By Sue Pascoe
Palisades High School’s wrestling team had just completed the school’s most successful wrestling season, but rumors swirled that Head Coach Aldo Juliano’s job was in jeopardy because of an ongoing conflict between Juliano and the parents of one of his athletes.
In response to the rumor, numerous parents and wrestlers attended the March 20 PaliHi board of trustees meeting in Gilbert Hall to support Juliano, who had been with the program since its inception in 2011 and moved up to head coach this season.
During the public comment period, the trustees heard one impassioned plea after another begging them not to let Juliano go; that he had helped the program grow, had treated kids with respect and infused them with self-confidence. Parents remarked that one disgruntled parent had harassed Juliano and had wanted the school to fire him for not treating his kid fairly.
Juliano also spoke and asked for a chance to continue to work with his athletes, seven of whom reached the City Section Finals in late February, with four advancing to the State meet.
The next day, a Wednesday, Juliano received a letter from Palisades High School Director of Human Resources Amy Nguyen stating “You are hereby notified that your employment with Palisades Charter High School will end effective the end of today, March 19, 2018.” The decision had been reached on Monday, the day before the board meeting.
Juliano told the News that when he asked Nguyen why people hadn’t been told beforehand, noting that it was a waste of everybody’s time, she replied, “No, you got to see how the kids felt.”
“I already know how they felt,” said Juliano, who had started working with his team last summer after second-year Head Coach Steve Cifonelli was dismissed.
In both cases, Palisades High School officials did not comment on the dismissal of either coach, citing confidentiality. Since the wrestling coach is an at-will employee, the school does not have to give a reason for the dismissal of these coaches.
According to documents obtained by the News, Juliano had problems with the father of one of his junior wrestlers from the beginning of the school year.
A letter in late summer from Juliano to the father stated, “You lobbied hard to get Steve [last year’s coach] out and told me not to worry if I take over because you would help.”
But “[the son] is never there for lifting or conditioning. . . . I believe it’s a huge team bonding time. All wrestlers are supposed to let me know if they are not going to make practice, but we never hear from you guys.
“Believe me, as fair and as hard as Steve tried to get [your son] a spot on the team, I will not go to that extreme; if he loses in a wrestle-off, he is not in the lineup.”
The parent replied that Cifonelli was fired because he was belligerent and abusive. He wrote, “Me and a couple of parents saw to it that he remained fired . . .”
Juliano supported his predecessor, telling the News, “Steve was pretty fair with how he handled it. No coach I know would let one kid wrestle-off at three weight classes if he lost at the prior two.”
A video of the wrestle-off for the 160-weight class to go to the city tournament was shared with the News. The athlete who had been representing Pali at that weight class at prior meets won the wrestle-off.
The father sent a letter to Tom Jones, the CIF Los Angeles City Section wrestling coordinator, claiming his son did not have a fair chance to wrestle. The father said he had been an assistant coach the prior year but had decided not to help this year and felt that the current coach, Juliano, was holding a grudge.
Jones replied, “This is a school issue. The coach has the authority to select his team.” Juliano told the News he had gone on numerous occasions to Athletic Director John Achen and Vice Principal Russ Howard to complain that the parent was following him on the wrestling floor and trying to speak while he was coaching.
A PaliHi assistant coach wrote to Achen and Howard in January that the parent had told him, “My attorney is involved, and I will sue everyone at Pali up to the superintendent.” A January 24 letter from the mom to Howard and Principal Pam Magee claimed that her son was not being treated fairly by Juliano.
What caused the dismissal? Juliano thinks it was because of an incident involving the father, when Juliano was coaching a team of PaliHi athletes at the USA Folkstyle club wrestling tournament in Fresno on March 10. Juliano said he was in the stands when he heard PaliHi called on the loudspeaker. He went down to the floor to check, and then saw the father coaching his own son. The boy was not part of the PaliHi contingent that Juliano had brought to the meet, and Juliano lost his temper. He shouted at the father and, according to one report,threatened him.
Reportedly there is an audio tape that confirms that Juliano threatened the parent, but Juliano says he has not seen it, nor has the News.
The News contacted the school March 22 and asked who would be taking Juilano’s place, because he was working with college coaches to place his seniors. Nguyen, by return email, said the search was underway,
Juliano, who has already had four coaching offers, asked Nguyen who would order trophies for the end-of-year party. He worries that the high school will drop the program that he has worked so hard to build.
To hear the comments by wrestlers and their parents in support of Juliano, go to PaliHigh.org, click on governance and click on the audio under the March 20 meeting.