Stepp taken from coach job

Yucca Valley High School alumnus Mario Martinez speaks out in support of coach Jay Stepp at the Morongo Unified School District meeting on Tuesday.

YUCCA VALLEY — After 27 years of coaching, Jay Stepp was removed from his job as head coach for the track and field team at Yucca Valley High School Thursday, according to team and school sources.

Stepp confirmed he had received word from the district office that the school would not have a head track and field coach this year, but said he could not comment further.

Morongo Unified School District Superintendent Tom Baumgarten was not available to comment and a spokesperson for Mike Ghelber, assistant superintendent in charge of human resources, said he was instructed not to talk about it.

Stepp has been embroiled in a dispute with the school and district officials over whether he could dispense with the services of an assistant coach, Holly Brimhall. 

Stepp said Brimhall undermined his authority with the team on numerous occasions and he attempted to remove her from his coaching staff by not bringing her on for the 2020 track and field season, but the school and district administrators said they would not remove her from the staff.

He was ultimately he would be coach of boys distance and relays only, while she was assistant coach in charge of girls distance and relays.

Stepp told the board of education Tuesday that the school and district have supported his decisions on hiring coaches, until this season.

“In the previous 27 years of coaching in the district, I have never been told who I must hire and what events I am allowed to coach,” he said to the board.

“The district is well aware of the conflicts with the assigned coach and other members of that coach’s family. … My authority, my character and my ability to lead have been undermined.”

Stepp said when he approached Ghelber about his problems with Brimhall, Ghelber was condescending, “and his deliberate indifference of my concerns about working in a hostile environment is unacceptable.”

Students, parents and alumni of the cross country and track and field programs flooded the MUSD board meeting Tuesday night to support Stepp.

“I believe not letting coaches choose their assistant coaches is wrong,” said Yucca Valley High School alumni Mario Martinez, class of 2012. “Yucca Valley High School is a very tiny school and because of him we are on the map. It is because of him that many students have flourished outside of high school.”

Another alumni, Chloe Davis from the class of 2018, also spoke out in favor of letting Stepp choose his own staff. Davis said that Stepp goes above and beyond for his students. When she was in the program, she said, Stepp bought her running shoes that her family could not afford.

“He puts so much time into his athletes,” she said. “He’s the reason many of his athletes have gone to college and have been able to run in college. I think the only reason I’ve gone to college is because of coach Stepp.” 

Also speaking out in Stepp’s favor were the parents of several current YVHS runners, including Christina Mills, the mother of runner Sara and Emma Mills, Heather Erhart, the mother of runner Blake Stewart, and Vanessa Lara, the mother of runner Elijah Ocegueda.

“Words can’t even express what an awesome coach he is and what he does for these kids,” Lara said. “It’s ridiculous he cannot move forward teaching these kids.”

The board was unable to speak on the public comments since they did not pertain to an item on the agenda but members thanked the parents for coming out and voicing their opinions.

Yucca Valley High School administrators declined to comment on the controversy. Brimhall did not reply to requests to comment by presstime.

Stepp noted he is a longtime member of the CIF Southern Section Advisory Board for cross country and has presented at coaching education courses for LA84, the nonprofit that funded the new track at Yucca Valley High School.

He was honored as Citizen of the Year in 2005 by the Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce after he was nominated by his students and their parents.

Under his leadership, the Trojans have won 49 league titles. Eighteen of his teams have been finalists at CIF and more than 50 of his athletes have been named all-CIF. 

This winter, the boys distance team won the Desert Valley League finals. Two of Stepp’s cross country athletes became the 19th boy and 15th girl from Yucca Valley High to compete in the state championships.

“I have done my very best to represent this district and Yucca Valley High School with respect and integrity,” Stepp told the board. “I am asking for the same treatment from the district.”

(13) comments


Bus chuck a beloved coach. smh. MUSD's PR person can only do so much to mitigate the damage the bumbling administrators and asst. superintendents cause. Most of MUSD's leadership is an embarrassment to ethical people.


