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.”