A stunned Gregorio Luna walked out of his mid-October meeting with Principal Janet Anderson and Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Karen Reed with a lot of questions. The SPHS athletic director of five years had just been told he wouldn’t be returning for the following year.
“I was not told as to why I was being let go as AD,” Luna said. “I was just told the district was moving in a new direction.”
Luna, who says he never received any formal complaints from the administration, claims he was completely blindsided by the decision. The athletic director since 2013, Luna has overseen the recent success in South Pasadena athletics, including girls’ soccer and badminton’s 2018 CIF Championships. SPHS has an overall winning record across all sports during his five years at the helm. However, the three major boys’ sports — football, boys’ basketball, and baseball — have struggled against league competition, posting just five winning records, four CIF appearances, and one league title during Luna’s tenure. Luna believes these struggles and the subsequent community backlash was a major factor in the administration’s decision.
“I have seen many times where the community exerts pressure to make decisions and the district reacts,” Luna said. “Sometimes in a good way, but many times in a way that is not productive.”
Luna believes that one of the major problems facing the athletic department is trying to manage lofty expectations with the limited resources provided. Like many public high schools, funding for athletic programs at South Pas is limited; every athletic team at South Pas is forced to raise a large portion of their budget. And as the community pushes for more success on the field, this balance between winning and managing budgets can be tough to hold, as seen in recent years with the football and baseball programs.
“I think that there is a disconnect between what is provided by the district and the school and what we expect from the teams and coaches,” Luna said.
Parental concerns will always exist, and Luna acknowledges that it is important to listen to what the community has to say. However, he disagrees with some of the administration’s responses to these protests, as well as the lack of communication to his department.
“To react to pressures all the time is not a healthy way to run an organization,” Luna said.
After his meeting with the administration in October, Luna appealed the ruling to Anderson. He says that the appeal fell on deaf ears, however, and Luna was forced to finish out his term knowing he wouldn’t be around in the long run. Yet he believes he was still able to successfully carry out his duties with the support of the school.
“It’s hard to be part of the planning process for the future when you know you not going to be here in this position,” Luna said. “ But if decisions came up that were out of the norm, I felt comfortable that [the administration and I] could work together to resolve them.”
Both Luna and the school remained silent on the decision until late March, when Luna announced his departure in an email to SPHS staff. A job opening was posted later that Wednesday afternoon. Anderson was unable to comment on any reasons as to why Luna was let go from the position, but she will be leading a search committee for a new AD.
“We want to build on the great programs we already have in athletics,” Anderson said. “A comprehensive plan for the [athletics] department would include community and parent relations, outreach to other schools and colleges, and the day to day management of athletics with regards to coaches and players at SPHS.”
The job will remain open for “in-house” candidates until March 29th, before the administration is allowed to seek outside help. The job is expected to go to an outside source, as there hasn’t been much demonstrated interest from SPHS staff in the past.
As for the state of the athletic department, Luna believes that the school has taken a large step forward, and will only continue improving its athletics.
“This is the most diverse coaching staff that I’ve had the chance to work with in over 25 years,” Luna said. “We have all kinds of personalities that bring good, positive things to the fabric of our athletics.”
Luna will return to a full-time teaching position in the social science department for the 2019-2020 school year.