Nominate Coach Stepp so Monical has to present

The County Education Medal of Honor awards recognize volunteers, business and government partners, educators, and alumni who have made outstanding contributions to public education. Nominations are available in six categories: two Volunteer in Action awards for Community Volunteers and Service Groups, two Partners in Education awards for Small Businesses and Government Agencies, and two Excellence in Education awards for Education Professionals and Student Alumni. Nominees must have made a lasting contribution or created support for education in the community. All entries must be received by February 20.

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I smell “politics”.


This shocks the conscience of right-thinking people, which means that not all people in power in the district are shocked! Jay Stepp is an inspiration to students and adults for his tireless and loving efforts toward students, both the strong and the weak. I too smell politics, which I got passing whiffs of during my association with the school when my boys were there. Jay Stepp is a rich resource who would only be hampered in his duties by envious, self-regarding people who are more focused on their own vanity than on student and athlete needs. The Board needs to rethink this outrageous and thoughtless effrontery, or the voters need to rethink who is on the Board.

Mark Simmons

Let me get this straight. A coach, Jay Stepp, was relieved of his coaching duties because the board and the school forced him to work with someone of whom neither saw eye-to-eye? Un-freakingbelievable!! A coach has the absolute right to choose his/her coaching staff. The school and the board have no right sticking their noses into a coach’s business. I hope Coach Stepp finds some outside legal help to remedy this situation. A man who’s faithfully coached for 27 years should’ve been afforded more respect! My son knew Mr. Stepp when he went to yvhs back in the 2000’s. He told me, Stepp was a stand-up guy. It’s time to clean house at the school board and with the Do Nothing Superintendent. We don’t need another bond issue. We need people like Stepp who actually care and give a darn about the students! Something is indeed fishy here. Like the stench coming from the school board and district office.


This article title sounds misleading based on the actual content of the article. It makes it seem like he was fired by the article title, but I’ve read it a few times now searching, and don’t find that actually written anywhere. What I’m able to gather from the article is: sounds like he didn’t get along with his assistant coach and was asking to have her relieved of her position, then the district said no we’re not going to fire here cause you don’t get along, which he understandably gets angry about because he feels he’s in the right, they come up with a solution that involves firing no one, which is for both of them to coach (him the boys and her the girls) and he starts saying he’s been ousted? Sounds like a lot of unnecessary drama. We all have to work with someone we don’t get along with at one point or another, and we can choose to learn and grow and put our differences aside in a professional setting or cause workplace drama. I’m sure he is a wonderful coach, as has been vouched, but this all seems a little childish and beneath the character people are professing this coach to have.


There's a stench starting to come from the corner of Onaga and Sage, and the appropriate way to quell it requires the bright light of truth and transparency. Based on past history, it's doubtful the public will get its questions answered, leaving the community to make uniformed suppositions. A coach that has spent 27 years of his life making positive influences in the lives hundreds of students and athletes deserves far better treatment. I too, had a child on the track team that had a lot respect for coach Stepp. It's time for the folks at YVHS and the district office to drop the CYA posture and come clean on this controversial matter. The Star needs to keep the community informed as this sad situation evolves. Let's not let the school board pussyfoot around this ill-timed decision.

Mark Simmons

bde420, read it slowly: After 27 years of coaching, Jay Stepp was removed from his job as head coach for the track and field team at Yucca Valley High School Thursday, according to team and school sources. What part of “removed” don’t you get? He is no longer head coach of the track and field program due to his removal from said program. A program, I might add, that he, Stepp, built and brought respectability to YVHS for 27 years. Imagine the late John Wooden or ANY coach with this type of longevity and tenure being treated in this manner. If a heard coach can’t have total control of a program, what’s the sense of having a coach or a program at all? Perhaps, the 420 in your screen name is affecting you?


