Wrestling Coach Fired at Pali High After ‘Kill’ Threat

Photo by Steve Galluzzo

By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA | Reporter

Aldo Juliano, wrestling coach at Palisades Charter High School, has been fired after an altercation with a parent at the USA Folkstyle Wrestling Tournament in Fresno. This is the second wrestling coach to abruptly leave Pali High in a year.

The clash followed long-simmering tensions between Juliano and Dan Hansen, a former volunteer parent who had complained to the Pali High administration of unfair behavior against his son.

Emails between the coach, administration and Hansen show a long-standing list of concerns by the student’s parents, including a decision not to allow their son to compete on the varsity team and pleading the coach to treat him fairly.

The coach refuted their charges and explained his efforts to work with their son.

At the Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, March 20, many students and parents championed Juliano during public comments.

He is not only a wrestling coach, but also a stand-up on the professional comedy circuit and a biker.

Many recalled being inspired by Juliano, who was sitting in the back of Gilbert Hall listening intently, and praised him for spending time with them individually to become better wrestlers.

The seven-year coach had continued a regiment since the time of their beloved coach Randy Aguirre, who died of brain cancer, and of Steve Cifonelli, who was forced out last March under murky circumstances.

“Although I lost my temper, at no time did I ever put the kids in danger or in a bad position to compromise their safety or welfare,” Juliano said to the board.

“Even after being pushed in the chest, now assaulted by this father, I still did not raise my hand or touch him back. I did, however, retaliate verbally with things I probably shouldn’t have said publicly and for that I also apologize.”

But the Achilles heel of the defense appeared to be a video shown to the Palisadian-Post by the student’s mother, Anne Hansen.

It appears to show the moment Juliano confronted her husband, exchanged words and threatened to kill him in what the coach said was the heat of the moment. No pushing or physical contact can be seen in the video, although moments of the video are obstructed.

When his time was up, the coach insisted on continuing.

“I’ve been here for seven years, you’re going to give me two minutes to plead my case?” Juliano asked.

But Juliano’s fate appears to have already been set. Two days after the public meeting, he received a letter dated one day before the meeting.

It was a notice of termination from Amy Nguyen of Human Resources, declaring his last day at Pali High to have been March 19.

Juliano, who has now obtained legal counsel, showed the Post text messages from Athletic Director John Achen and Assistant Principal in Charge of Athletics Russ Howard giving Juliano a chance to resign prior to his firing.

They offered to fight for his reinstatement as an assistant coach in a year. But Juliano declined the offer, insisting he remain head coach.

On Tuesday, Howard told the Post that the school has begun searching for a new coach: “Sometimes situations happen and we have to err on the side of safety,” he said.

Howard said that he hoped to remain friends with both former coaches, adding “we appreciate everything they did.”

“So many lies have been told about [Dan Hansen’s] character and who we are and what we’ve done with other teachers or coaches,” Anne said in an interview with the Post.

She was referring to rumors that they were behind the firing of Coach Cifonelli last year.

“It’s completely ridiculous and I think it’s all so he can save face in someway, and he’s just putting more and more out there and my son is in the middle of it.”

Some feel it raises a bigger question about how schools such as Pali High deal with such tensions: Administrations want to protect their staff from personality clashes, but are also held responsible when problems flare into scandal.

The lack of transparent metrics to calibrate the seriousness of such disputes are unlikely to reassure parents struggling to understand what just happened here.