Hardwood Babylon

A decade later, Mater Dei High Schools still protecting a coach accused of sleeping with students

Editor's note: The names of the alleged victims and students in this story have been changed.

In the spring of 1996, an English teacher at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana snatched the following note as students tried to pass it across her classroom:

Linda,
Charles told me, did you hear about Coach Andrade & I said no, what? He goes coach fucked a girl that comes here & I play it off, like Naah. I go who? He goes I don't know. Some junior. I guess he doesn't know or maybe he knows that I know. But I swear to God I didn't tell anyone.

Andrade. Photo from 1995 Mater Dei yearbook
Andrade. Photo from 1995 Mater Dei yearbook

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The coach in question was Jeff Andrade, a popular teacher who moonlighted as an assistant coach on Mater Dei's powerful boys' basketball program and sold hot dogs from a cart during lunch. The teacher immediately turned over the note to Mater Dei administrators, who summoned Linda for questioning. Linda alleged that Andrade was having an affair with her best friend Nancy—had been since the beginning of the school year. School officials then confronted 15-year-old Nancy and 34-year-old Andrade; both denied any relationship other than teacher and student: Andrade was once Nancy's driver's education instructor, and they occasionally talked to each other in the school's weight room. Mater Dei closed the investigation without taking further action. They never told Nancy's parents about the note or contacted Orange County Child Protective Services, as they are obligated by law to do.

But by that spring, most of Mater Dei suspected something was going on between Nancy and Andrade. The rumors started in late 1995, when students and Mater Dei staff, including then-principal Pat Murphy, saw the two meet in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel during a Christmas basketball tournament. Murphy was disturbed enough by the meeting that according to a police report he ordered head basketball coach Gary McKnight to warn his team about allowing guests in their rooms. That same police report also quotes a fellow basketball coach told Andrade to stop talking to Nancy because "people might get the wrong idea."

But the two didn't stop and the rumors continued. The seized note didn't help matters, and in November 1996, Andrade and Nancy fought in the Mater Dei parking lot after school officials caught Nancy in the girls' restroom with a boy. Internal Mater Dei documents show that Andrade allegedly accused Nancy of "sucking dick" and called her a "fucking whore" in front of other students. Nancy responded by flinging a bag of M&M's at Andrade and running to her car. Andrade followed and banged on her windows, demanding to talk.

Still Mater Dei officials did nothing.

It wasn't until April 1997 that Mater Dei finally dismissed Andrade after an anonymous tipster asked them to reopen their original investigation. Andrade once again denied the accusations, but Nancy now claimed to Mater Dei officials and the Westminster Police Department that they were sexually involved—that they allegedly had sex in McKnight's office, in classrooms, at Andrade's house. That he supposedly pressured her to perform oral sex, and that he ejaculated in her mouth. And Nancy also told police that Andrade allegedly admitted to her he had a previous affair with another student. Westminster police turned over their case to the district attorney's office, which didn't press charges. Nevertheless, Mater Dei officials asked Andrade to leave.

Mater Dei has tried to keep the Andrade affair under wraps ever since. But a lawsuit filed last year winding its way through Orange County Superior Court seeks to publicize the story and hold Mater Dei responsible for what Nancy's lawyer says is "a pattern and practice of protecting sexual abusers." And, of course, Mater Dei is doing everything it can to stop it.

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Founded in 1950, Mater Dei has long been the crown jewel of Orange County Catholicism, a school county Catholics sent their children to as much for its powerful alumni network as its scholastic and athletic departments. Orange diocese auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto graduated from the Santa Ana school, along with a slew of businesspeople, lawyers, and other movers and shakers of Orange County. And its boys' football and basketball programs—in the latter of which Andrade served—are nationally known.

In the past decade, however, allegations of teachers who carried on improper relationships have sullied Mater Dei's once-immaculate image. Andrade's case isn't the first time Mater Dei officials have tried to hush up improper relationships between teachers and students at their school. In December 2004, the Catholic Diocese of Orange settled for $100 million 90 cases alleging sexual abuse at the hands of church employees. Eleven of the cases pertained to Mater Dei, far more than any other Orange County Catholic institution.

The Mater Dei instructors named in the settlement ranged from former principal and Republican darling Michael Harris to counselors to other administrators. But most of the accused were teachers: choir director Thomas Hodgman, accused of impregnating a student during the 1980s. Cross-country track coach Robert Richardson, whom San Bernardino County sheriffs arrested in 1984 after he orally copulated a boy in his Big Bear cabin. Priests Bertrand Horvath and G. Patrick Ziemann.

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