Mission Viejo High School officials are investigating accusations that the varsity boys and girls water polo coach inappropriately touched and sexually harassed a female player and an assistant coach, according to documents and sources connected with the school.
Coach Trevor McMunn denied the allegations.
In formal complaints filed with the Saddleback Valley Unified personnel department on Aug. 9, the student and assistant coach allege McMunn touched their breasts and made various inappropriate gestures and comments to them throughout July, during the team's summer club season.
A second assistant coach, Matt Tipton, told Patch he was fired after notifying the district on Aug. 8 of possible complaints against McMunn. He has since filed a grievance with the district, claiming he was "discriminated against for having reported possible sexual harassment," he said.
An Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman said the sexual misconduct allegations, if true, could be grounds for criminal prosecution. In the case of the student, the accusations could rise to the level of sexual battery against a minor, the spokesman said.
Under California law, school officials must immediately report reasonable suspicions of child sexual abuse to authorities.
Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said Sunday that the school hadn't made any reports in this instance.
A spokeswoman for the school district declined to comment on any of this, saying it's against policy to discuss personnel matters with the media.
During an Aug. 18 meeting with the parents of male water polo players, Mission Viejo High School Assistant Principal Ed Begany told parents there was an "extraordinary amount of rumors going around that are far from the truth," but added, "but I don't know what the truth is."
A parent at the meeting recounted the discussion to Patch. The parent asked not to be identified.
Begany also said: "Any allegations against our head coach, I'm not at liberty to discuss those with you. I'm not involved with the process. Our principal [Ray Gatfield] is involved in that process, and once he's completed his investigation, he'll make his determination about them."
In a telephone interview Aug. 21, McMunn told Patch he was unaware of the allegations, and denied anything improper. “It definitely didn’t happen,” he said when asked about general accusations of sexual misconduct. He declined to answer specific questions and hasn't responded to follow-up queries made by email, phone and text.
New on the Job
McMunn and the rest of the water polo coaching staff are newcomers to the school and didn't know each other before being hired, according to two of the coaches. McMunn and Tipton came aboard in April, and two female assistant coaches joined in June. The team began practicing in June and competed in various summer club leagues.
In interviews with Patch, the student player and female assistant coach said McMunn instructed members of the girls team to hand-check, or push off, their opponents at the chest. He repeatedly demonstrated the move on both the assistant coach and the player, touching their breasts, they said.
The student didn't describe this allegation in her written complaint to the district, but the assistant coach did.
The assistant coach also said the move is illegal in a game and would result in a turnover. She said male players were taught to push off from the hip, although that move is also illegal.
Two other female water polo players interviewed by Patch said they witnessed the alleged breast contact.
"We all talked about it and said it's weird," one girl recalled.
Another player said that when McMunn demonstrated the move on her, he placed his hand "up by my neck and collarbone." But with some other girls and the assistant coach, "I knew it was down closer to their chest, right on it."
She added, "I didn't think anything about it because it was a teaching exercise ... I just assumed he was the coach."
A third player said McMunn purposely aimed higher to avoid anything illicit. "He was demonstrating on some people's chests and he was doing it higher than he was supposed to," the girl said. "He was closer to our necks than where we should be doing it."
The Student's Accusations
In another incident, at an end-of-season bonfire party held July 29 at , McMunn presented the female player with his childhood Superman backpack, allegedly brushing his hand on her breast as he adjusted the straps, she wrote in her complaint and discussed with Patch. She was the only one to receive a present that day, she said.
Also at the bonfire, she said, McMunn laid his towel next to hers on the sand and later asked if he could "give [her] private lessons" for her birthday. She said she declined.
"He’s a very intimidating person. It’s kind of hostile," the student told Patch. She described McMunn as demanding and authoritative, and said she’s afraid of him.
"I’m genuinely going to quit water polo if he’s still our coach," the student said. Girls water polo is a winter sport and won’t start until November.
The student said McMunn often got into the pool with the girls during summer practice, although he rarely did so with the boys. He played against them aggressively, she said, much more than opposing teams would.
She said he bruised her several times, once leaving a visible handprint on her abdomen and marks around her wrists. She included these allegations in her complaint.
The student said Principal Gatfield told her Tuesday that he would call in the next few days to interview her about her accusations.
Saddleback Unified policy specifically bars school officials from investigating suspected child abuse cases themselves. Instead, officials are instructed to promptly report such matters to authorities.
Gatfield didn't respond to telephone messages and emails seeking comment for this story.
Defending the Coach
Marissa Taylor, whose son plays for McMunn on the boys' team, labeled the sexual misconduct allegations "really hard to believe."
For example, the fact that McMunn gets into the pool with his players is one of the reasons she and her son like him so much, she said.
"This guy is a great coach," Taylor said, noting that most of the players aren't serious about the sport, and don't play year-round at the club level like her son. The other parents "don't know what a good coach is like," she said.
Taylor, who attended the Aug. 18 parents meeting with Assistant Principal Begany, said she hadn't heard of any misconduct allegations until Patch asked. "Is this a joke or something? I'm waiting for someone to laugh."
McMunn's water polo credentials are extensive. He was a stand-out player at , where he was on the varsity team from 1996-2000. As a senior, he was named El Toro's most valuable player and Orange County player of the year.
Before taking over the water polo program at Mission Viejo High, he worked as an assistant coach at Laguna Hills High, his alma mater and, most recently, .
Assistant Coach's Allegations
In her complaint to the district, one of McMunn's female assistant coaches said he constantly told her he loved her, gave her unwanted hugs, kissed the top of her head at least twice and once ran his fingers through her hair. At one practice, she said, he held a hand pump at his groin and suggestively asked her to pump his ball.
