Bob Kittle and the Cabrillo College administration have fought a unique battle this fall — one that will end up in Santa Cruz Superior Court on Jan. 10. It began with his termination in June, which stemmed from what he says was an investigation into on-campus alcohol and COVID-19 safety protocols. It ramped up with his short bid for a position on the same governing board that fired him. His name — one he said he hopes to clear by talking to Lookout — remains on the ballot.
Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.
To put this peculiar tale of a community college power struggle into baseball parlance, an ousted coach threw one high and tight at the college administrators who had done the ousting. And then the administrators charged the mound.
Where does this odd game of election season basebrawl — fittingly playing out just as the World Series comes to a conclusion — lead to next?
First the ballot box and then the courtroom.
The name of Bob Kittle, one of the most successful baseball coaches in Santa Cruz County history, appears on the ballot of voters in the parts of the city of Santa Cruz and nearby Happy Valley, which make up Area 2 on the Cabrillo College trustee map.
But the 54-year-old Kittle dropped out of the trustee race at the last second because of the school’s decision to release information about his termination, which he has acknowledged to Lookout revolved around charges he flouted on-campus alcohol and COVID-19 safety protocols.
Now he isn’t asking for votes. In fact, he has promised that if he somehow pulled off an upset victory over Area 2 incumbent Adam Spickler, he would immediately resign the position.
What he’s asking for is that his side of the story gets out and he has a chance to coach baseball again in an area he loves. He wants to challenge the view that he is a maverick coach who can’t get along with administrators and prefers to make up his own rules — and then doubles down on that perception by running for a seat on the board that fired him.
I’ve done a lot of good in this community. This is killing me.
“I’ve done a lot of good in this community,” Kittle said. “This is killing me.”
Once his campaign was official, Cabrillo alerted Kittle it would release his termination record to the Good Times based on the fact there was a public interest to do so, he said. On Oct. 13, several weeks after exiting the race, Kittle won a temporary court injunction to keep his termination details private. That sets up the Jan. 10 hearing where a judge will make that call.
Other than to say he was surprised by Kittle’s decision to enter the trustee race, Cabrillo President Matthew Wetstein stuck by the school’s official statement on the situation: “We have no comment on confidential personnel matters relating to employees or former employees.”
Kittle, never one to shy away from a fiery battle, decided to answer Lookout’s questions.
What led to the alcohol and COVID allegations that brought in a third-party investigator? Why did he decide to run for a spot on the same board that had terminated him two months earlier? And did an incident occur at DeLaveaga Golf Course not long after his firing that led to him issuing an apology to a Cabrillo student-athlete?
Beer cans in the baseball office
Kittle wouldn’t comment on whether he plans to file a wrongful-termination lawsuit but he said he believes the offenses he’s accused of don’t fit the punishment.
“Those activities hardly justify my termination,” he said.
Those activities, he said, happened in the fall of 2020 and involved a third-party investigator finding “one occasion where there were beer cans and hard seltzer in a wastepaper basket in the baseball office and of another occasion where I consumed alcoholic beverages with a non-student adult in the baseball office.”
Lookout sent Kittle’s responses to questions about what led to his termination to Cabrillo administrators, and they declined to comment. But the examples that Kittle cites are prohibited by the college’s drug and alcohol policy.
Kittle also confirmed that COVID protocol safety procedures — largely centered around keeping groups of athletes and coaches properly masked while practicing — were part of what was flagged by the investigator.
He said he didn’t disagree with the “ever-changing requirements during 2020 and 2021” and said he and his staff enforced them “to the best of our ability.”
“Those requirements were in constant flux with one requirement often contradicting or being reversed by the next — it was hard to keep up,” he said. “We had 40-plus players and coaches, all adults and young adults, and it was impossible to keep tabs on all of them at all times.”
We had 40-plus players and coaches, all adults and young adults, and it was impossible to keep tabs on all of them at all times.
Kittle said he was given the opportunity to tell his side of the story during the process, but that the third-party investigator “refused to interview any of the witnesses that I submitted, all of whom made themselves available for questioning but were prevented from sharing their perspectives.”
