Ongoing investigation focused on Torrey Pines High baseball – The San Diego Union-Tribune

“The message was: If you don’t pay up, nobody gets iPads,” Loy said. “That’s coercive.”

While the Torrey Pines baseball email, written by volunteer liaison Rex McGuire, stated that fees are voluntary, Torrey Pines High first-year principal Rob Coppo, said some of the wording concerned him.

“I would prefer to not see the line in there that says ‘bring your check book,’ ” Coppo said.

“I also understand,” he added, “that there is a fine line for those parents who really want to donate and bring in some money to create opportunities for whatever interest they might have. “

Nicole Baril, who has been the Torrey Pines Foundation’s paid executive director for 1½ years and occupies an office at the school, said she sees many of the sports programs’ “ask” emails before they go to parents, but said she didn’t see the baseball email before it was distributed.

Baril said she had no concerns about the email, other than, “Maybe I wouldn’t have underlined the check book part.

“I feel like he (McGuire) is very clear in terms of what he’s asking,” Baril said.

Baril said that asking parents for donations has become a standard practice at the school because the programs would not be funded to the same levels otherwise.

“A lot of the cost of the programs is put back on the parents,” Baril said. “In an ideal world we wouldn’t need to exist. The state and the district would fund things. When you’re in a community with parents who want extra coaching, or for their kids to participate in extra tournaments, parents get involved.”

Of the proliferation of foundations that are ceded control of large amounts of money by districts, the ACLU’s Loy said, “These are supposedly auxiliary foundations, and so the district feels like it can wash their hands of it — ‘That’s not us, it’s the foundation.’ But you can’t launder everything through the foundation. In my view (the district) is on the hook. They shouldn’t be able to wash their hands of coercive tactics.”

In one of San Diego’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Torrey Pines parents spend considerable money on their kids’ extracurricular programs. Baril said she has daughters who have participated in dance, which asked parents for donations of $1,200 for the year. Baril said the highest “ask” this year for a sport was $980 for cheerleading.

A Torrey Pines boys soccer parent, who asked not to be identified, said this year’s team members were asked to pay $500 for the season, plus $100 for bus transportation. The parent said he chose not to make a donation last year, but did so this year because his wife feared their son would be negatively impacted if they didn’t pay.

“That’s a natural parent fear,” Baril said, “but it’s unsubstantiated.”

In the district’s coaches’ handbook, it is stated that coaches may have access to profit and loss statements of the booster group, but not the activity report that may contain donor names.

Baril strongly asserted that coaches don’t have access to the financials at Torrey Pines, and thus are not making roster or playing time decisions based on parents’ donation levels.

“One thing that I’m very comfortable with is that the money that is fund-raised is spent appropriately, and it never is communicated who donates and who doesn’t,” Baril said. “I feel extremely confident that it doesn’t impact the players themselves.”

Gumb disagrees. She attended the mandatory player/parent meeting for Torrey Pines baseball in February and photographed a clipboard and paper listing each family, with check marks in columns of “paid” or “unpaid.”

“That’s why parents are operating out of fear, and that’s crazy,” Gumb said.

Baril said she was aware of Gumb’s photograph, and that it might have been a “simple mistake” by a volunteer to leave it unattended. She said there was no context to it.

“Maybe it was for another fee or for a sweatshirt,” Baril said.

The Union-Tribune requested that Baril share an itemized breakdown of the foundation’s spending on baseball. She declined, though said that parents have access to foundation financials upon request.

Gumb did not pay the $695 requested by the baseball team for this season because her son, Devin, a junior, was cut. Gumb and other baseball parents did pay a total of $790 for their boys to participate in fall and winter seasons that are not sanctioned by the high school, but led by Torrey Pines baseball coaches while feeding money into the foundation.

Baril said 51 percent of the off-season league fees go to the foundation and 49 percent to the coaches as compensation for their time.

In an email to families before the winter season, Torrey Pines head coach Kirk McCaskill wrote, “We value this opportunity and highly encourage (in bold) all players to participate.”

McCaskill, 56, is a former major league pitcher who had a 12-year career with the Angels and Chicago White Sox. His son, Bennett, is a senior and starting catcher for Torrey Pines.

The Falcons went 69-59-1 in McCaskill’s first four seasons at Torrey, and this year they are 24-6 overall and 12-2 in the Avocado West League.

McCaskill took over the Torrey Pines program in 2013 and a year later his wife, Dana McCaskill, was a member of the Torrey Pines Foundation board. That same school year of 2014, according to the foundation’s tax filing, the Torrey Pines baseball team received $110,844 from the foundation.

The foundation lists in its tax returns only those programs that get the highest allotments. Boys basketball got $204,990 in 2014 and football received $187,974.

Getting more than $100,000 in one year to run a high school baseball program would be considered an extreme luxury for most schools.

Three high school baseball coaches – Granite Hills’ James Davis, Chula Vista’s Jim Westlund and Madison’s Robert Lovato — who were interviewed by the Union-Tribune said they have budgets, including district dollars, fundraising and corporate donations, of approximately $10,000 to $15,000 to operate their programs.

“That’s outrageous,” Westlund said of the $695 that Torrey Pines asks for from parents. “If you can justify that, good luck.”

Westlund said he suggests a donation of $30 from his families and doesn’t get 100 percent participation.

Said Davis, “Man, I think about how much easier my life would be if we had that kind of (Torrey Pines) funding.”

The Torrey Pines baseball field is one of the nicest in the county. It features a small, carpeted clubhouse built into the back of the home dugout. The hybrid Bermuda grass infield was installed in 2013, a $400,000 batting cage complex was built from a private donation in 2014, and a $70,000 scoreboard debuted in 2016.

After home games, the Falcons baseball players meticulously tend to the field, including using leaf blowers to blast away any dirt that accumulates on the dugout floor.

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