Dear Morongo Unified School District Leaders,

Thank you for removing Mr. Stepp. I got tired of seeing that guy zip after kids as he propelled them into the 21st Century. Thank you for not weighing in on the impact your decision will have on this community. I like your shortsightedness. I'm sure Ms. Brimhall will devote 27 years without complaint. I'm diggin' your Dukes of Hazzard vibe. Thank you every time we watch you treat one employee poorly and another favorably. Mr. Stepp and Mr. Weller were employed at the same time and ended up with different outcomes. Mr. Weller has since retired and still works for the district making more money. Mr. Stepp made very little money for coaching and was ultimately removed for standing up for the program. Thank you for not removing Mr. Weller in 2000. It established your priorities back then and I appreciated the transparency. Thank you for promoting Mr. Weller. It was very inclusive of you to promote Mr. Weller from principal to HR Asst. Sup with a public reproval mark on his credential recommended by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Thank you for the irony. Thank you for the gratitude you extended Mr. Stepp for his service by taken his position from him. Thank you for not removing Mr. Larson. Thank you for having favorites. Thank you for teaching me the world isn't fair. Thank you for hiring Mr. Ghelber's daughter. Thank you for hiring Ms. Heiser's daughter. Thank you for hiring Ms. Fontana her mom must be proud. Thank you for taking care of your kind. Thank you for not protecting kids to our satisfaction. Thank you for getting referral and suspension rates down at La Contenta. Thank you for helping me link the connection between low discipline rates and the promotion of Mr. Gruwell to the DO. Thank you MUSD for your legacy of ethical decision making. Thank you for this latest cringe worthy act. Thank you for every person you promoted and demoted. It all makes sense. Thank you for your leadership.

I will reward you in return. No on Measure C. No money from me.

As Mr. Baumgarten thoughtfully penned: President Lincoln came from humble beginnings and President Washington was born into wealth. Both Presidents truly loved this country greatly. Each left a legacy of good deeds and demonstrated valor during the times when our country's future was at stake. These two men demonstrated the best in human nature, and proved that money may come and go, but your devotion to your family, your neighbor, and your country will bring happiness.

Mr. Baumgarten preaches devotion over money. Mr. Stepp DID that. And he got stomped on. Sorry no money from me until you can find a moral compass and turn this district around.


“I have done my very best to represent this district and Yucca Valley High School with respect and integrity,” Stepp.

I stand behind that Statement 100 percent !

2 if my children were on Coach Stepp's cross country team and they love and respect him to this day!

The way Coach Stepp was treated in this matter is another glaring example of POOR LEADERSHIP by Bum-Gartner and the MUSD.


Mark Simmons, wow. Nothing I commented was attacking or rude, I’m sincerely sorry for offending you to the point where you felt it was necessary to be that way toward me - a total stranger. Not that I need to explain my username, but I will, the “0420” are for the birth year and death year of my dog. You didn’t ask but the “bde” stands for “best dog ever”. Just in case you were making and further personal assumptions about me. But this is the problem often with society today, we assume, get angry, and attack first without asking questions and trying to understand. That’s all I was trying to do, understand what I was missing. I read clearly that it said he had been “removed” from the position of “head coach”, but I never read anywhere in that article that he had been removed or fired as a coach. Was anything else I gathered from the article inaccurate? Please tell me if I did, but I would appreciate a mutually civil tone though.

Mark Simmons

@bde0420, being a dog person myself, I’m sorry for the loss of beloved pet. I know all too well how much it hurts to lose a “fur baby.” Also, the 420 comment (not that I’m against it) was outta line. However, I stand by my comments other than the one I mentioned. Stepp was a beloved coach who was unfairly dismissed. Prior to this year, he had full control of the track and field program. For undisclosed reasons, this inept school administration and board took it upon themselves to renege on this deal with Stepp and decided to play favorites. I’m of the opinion that a head coach, especially one with his tenure has the absolute right to choose and dismiss whomever they want on their coaching staff without compromise. I felt the last couple lines of your comments were out of line as well. But, they are your opinions and you have the right to express them. Just as I or others have the right to express ours. I take nothing personal on social media or this blog. If I hurt your feelings I apologize. It’s not my intent to be mean or condescending. My feeling is this school district has always played favorites. Stepp should’ve been afforded more respect. He more than earned it! Cheers! M-


I ran for a coach that Stepp coached and when he visited our school he asked what I wanted to do with my degree when I was in college. After I told him he guided me in getting the dream internship that I wanted. He cares about athletes and went out of his way to help me when he didn’t know me very well but knew I loved running and loved running for a coach that he also believes in. I had such a great experience meeting him and making everything that I worked for so rewarding.

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