Tipton, the male assistant coach, said he witnessed the pump incident. "The way he did it ... you can't deny the implications of that," Tipton said.
The female assistant coach also said McMunn asked her out and, when she said no, squeezed her calf hard. At the aforementioned bonfire, he pushed her with an open palm, knocking her down, she wrote in her complaint.
Several players told Patch they witnessed some of these incidents, including the request for a date and multiple embraces.
"He was weird with her. She always seemed uncomfortable with it," one girl said.
Another player said McMunn "would hug her and he would bow down to her head and bring his lips to her head, like they had known each other forever or they were dating."
She added, "In the weight room, he would lay on her legs. He would get up close and personal. It was really inappropriate."
District procedures for adult accusations of sexual harassment differ from cases involving minors. Officials have five days to notify the accused after a complaint is filed, and 20 working days to investigate and resolve the case. If a complainant is not happy with the result, she may appeal, first to the assistant superintendent of personnel services, then to the Board of Education.
On Aug. 17, the female assistant coach spent about an hour discussing the allegations with Principal Gatfield, she said, but came away fearing he didn't believe her.
Among other things, she demonstrated how McMunn allegedly palmed her breasts during the hand-check exercises, she said. When Gatfield asked if McMunn touched the student in the same manner, she answered yes.
"Sexual harassment charges – this is not something I’m making up," the assistant coach told Patch. "They should be protecting the kids."
She said she’s "terrified" of McMunn, saying his emotions run hot and cold and change on a dime. Nevertheless, she said she would continue working with the girls water polo team even if McMunn remained her boss.
"The only way I can sleep at night is to know I’m there to help keep the girls safe," she said. "I don’t even ever want to see him again, but if I have to so that I can protect these girls again, I’ll do it."
By law, if the assistant coach saw or "reasonably suspected" sexual abuse of a player, she too is obligated to file a police report.
When asked why she hadn't, she said she was unaware of the law. "I thought we were doing our part [by] going to the district," she said Thursday, adding that she would visit the Sheriff's Department on Monday, after returning from a trip out of town.
Saddleback Unified policy requires new employees to be given information – and training – about child-abuse reporting laws and sign a statement acknowledging they understand the requirements.
When shown a blank copy of the form (one of several that new hires are supposed to sign) by Patch, she and colleague Tipton both said it didn't look familiar. They also said they received no training on abuse reporting, as required by state law.
Saddleback Unified officials could not be reached for comment Friday.
Former Assistant Coach Tipton, who competed against McMunn for the head-coach job this spring, claimed he was fired for acting as a whistleblower. On Aug. 8, he said, he sent an email warning Assistant Principal Begany of "possible sexual harassment" by McMunn.
"Apparently Coach McMunn has overstepped a few lines and really upset two of the assistant coaches as well as a particular girl," Tipton wrote in an email exchange he provided to Patch. "I just wanted to give you advanced notice as these girls are all planning on coming into the district to file formal complaints."
Begany wrote Tipton back a few hours later, saying: “Rumors and allegations of issues should be directed to me directly. When I talked with Coach McMunn, he stated that you would no longer be coaching on our staff."
Tipton said he was officially fired a week later, on Aug. 15, and filed a grievance the same day. He said he hopes to clear his name and get his job back.
The official reason for his termination, he said, was "undermining the other coach," but he suspects it was because he brought the sexual harassment allegations to light.
"I want what’s best for the kids. It’s not a money-making job … You do it for the love of the game and for the love of the kids," he said. "But the kids need to be protected. They need to be in a good environment."
On Aug. 22, the boys water polo team began its "hell week" practice sessions. A few days earlier, at the Aug. 18 parents meeting attended by Begany, McMunn appeared and also spoke.
"I don't really understand why people say I'm not approachable. I just don't get that. What is that?" he asked, drawing laughs. He later vowed not to be the kind of coach where it's "my way or the highway."
Sexual Harassment Policy
The Saddleback Valley Unified School District defines sexual harassment as:
- Unwelcome leering, sexual flirtations or propositions.
- Unwelcome sexual slurs, epithets, threats, verbal abuse, derogatory comments or sexually degrading descriptions.
- Graphic verbal comments about an individual’s body, or overly personal conversation.
- Sexual jokes, stories, drawings, pictures or gestures.
- Spreading sexual rumors.
- Touching an individual’s body or clothes in a sexual way.
- Cornering or blocking of normal movements.
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects in the educational or work environment.
Sexual Abuse of Minors Policy
Although declining to comment on the particulars of this story, Assistant to the Superintendent Tammy Blakely did speak generally about Saddleback Valley Unified's policy for reporting suspected sex abuse of minors.
"If it’s first-hand, if a student walks into a teacher’s office [or] a counselor's office and says, ‘I’ve been physically abused,’ " the employee has 24 to 48 hours to contact authorities, she said. "I guess the key here is ‘suspected.’ But it typically is with direct information from the student—not rumor, not hearsay.”
When it comes to sexual harassment, an administrator will interview the people directly involved, Blakely said.
“If, in the investigation, there is direct testimony by a minor that there is abuse or suspected abuse, it’s at that point the administrator would contact [authorities].”
What qualifies as abuse? Blakely said it's difficult to say exactly, especially in sexual harassment cases. She called it "an interesting nexus" but didn't elaborate.
Under California law, "reasonable suspicion" of abuse means "it is objectively reasonable for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on his or her training and experience, to suspect child abuse or neglect. Reasonable suspicion does not require certainty that child abuse or neglect has occurred."
– Patch staff writer contributed to this story.