Lewis Griswold

Parents seek end to athlete weight training mandate at Visalia school

El Diamante’s Drake Beno, center, carries the ball through Mt. Whitney’s defense in the first half on Friday, September 25, 2015, at Mineral King Bowl in Visalia. Athletes at El Diamante are required to take a strength training class throughout the school year.
El Diamante’s Drake Beno, center, carries the ball through Mt. Whitney’s defense in the first half on Friday, September 25, 2015, at Mineral King Bowl in Visalia. Athletes at El Diamante are required to take a strength training class throughout the school year. Fresno Bee file photo

A fight over the proper balance between academics and sports has erupted between parents and administrators at El Diamante High School. At issue is the school’s mandatory strength training program.

Visalia lawyer Roland Soltesz, whose daughter is a senior and varsity soccer player, sent the school a letter demanding “the immediate cessation of the mandatory strength training policy.”

The letter also alleges gender fairness problems exist at the school under federal Title IX law, which Visalia Unified administrator Jeff Hohne said is unfounded.

Student-athletes, many of them “A” students involved in more than one after-school activity, are being pressured by coaches to drop an academic elective from their schedules to make room for weight training class, or to lift weights before school starts, Soltesz said.

But principal Angela Sanchez said the school carefully listened to parent complaints last year and addressed their concerns by instituting a waiver program for student-athletes. Under the waiver, any student-athlete taking a full load of six periods can skip the strength training, she said.

Parents hoped that would resolve the matter but soon learned the waiver option isn’t being honored by coaches, Soltesz said.

Several parents are telling him that coaches are pulling students with waivers from class and pressuring them to sign up for weight training, he said.

“It’s an illusory waiver,” Soltesz said. “It’s a waiver in name only. The kids are so afraid they acquiesce. They have to make the choice of academics or weight training. The attitude is so toxic.”

El Diamante is the only high school in Visalia Unified to have mandatory strength training, a policy that is in force during the season and during the offseason.

“There’s a philosophy” of weight training for El Diamante athletes that began when the school opened in 2002, Sanchez said. The strength training class is offered each period and before school during “pre-first,” around 7 a.m.

Administrators have considered doing away with the mandatory policy, but it’s effective for the athletic program, she said. El Diamante teams are often in noticeably better physical shape than the competition when the season starts.

The waiver option is new this year so inevitably there have been errors by coaches in adjusting to it, but they have gotten the word that students who claim the waiver – about 50 varsity athletes have it – are exempt from strength training, the principal said.

When communicating with students the benefits of strength training, coaches “should not be telling them they have to” take pre-first, Sanchez said.

Still, “there’s an expectation that players will lift,” she said. Other high school athletic programs in Visalia Unified have a similar expectation, Sanchez said.

Parent Aaron Cochran said his son, who is active in sports and music, was forced out of soccer over the issue.

He said the coach pulled his son out of class and wanted to know why he didn’t just sign up for pre-first weight training.

“He was told, ‘You’re the only kid who has a waiver. Our expectation is you will take P.E.’ ” Cochran said.

Later, at a preseason team meeting, the coach told his son – a senior with a record of scoring goals on his ranked club team – that the roster might be 24 players and he was ranked 26 or 27, Cochran said. His son won’t be going out for the varsity team, Cochran said.

Sanchez said she is aware of the parent’s complaint.

Soltesz said he has yet to receive a reply to his letter. He said he has offered to meet informally with the principal and administrators but has yet to hear back.

Lewis Griswold covers the news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com, @fb_LewGriswold

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