Approximately a month after his termination, Kittle was playing in a golf tournament at DeLaveaga when he had a verbal exchange with a female Cabrillo student-athlete. It led to complaints to both golf course management and Cabrillo Athletic Director Mark Ramsey. Kittle subsequently apologized to the athlete.
“At the time, I was extremely disappointed in how Cabrillo had treated me, and I lost my temper,” he said. “I offered a sincere apology and deep regret.”
‘He doesn’t mess around’
Fiery, cocky, unafraid, brash.
All are terms that have been used to describe Kittle’s approach to becoming one of the most well-known and successful baseball coaches in county history.
His teams won eight league titles and got to three section championships (winning one) during his 13 years at Santa Cruz High School, and Cabrillo reached the postseason regularly during his 11 years at the helm of the Seahawks.
But most notable on Kittle’s résumé is a track record for sending players to four-year schools and the professional ranks. During his 13 years at Santa Cruz High, 47 players went on to play four-year college baseball, including 12 who earned NCAA Division I scholarships.
“He doesn’t mess around,” the late Pat Lovell, a former Olympic wrestler, told the Sentinel when Kittle took over for him in 2018 as the commissioner of the area’s primary high school organization, the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League (SCCAL).
That same cocksure quality that made Kittle an attractive hire to a high school sports league in need of a jolt might have ultimately been what made him a thorn in the side to administrators at Cabrillo.
Kittle remains commissioner of the SCCAL and a physical education teacher at Santa Cruz High. He also coaches a travel baseball team made up of top high schoolers called the Aggies.
The league’s board of managers selected Kittle to replace Lovell in 2018, and Kittle has since seen his contract renewed. The commissioner serves a three-year term and undergoes an annual renewal of the contract alongside annual evaluations, according to the league’s constitution.
Despite his success, and many roles throughout the local sports world the past 25 years, the Southern California native maintains that he is not a public figure, which could play a role in whether the judge agrees to release Kittle’s termination records.
“My position in this community hardly rose to the level of ‘public figure,” he said, “either in the eyes of the general public or the law.”
Wetstein told the Good Times, which filed the initial public information request that led to the injunction, that Cabrillo’s legal counsel found precedent to approve the request because Kittle had become a public figure by entering the election.
Running ‘to fight for funding’
Kittle said it was in August that he decided to run for the Area 2 trustee seat.
He cited multiple reasons for his interest.
“First, to fight for proper funding for Cabrillo athletics. Currently, funding does not even cover basic operations of the programs,” he said. “The baseball program itself had to raise between $50,000-75,000 every year just to stay in business. The funding all teams receive at Cabrillo does not cover minimal operating expenses.”
He said he also had ideas for increasing enrollment and access — including the expansion of online opportunities for out-of-state students.
“I could not understand why, with falling enrollment, Cabrillo did not undertake an aggressive initiative to matriculate out-of-state, online students, particularly in the context of the pandemic and the massive shift to online classes,” he said.
Pressed about whether running for the position could’ve been timed better, Kittle said he would do things differently if he could.
In hindsight, I should never have run for the board.
“In hindsight, I should never have run for the board,” he said.
Kittle said he doesn’t want his coaching job back at Cabrillo, but he loves to coach baseball. He also said he doesn’t believe the aftermath of his termination there will affect his other positions.
“I remain active and committed in my roles with both Santa Cruz High and SCCAL,” he said. “I am proud of what I have accomplished as a teacher at Santa Cruz High and as commissioner of the SCCAL. I don’t believe Cabrillo’s decision to part ways with me should affect my roles with either Santa Cruz High or SCCAL.”
Inquiries to Santa Cruz High and Harbor High School Principal Tracey Runeare, who oversees the SCCAL’s board of managers, confirmed Kittle is still employed with both.
He was hired four years ago to lead the SCCAL, a role that pays $35,000 per year, though Runeare said the league doesn’t have an official contract with him. Santa Cruz High and Santa Cruz City Schools officials said they couldn’t immediately produce a contract for Kittle’s PE teacher role, either.