, he would still need to sign up for the PE class or he wouldn’t be allowed to play.
“It’s my opinion that Mrs. Sanchez had every belief that this plan would put to rest the issues we faced,” said Ethan’s father, Aaron Cochran. “How wrong she was.”
Earlier in the day, Ethan was stopped by the tennis coach, which he was planning to participate in, and told the same thing. The coach used almost the exact same terminology, Ethan said.
“It was pretty clear that someone was orchestrating the coaches’ orders,” he said.
Many parents, including Aaron Cochran, feel that it is the school’s athletics director, Greg Flenory, leading the charge against students being allowed to waive the class.
Sanchez explained that if a student is unable to take a weightlifting class it is up to the discretion of the coach and student to work out a training schedule.
Ethan went to Gonzalez, feeling the need to clarify and offer a solution that would meet his coach’s requirement. He also wanted to explain why he was unable to take PE with his full schedule.
Gonzalez simply replied, “well I don’t see why you can’t take it as a pre-first,” Ethan said.
He then explained that with all of his other responsibilities, he needed the time to sleep and he already had a full schedule. Gonzalez told the athlete he didn’t understand and Flenory wouldn’t either, Ethan said.
The final blow for Ethan came on Sept. 9 when he was pulled out of class by Gonzalez, again. Gonzalez told Ethan that he had a full roster and could only carry 24 players and Ethan was 27.
“I said ‘OK, thank you’ and I shook his hand and left,” he said.
Although the coach never specifically told Ethan he was being cut from the team, he felt his coach was giving him a clear message that even if he tried out, he wouldn’t make the team.
Ethan was the captain of the junior varsity soccer team his freshman and sophomore year. He played as a starting midfielder last year for a club team ranked in the top 100 in the nation.
“How can a coach know for a fact that an athlete is not capable of making a team before a ball has been touched,” Aaron Cochran said.
Although Sanchez couldn’t talk about any one particular student, she did say that certain sports require strength training.
“Since the inception of the school, it has been a requirement by many coaches,” Sanchez said. “Many students who are athletes take it within the six-period day or take it as a pre-first.”
Soltesz, Cochran and several parents got together and decided to take action. Soltesz sent a cease and desist letter to both the high school and the district. The letter ordered the school to stop allowing coaches to pull their students from academic classes.
“Ethan has no desire to associate himself with an athletics program and coach that fosters so much animosity and negativity,” Cochran said, “My son has had his senior year of athletics stripped from him.”
Soltesz also requested several public records from the district which he believes could possibly show Title IX violations.
“In investigating the athletic program, it has come to our attention that there is a great inequality in the treatment of the male versus the female athletes,” he said. “This is especially noticeable in the football program.”
There is classroom which was previously a room used by the school’s associated student body program. However, the room is now exclusively used by the football team to review game footage, according to Soltesz.
“Wouldn’t a woman’s team benefit from using the video equipment in the room?” he asked.
Visalia Unified Area Superintendent, Jeff Hohne, could not comment on the allegations but did say he’s skeptical.
“Anyone can allege there have been violations,” he said. “I don’t believe there are any violations.”
The request of the parents and students is that the school stop allowing coaches to pull students out of classes, strength training not be an academic class and students shouldn’t be singled out for not participating in a weightlifting class.
“What’s fair is fair and what’s right is right,” Soltesz said. “And this isn’t fair and it isn’t right.”