The search to replace the athletic director at South Pasadena High School (SPHS) is ongoing and a new person is expected to be in place by May, according to the top district official.
South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz, Ph.D., explained the search process in a brief text exchange with The Review last week.
The new athletic director (AD) is expected to be named in May, Yantz said in the text.
He also said that the job is “available to current employees” and is a “bargaining unit position.”
“Therefore, qualified, inside candidates apply,” he said. “A series of interviews are held with a panel. The panel makes a recommendation. Ms. (Janet) Anderson decides with oversight from HR and me.” Janet Anderson is the SPHS principal and is the AD’s direct supervisor, Yantz said.
Greg Luna, the AD for the high school for the past five years, was told back in October that he was no longer going to be the AD at the high school. He initially appealed the school’s decision because it’s considered a teaching assignment but realized the school and district administration was committed to go in a different direction, so he acquiesced, he said.
Luna, who is popular among the coaches and the athletes, is dismayed about his departure but said he accepts it.
“During the past five years it’s been my pleasure to have served as the Athletic Director at SPHS,” Luna said in an email that he sent to all the coaches at the High School as well as colleagues. Luna furnished a copy of the email for The Review.
“I’ve been fortunate to work alongside many wonderful coaches and have witnessed impressive accomplishments by Tiger student-athletes,” the email reads. “I firmly believe in the rich value that competitive athletics adds to the school culture and especially to individual students.”
In the interim, Luna will remain as the AD until the last day of the school year, and then return to his full-time job as a high school history teacher, he said.
“The SPHS Administration informed me that they will be moving in a different direction at the end of this school year,” he said. “Although I’m disappointed with the decision, I respect the need for the SPHS Administration to work with an AD that will execute their vision of an athletic program. Moving forward, please be assured that I will continue to carry out my duties with the same energy and proficiency until the end of my assignment. I will continue to support your coaching, instruction, and mentorship of SPHS student-athletes.”
Yantz also applauded Luna for his contributions as the school’s AD, saying they want to build on the athletic program Luna has built.
“We greatly appreciate Mr. Luna’s contributions to the SPHS athletic program,” Yantz said in an earlier email to The Review. “He has provided a solid foundation for the next athletic director to take the program to the next level.” Anderson was even quoted in the school newspaper, The Tiger, saying that the school wants to build on the “great programs we already have in athletics.”
Luna has said the administration was clear in its desire to move in a new direction, but unclear as to what that direction will be.
“To be honest, I don’t really know,” he said during an hour-long interview in his office at the High School. “It’s hard to clarify.”
He did say that when he accepted the position five years ago, he was instructed to create a parent-advisory ad-hoc group for the sports programs at the High School. He said that was not a good idea because there should be boundaries between the sports programs at the High School and parental input. Besides, he said, parents already have a way to communicate with the Athletic Director and that’s through the strong booster program and the PTA.
“I told them why I didn’t think it was a good idea,” Luna said. “And I was not redirected to implement the advisory group.” It’s anticipated that the new AD’s first step will be to create such a group.
Yantz did not elaborate during the brief text exchange as to the qualifications that they were looking for in the new AD.
Meanwhile, Luna offered there is currently a conflict inherent in the goals set forth from the top administration. Those goals are to give every student the opportunity to play sports regardless of skill-set and simultaneously produce winning sports programs.
“Those two things compete against each other,” he said. “As I said, I think we have great coaches and winning programs. Not the marquis programs, but we are doing the best we can do there and I believe we are going to do better.”
One current coach, who didn’t want to be identified because they were fearful of retaliation, said Luna was “one of the best AD’s we’ve ever had here at the school.” The coach placed Luna in the same category as longtime former So Pas AD, and most beloved local sports figure, Ralph Punaro. Punaro passed away in 2014 at 64. He retired from his post two years prior after serving with distinction as the school’s AD for 15 years, according to officials.
Meanwhile, one of the highlights of Luna’s tenure has been the So Pas track & field program with its 16-straight varsity league championships, including this year’s that was just announced. Furthermore, the girls and boys soccer programs have been highly successful along with boys water polo and girls tennis. Badminton, only in its fourth year of competing, took home the championship last year. Cross country is always deep into CIF postseason competition, even getting to the state finals. Golf is no slouch either.
In fact, Luna estimates that 70 percent of the sports programs at So Pas High School produce winning teams and players.
But the basketball, football and baseball programs have struggled, Luna acknowledged. Baseball has not won a league game since 2017, while football lost most games by large margins this past season and boys basketball has been struggling.
Girls varsity soccer coach Tory Lathrop said during an earlier interview that she was surprised of Luna’s removal and hoped the district would consider a female candidate for the AD job. She also said Luna gave her the opportunity to coach the girls soccer program, which Lathrop has turned around into a perennial playoff contender.
“I was surprised to hear he will not be returning to the AD position next year,” Lathrop said. “I am grateful he gave me an opportunity to join the coaching staff at the High School and I’m glad to hear he will remain on campus as a teacher. I wish the hiring committee the best of luck on their candidate search. I hope they can bring in an AD who will continue to support the coaching staff with great leadership while helping our student athletes excel in their sport. I would love to see them consider female candidates for this position.”
An internal job posting was sent out to SPUSD faculty the last week in March. However, Luna said five years ago he was the only applicant that applied.
“They may have to go outside the district,” he said. “In the end, we want what’s best for the kids. We all do.”