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Los Altos fires wrestling coach midway through league season

Jim Thrall is out as wrestling coach at Los Altos High – fired with three dual meets left in his first season at the helm – and said he’s not sure what led to his dismissal Jan. 28.

“I wish I knew why,” the walk-on coach wrote in an email to the Town Crier. “Our momentum as a team was trending upward and we were coming together as a group quite well. The kids and parents are shocked, and the administration won’t tell me anything. It’s a total and complete shock.”

The administration declined to explain Thrall’s dismissal to this publication. Athletic director Michelle Noeth described it as “an HR matter” and referred the Town Crier to Leyla Benson, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District’s associate superintendent of personnel.

“There are protocols we can’t talk about when we release someone,” Benson said, “but I can tell you that the district takes these decisions very seriously.”

She did, however, question Thrall’s claim that he was not told what led to his firing.

“It has been my experience that when a decision like this is made, the coach is typically presented with a rationale for the decision – unless it’s egregious,” Benson said.

Rafael Garcia, promoted from assistant to head coach, said he doesn’t have a clue why Thrall was let go. Garcia, who described the situation as “kind of awkward,” coached with Thrall at Yerba Buena High last season and has known him for six years.

“I still don’t know what’s going on – it’s a mystery,” Garcia said. “It’s pretty hush-hush. I don’t know if he did or said something wrong, but I’d like to know.”

And if Thrall did do or say something wrong, Garcia said it wasn’t in his presence.

“I never saw anything,” he said. “I don’t think the wrestlers were in any kind of discomfort. The kids didn’t complain (about him) and the parents never approached me to say that he did this and that.”

The day Thrall was dismissed, Garcia said administrators asked him to take over and had already found him an assistant – Charles Olaires, who served as head coach last season.

Garcia led the Eagles to their first win of the season, 35-29 at Monta Vista Feb. 4. They lost Thursday’s SCVAL El Camino Division finale to Saratoga and head into the league tournament with a 1-5 record.

“We’re progressing,” said Garcia, whose team hosts the tourney Friday and Saturday.

Like Thrall, Garcia doesn’t have a lot to work with; undermanned Los Altos has wrestled each meet with eight or fewer varsity wrestlers. The Eagles forfeited seven weight classes at Thrall’s last meet as coach, but he wasn’t discouraged by the Jan. 23 loss at Milpitas.

“And even though it was a loss, we won the wrestled matches 5-2,” Thrall wrote. “But it wasn’t just the win-loss ratio; it was how they wrestled and the spirit and vigor they went out there with.”

Los Altos’ fourth wrestling coach in five years, Thrall hoped to stick around a while and rebuild a program that’s fallen on hard times in recent years.

“I felt I was bringing a proper program, based on the extensive coaching training I have taken and the coaches’ training I have given,” Thrall wrote. “We were laying the foundations to rebuild Los Altos wrestling back into the powerhouse it had been in the ’90s when I was assistant coach for Nick Testa.”

After three seasons assisting Testa, Thrall spent four years as the head coach at Gunn. He then coached at Menlo-Atherton, Leland and Yerba Buena before returning to Los Altos last fall.

“This is the most baffling interaction with an administration I have ever experienced,” wrote Thrall, whose youngest daughter attends Los Altos. “There was no incident, no poor feedback. I slacked on learning this school’s paperwork and procedures but was getting that caught up as well.”

Despite what happened, Thrall wants his job back.

“I still want to grow wrestling at Los Altos,” wrote Thrall, who did not respond to requests for a phone interview. “I want the discovery of a big mistake, so that we can keep moving forward.”Los Altos fires wrestling coach midway through league season

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