Two parents are alleging that Durango High School’s head girls volleyball coach engaged in a 15-year pattern of bullying and retaliation against students, including their daughter.
James and Elizabeth Candaleria filed a notice of claim two weeks ago against Durango School District 9-R in relation to their allegations against coach Robin Oliger. If the district does not respond within 90 days, the Candalerias may file a lawsuit.
The Candelarias charge that the district has been negligent, ignoring parents’ complaints about Oliger for more than a decade.
Deputy Superintendent Bill Esterbrook refused to comment about the allegations, saying it was a personnel matter, and that he had forwarded the Candalerias’ notice of claim to the school district’s attorney, Darryl Farrington.
Farrington also refused to comment but said it was highly unusual for such claims to be filed.
DHS Principal Diane Lashinsky and Athletic Director Sheldon Keresey, who were also named in the notice of claim, did not respond to emails requesting comment.
Oliger, who also teaches physical education at Needham Elementary School, could not be reached for comment by phone or email.
James Candaleria is an assistant U.S. attorney and Elizabeth Candelaria is a homemaker.
Though the Candelarias seek damages in relation to Oliger’s alleged mistreatment of their daughter Rianne Candelaria over the last two years, affidavits included with their claim cite incidents dating back to 1996.
In an affidavit, Donna Nazario, parent of a player, recounts that at a volleyball team summer camp in 1996, Oliger became so angry with her daughter Carmen Small (who is now a world-class cyclist) that Oliger threatened “to rip” Small’s “face off,” using an expletive for emphasis.
Nazario writes that parents demanded Oliger’s termination in 1997, after a varsity volleyball match in Cortez ended in DHS’s defeat, enraging Oliger, who told the players that she did not “want to see any of their faces on the bus,” and abandoned them in Cortez.
Oliger resigned shortly afterward. But after an unpaid year of absence, the 9-R school district board renewed Oliger’s contract. The notice of claim alleges that Oliger was rehired on the condition that she would not return to the head girls volleyball coach position at DHS.
School officials who declined to be identified dispute that such a predication existed. Oliger was rehired as DHS’s head girls volleyball coach in June 2002.
The Candelarias allege that, from 2003-2005, Oliger “harassed, humiliated, and intimidated” player Breanna Pritchard before Pritchard left the team her senior year.
In an affidavit, Pritchard recalls that Oliger called her “midget” and that “informing Oliger’s supervisor was not an option because at the time, the Athletic Director’s daughter” – Colleen Keresey – “was also on the team.”
Pritchard wrote that Oliger provided special instruction to Keresey at practices.
Colleen Keresey, who went on to play volleyball at Colorado College, has since become DHS’s assistant volleyball coach.
The notice alleges that the district was again negligent in ignoring a formal written complaint presented to the school board in 2005 by Doyle Villers, whose daughter Jessica was a volleyball player at the time.
Villers’ complaint accused Oliger of picking teams before tryouts and of fostering the impression that summer camps were mandatory.
In an affidavit, Villers calls the district’s response utterly inadequate.
The Candelarias allege that in October 2010, Oliger retaliated against their daughter for taking the PSAT instead of arriving early to a junior-varsity volleyball match.
They allege that despite Colorado High School Sports Association rules, it is students’ common impression that volleyball summer camps are prerequisite to making the varsity team and that tryouts are mere show trials, as Oliger chooses the varsity team ahead of time.
The Candelarias allege that while at a summer volleyball camp in Denver, ahead of the 2011-12 school year, Oliger brought 12 girls, including their daughter, who was invited to the camp at the last minute, to a sporting goods store. Oliger arranged for the girls to purchase varsity volleyball shoes for the upcoming season. Though it was weeks before tryouts, Oliger bought a 13th pair of shoes for an absent player.
According to the Candelarias, Oliger later told Rianne Candelaria “not to wear her varsity shoes to tryouts because we don’t want to let anyone know that we have a team already.” After tryouts, Oliger told Rianne she had not made the team. The other 11 girls who attended the camp did wear their shoes to tryouts and made the team. So did the girl who had gotten the 13th pair of shoes.