Undermined by Parents, Coach Fights Back thru Courts

Oct 16, 2004

Complaints from parents about the playing time of their sons and daughters come with the territory when you coach high school sports. But a lawsuit in Utah claims that such animosity crossed the line when some parents made “untrue and defamatory” comments about a girls’ basketball coach.
Plaintiff Michael O’Connor, who was fired as the Lehi High School girls’ basketball coach, alleged as much in a $1.5 million lawsuit he filed in 4th District Court last month.
O’Connor named 30 defendants, including parents of student-athletes on the team and principal Sheldon Worthington.
In his complaint, O’Connor and his attorney Joseph C. Rust of Kesler & Rust in Salt Lake City painted a picture of a successful coach, who led the program to back-to-back regional championships for the first time in more than 20 years.
However, some players were jealous of other players and the playing time they got, which spilled over to the parents, according to O’Connor.
The parents met with the Alpine School District Board earlier this summer, and complained that O’Connor abused players, discriminated against them based on religion, was unethical and misused school moneys. In a letter to school officials, some of the defendants stated: “We will no longer tolerate this sort of behavior and will seek legal avenues if necessary to remedy the problem. We believe that coach O’Connor has the technical understanding of basketball to be a good coach, but he needs to improve the way he treats his team members. Because O’Connor seems unwilling to change, perhaps we need a new women’s basketball coach at Lehi High School.”
O’Connor told the Deseret News that the suit was “a matter of principle. I felt I had to stand up not just for myself but for other coaches who have had to deal with similar situations. The right thing needs to be done. Coaches everywhere want to be able to do the things they need to teach and to coach. That’s really all we want to do. We love athletics. We love kids.”
Rust told the media that: “This is another level, especially because of the defamatory and terrible things, that are not true, that people have accused him of. They have tried to besmirch his reputation. It is very mean-spirited.”


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