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    Orangewood Academy to take ‘leave of absence’ from CIF-SS team athletics next school year
    • June 13, 2024

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    Orangewood Academy will not participate in CIF-SS team athletics in the 2024-25 school year because of enrollment concerns, principal Winston Morgan said Wednesday.

    “We are taking a leave of absence from CIF due to enrollment count,” he said. “We believe we can rebuild. … We’re not dead.”

    Morgan called the break from sports “unfortunate” for the small Seventh-day Adventist school in Garden Grove. During this past school year, the Spartans fielded CIF-SS teams in boys and girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys soccer and softball.

    Morgan said Orangewood Academy’s high school enrollment has dropped to 27 students from 76. The school, he said, recently graduated 27 seniors and has seen other departures.

    He attributed several of the departures to the resignation of veteran basketball coach and athletic director Leslie Aragon.

    “(The returning students) are not happy that their coach left and don’t see a program surviving without their coach and they’re going elsewhere,” Morgan said. “Leslie did a great job with the program.”

    In February, Morgan announced Aragon’s resignation as an “mutually agreed” parting.

    Aragon, who worked about 19 years at his alma mater, received an outpouring of support following the news, including a petition that requested he be retained by the school.

    After the announcement in February about his departure at the end of the basketball season, Aragon coached the girls basketball team through the playoffs and left the school on March 22.

    Morgan declined to elaborate Wednesday on the reasons for Aragon’s departure, citing rules about discussing a personnel issue.

    The resignation has been heavily discussed in Orange County girls basketball circles.

    Aragon, who led the girls basketball team to a berth in the CIF-SS Open Division playoffs this past season, recently discussed his Orangewood Academy tenure and departure on the Adventist Hoops podcast.

    He said on the show that he was questioned about the programs finances and then placed on leave.

    “We always had an understanding,” he said of the finances. “I told them, you know, the mistakes that I made were not of the malicious intent … but more like, hey, I just didn’t have enough help or I was just … trying to not lose the money, right? We had a lot of money to raise.”

    “I was placed on administrative leave that lasted less than 24 hours,” he added. “The only way to come out of administrative leave was to resign. And that was going to be the only way I could coach the girls team (through the playoffs).”

    Aragon, 48, also discussed “philosophical differences” he felt with the school administration regarding the role of athletics. He stated on the podcast that he viewed athletics as a way to increase enrollment and was “rubbing people the wrong way.”

    “I wanted us to be better,” he said on the show. “And I thought any kid that walks through that door deserves our best.”

    Aragon said his roles at the school included coaching girls basketball, serving as athletic director and fundraising.

    He guided the girls program to two CIF-SS titles and earned more than 500 career victories coaching boys and girls basketball. The girls team reached the Open Division playoffs three times under Aragon.

    The Spartans’ athletic success extended beyond basketball this school year.

    At the CIF-SS Division 4 swimming finals in May, junior Haruhi Yamagata won two events, including the 100-yard breaststroke in a division record and county-leading time of 53.97 seconds.

    The boys volleyball team advanced to the CIF-SS Division 7 semifinals in the spring. The softball team reached the second round of the Division 7 playoffs.

    In the fall, the Spartans’ girls volleyball team made it to the Division 8 quarterfinals and reached the Division V final in the CIF Southern California Regional.

    Morgan said he views athletics as a positive for students but cautioned that sportsmanship is vital. He added that the school hopes to offer intramural sports for its junior high school students.

    “I think athletics are great,” he said. “There are positive outcomes.”

    The school’s athletics future has been in question for weeks following an email sent by the Western Athletic Conference on May 21 to its member schools. The conference, which includes Orangewood Academy, advised members to “remove Orangewood from your volleyball and basketball schedules.”

    On Wednesday night, Aragon called Orangewood Academy’s plan for athletics next school year “deflating.”

    He also recalled the school’s challenging road for success over several decades.

    “It’s hurts,” he said. “(But I’m) extremely proud and just humbled at how much our community got behind all we accomplished and so proud of how many kids we were able to impact.”

    Aragon said he has received job offers and is weighing his options.

    Please send girls basketball news to Dan Albano at [email protected] or @ocvarsityguy on X and Instagram

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    ​ Orange County Register