Following the revelation that Matt Stewart, athletic director of West Contra Costa County Unified School District, sent numerous racist, sexist, and pornographic emails to coaches, teachers, and staffers, some current and former coaches are questioning why he was hired in the first place. Stewart is now on leave for sending the emails to co-workers. Last week, the Express was first to report the contents of 25 emails — including more than two hundred pornographic pictures and jokes that compared the president and First Lady to apes — that Stewart sent from his personal email account. "Why would you hire from outside of the district when there are so many dynamic and diverse people in the school district who weren't even afforded the opportunity to apply for that job?" asked Rae Jackson, former girls' basketball coach at Kennedy High School.
Indeed, the district's motives for hiring Stewart are unclear. Before he was brought on as the district's athletic director in 2007 — a position that oversees West Contra Costa's entire physical education and sports programs, from elementary to high school — Stewart appears to have had some experience in the field, although limited. He taught PE at American Canyon Middle School in Napa County for a little less than five years, according to his LinkedIn profile, and he has been quoted as a physical education expert in a few news stories. But Stewart's LinkedIn page might not be reliable. Under experience, he claims to hold another job: "Head Spy at US ... 1960 – Present (52 years) ... Most Sports Bars."
There's also no evidence that Stewart had any experience as a school athletic director, let alone an athletic director of a large district with 29,000 students. West Contra Costa, which includes Richmond, also is one of the most diverse school districts in the state. "His actions clearly show that he didn't have any compassion for students in a school district as diverse as we have," Jackson said.
School district officials declined to comment for this story.
The Express also has learned of two incidents prior to 2007 that suggest that Stewart wasn't suited to be a high-ranking school official. The first occurred in the late Eighties and is well known to many West Contra Costa coaches, several of whom were interviewed for this story. The incident involved the Contra Costa College baseball team when it played against Stewart's Napa Valley College squad. Stewart's team was crushing Contra Costa that day when Stewart allegedly directed a racial slur at black players on the Contra Costa squad, causing a physical confrontation between the two ball clubs.
A few years later, on January 10, 1992, Stewart attended a women's basketball game between those schools and allegedly heckled the Comets throughout the contest. Late in the fourth quarter, the Comets' best player was tackled and injured at midcourt and head coach Paul DeBolt left the bench to attend to her. "All of a sudden I hear this voice saying he's going to kick my ass," said DeBolt, who also teaches journalism at Contra Costa College. "I look up, it's Matt [Stewart] — red-faced, angry, screaming at me, and egging me on."
Stewart stood up and took a few steps onto the court, although he didn't make any racist comments that DeBolt heard that night. "I had someone tell me [later] that he got hired by West County schools," DeBolt said. "I asked the exact same question: How in the world did he get hired?"
When it brought Stewart on, the school district overlooked several qualified candidates within the West Contra Costa athletic community. "You need someone who's familiar with the district and relates to kids in West County," said George Pye, former football Coach of the Year in the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League. The best man for the job, according to Pye and several others, would have been Frank Milo, a PE instructor with 34 years of experience coaching at Richmond and El Cerrito high schools. Milo was also the El Cerrito High athletic director from 1987 to 2002. Another obvious candidate would have been Darrin Zaragoza, a Richmond native with decades of experience in the district. According to sources, Zaragoza, the longtime Richmond High School athletic director, was promoted to be Stewart's successor last week.
Jackson said the district needs an athletic director, who, like Zaragoza, understands the importance of sports in underserved communities. "Sports give kids hope — a belief that they can be successful," he said, adding: "When [Stewart's] messing with [black coaches], it has a trickle-down effect and hurts the kids." Pinole Valley basketball coach Anthony Geddins agreed. He said coaches in West Contra County are actually more than coaches — they are father figures, mentors, and counselors, too. "I can say [to my players], 'I know what you've been through,'" he said. "Does Matt Stewart know what any of these kids are going through?"