As the commotion of the start of a new school year began to settle, a new frenzy was just beginning for the Calabasas High School boys’ and girls’ water polo teams.
On Aug. 30, Coach Gregory Poppen threw a water bottle into a pool during team practice to get the attention of the players. The incident was later reported to administration as an act of aggression and on Sept. 2, Poppen was forced to resign from his position as the head coach of Calabasas Water Polo, effective immediately.
“This has been a horrific, surreal experience for me,” said Poppen in an email to the water polo athletes and parents. “To re-start this program, only to lose the opportunity to help these boys and girls develop both their abilities and their confidence is heartbreaking for me.”
After hearing the news, the water polo team decided to fight back and has since successfully reinstated their coach. The team, as a whole, believed Poppen was wrongfully terminated and urged the administration to reconsider. The players held frequent meetings to create a plan of action and, eventually, filed a formal complaint.
Their first act was to create a petition. The petition received over 500 signatures from Calabasas students, players and parents who wanted Poppen reinstated. Senior varsity players Parker Wespiser, Emma Silver, Sabrina Stevens and junior Brandon Benudiz then brought the petition to the administration and presented it along with their feelings on the issue, representing the water polo teams’ wishes for their coach’s reinstatement. During this time, water polo athletes stood outside the administration building wearing stickers that said “We Play for Poppen” and “Keep it Poppen.”
“As a four-year varsity player of the girls’ team, I have never experienced both teams rallying for someone worth fighting for,” said senior Leyla Barkhordar.
Eventually, the Calabasas High School administration came to an agreement with Poppen as a result of the protests. Poppen was then officially reinstated as the boys’ and girls’ water polo coach once again. Since then, the Calabasas water polo teams have won multiple games under the leadership of Coach Poppen.
“Bringing back Coach Poppen was a huge success,” said Barkhordar. “I am incredibly thankful for everyone who helped bring back one of the best coaches I have ever had.”