Hidden Valley basketball caught in controversy involving admin, students and parents

Three players on the Hidden Valley High School boy's basketball team sat out of a game on Thursday to protest senior Cole Lawson's removal from the team. The athletes were later told that they wouldn't be allowed to play the rest of the season. (KTVL/Genevieve Grippo)

The Hidden Valley Mustangs took on the Henley Hornets at HV's senior night game on Tuesday, but after a controversy between students, parents and administration, four players were missing from the court.

Senior basketball player Garrett McNair says it started a couple of weeks ago, when a group of students took a player's key and drove their car around the school parking lot. The student then reported the action to HV's administration.

McNair said Cole Lawson, another senior on the team, was sitting in the passenger seat of the car. He was given a two-game suspension for his involvement.

On Thursday, Lawson was told he was no longer a member of the team.

"Mr. Miller called Cole in and told him he was kicked off the team for saying something," said McNair. "Supposedly what was said is, 'I hate snitches.'"

McNair said the comment allegedly happened in the locker room, and was then reported to administration. But as far as he's concerned, the punishment wasn't fair.

"I thought it was unjustified because it was something that was hearsay-- that you couldn't really prove," he said. "He didn't really give Cole a chance to defend himself or anything."

Almost immediately after he heard about Lawson's punishment, McNair decided that he was not going to play Thursday's game against Klamath Union in an act of protest.

Ultimately, senior Kasey Copeland and junior Garrett McGinnis joined McNair. That same day, about an hour before the game started, parent Josh McNair says HV Principal Daye Stone and Athletic Direction Brian Miller confronted the students outside of the team's eating area.

"The boys were trying to decide what to do-- how they were going to peacefully protest the teammate that got kicked off the team," said Josh Mcnair. "Principal Stone addressed the kids, in a tone that I thought was a little out of line, about if they were going to play, to go to the locker room."

At that point, he said, Lawson's parents spoke up and told Stone not to talk to the athletes that way.

"It kind of escalated from there, where he was targeting one of the athletes-- Garrett McGinnis," said McNair. "I just saw Garret really scared out of his mind."

Authorities were later called-- and Lawson and McNair were asked to leave after Stone reported that they had caused a disturbance.

Lawson was told that he's not allowed to step foot on the campus at all.

McNair says the way Stone treated the students was inappropriate, and he's proud of his son for standing up for what he believed was the right thing to do.

"I told me son today, I said, 'You know, you're going to forget about the wins and losses. You're always going to remember standing up with your teammates for something you believe in for the rest of your life,'" said McNair.

Since the incident, all three players have been removed from the team for the remainder of the season as a consequence of protesting Thursday's game.

Garrett McNair says the players weren't told that their decision to sit the game out would forfeit them from playing the rest of the season, but it wouldn't have changed his mind.

"I'll always be there for my brothers. I always will be," he said. "High school basketball obviously only goes so far. You know, those friendships with those guys can go on forever."

News 10 spoke with Brian Valenzuela, the Three Rivers School District Superintendent.

Valenzuela said he's confident that the district handled the situation properly. However, they are hiring a third party investigator to take an unbiased look into the incident, as well as several other complaints that have been reported at Hidden Valley High School.

Valenzuela says the school district is unable to comment on the investigation because it involves private information. The district is also unable to release surveillance video showing the interaction between Principal Stone, the students and parents because minors are shown.

A statement from Casey Alderson, Director of Secondary Education, Alt Ed, and Athletics, said:

"What I can tell you is that we hold a high standard for our students, staff, and parents that come onto our property. We communicate to all athletes our expectations and have appropriate progressive discipline in place for students when they don’t meet those behavior guidelines, or when student safety is in question, we take that very seriously. We understand that not everyone will agree with discipline that is handed out but we conduct a thorough investigation into student behavior that is this serious to ensure that we are consistent with athletic codes of conduct, student handbooks, and board policy."

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