HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Kauai football coach files suit over firing
The County of Kauai had a special day of honor for Kauai head coach Kelii Morgado two months ago. It was a bright spot in what has suddenly turned into a dark chapter in the school's athletic history.
The fight that began in the coach's early years hasn't ended, however. The school's administration thanked Morgado by unofficially firing him as football coach this spring, then asked him to return to be re-interviewed for the position. Morgado was offered the job and given two weeks to consider.
The next day, March 21, the administration rescinded the offer and gave the position to former assistant Derek Borrero, who had not applied for the job.
Nearly two months have passed since the situation occurred, and with nobody within the administration willing to talk with media and Morgado, he took a drastic measure.
Morgado hired attorney Eric Seitz, who had received no response in his attempts to contact the administration. He announced on Thursday in Lihue that a lawsuit will be filed in the 5th Circuit Court. A hearing is set for June 5, a preliminary injunction that will assess whether Morgado's contract was rescinded legally.
Two amendments -- lack of due process and right to free speech -- were clearly violated, according to Seitz.
The suit also contends that the administration conducted breach of contract and defamation of character against Morgado.
Named as defendants in the filing: Linda Smith, principal; Daniel Hamada, complex superintendent; Penny Vess, vice principal; Deron Doi, vice principal; Ross Shimabukuro, athletic director; and Cynthia Matsuoka, former interim athletic director.
Critics of Morgado point to four complaints registered against him and his staff last season. There were 96 players on the varsity and junior varsity teams, a far cry from the 39 total count in 2000.
The lawsuit will bring on more pressure for both sides, but Morgado couldn't walk away.
"It's a matter of principle," he said. "How they treated me and how they treat others on campus is unfair. Ultimately, that's what I'm standing up for -- right and wrong -- more than anything."
The conflict between Smith and Morgado escalated after former athletic director Charlene Quinones retired last year. Trying to talk with Smith has not worked for Morgado.
"That was my hope, that we could resolve it rationally and professionally -- rationale was not in use here," he said.
Community support for Morgado has been strong at a couple of public events.
"We're a democracy. The parents have spoken clearly about what they want for their children, and they're being ignored," Morgado said. "Although it would be difficult to work under this administration, if they want me there, I'll work for the parents."
Encouragement has also come from his peers.
"Teachers and coaches, many of the Kauai faculty, and Kapaa and Waimea, have voiced their support. They want me to stand up for what's right. The people who cheer for me do it from the shadows because of my example: If you speak up, you're no longer the coach," he said.
Even with the conflict, Morgado has instructed Kauai football players to drop ideas of boycotting the season. A group of 10 seniors suggested the possibility after he was fired.
"My message to them is that high school athletics has a finite period of time," Morgado said. "It ends after four years and you can never get it back forever. For them to not play in support of me, or not play in rejection of administration, or of the new coaching staff would deprive them of a year.
"I don't want them to be 30 years old and look back and feel they made a mistake. At such a young age, it's too heavy of a price to pay."
Morgado lost his senior season of football at Punahou due to an injury.
"That's why I coach with a lot of passion," he said. "I don't want them to give it up. Life is full of injustices and unfair situations.
"Quitting can become habitual. I don't want them to begin a trend of running away from adversity. They endure 10 months of vigorous training. They do it for the camaraderie of playing football. They shouldn't quit football for political reasons. They should enjoy their youth."