LYFORD — Santa Rosa basketball coach and athletic director Juan Cipriano teaches his student-athletes to never give up. During the past six weeks, he has been showing them how to live that message.
On April 29, the Santa Rosa ISD Board of Trustees voted to not renew his contract. Members of the community showed their support for the longtime and highly successful Warriors coach by lining the road running through town, but no one, including Cipriano himself, was allowed to plead the coach’s case as the board voted 4-3 to let him go.
Following the decision, Cipriano teamed with attorney John Shergold — a civil rights attorney who represents teachers, coaches and school employees across Texas — of Hodge & Shergold LLP in Brownsville to fight for his position. After a lengthy hearing that began Tuesday, the board voted 4-3 in the early hours of Wednesday against the proposed non-renewal of Cipriano’s contract.
“The superintendent, (Angela Gonzalez), the reasons she placed (on the agenda for the proposed non-renewal) were eight violations of school district policy,” Shergold said. “The evidence was presented, the hearing lasted seven to eight hours, the facts were listened to by the board members, then the vote was taken around 1:30 in the morning.
“The motion was made by the president of the school board (Santos Castaneda) to approve the non-renewal of Coach Johnny. Then it was seconded by (Sandra Rickford), and then the third person who voted to non-renew my client was (Rogelio Guerra Jr.). There was one switch of the vote, I believe it was (Raul Garza), who voted April 29 to non-renew and then he switched his vote, to my understanding, based on the evidence he heard.”
Shergold said the board, by majority vote, did not find one of the eight accusations brought against Cipriano by Gonzalez to be proved by the preponderance of the evidence. When he and Cipriano exited the building where the hearing was held around 1:45 a.m., Shergold said they were greeted by a celebratory gathering of community members.
“There was a crowd of people that were out there, honking their horns. Coach Johnny’s wife was there, and she was obviously very emotional, happy, crying,” Shergold said. “I was just very moved. That’s the reason that I decided I got into the right job a long time ago, when I see that I’ve been able to help a worker or employee or a coach, and I see the community come out and celebrate with him. It was a very good feeling. His name was cleared.”
Shergold said Cipriano will return for the 2020-21 school year in the same position as basketball coach and AD, with the same pay and same responsibilities as years past. Shergold, who played basketball at TCU under coach Jim Killingsworth, said he was inspired by Cipriano’s determination and instantly understood why his players believe in him so much while working with him.
“He fought the accusations because that’s the way he coaches. He told me that quitting is not an option, that’s not what he teaches his kids when they’re out on the court. When he told me that, I was hooked on Johnny Cipriano because that’s what my coaches taught me,” Shergold said. “It’s all about the kids with him, and he’s rolling up his sleeves and looking at this as another way of teaching his kids to win. You win by the rules, you win by being fair, and you win by hard work and preparation.”
Shergold added that, despite the hard journey Cipriano took to get to this point, the veteran coach “holds no ill will” against any of the board members or the superintendent for the accusations or initial decision of non-renewal and hopes that all parties can “move forward in the best interest of the children.”