Austin Pope, the former Burbank High basketball star who later played professionally overseas and returned to coach at Burroughs High, has been relieved of his duties officially as of Thursday afternoon. Victoria Oganyan, the longtime girls’ basketball coach and a teacher at the school has been named the coach of both teams.
The 29-year-old Pope was reportedly informed of the decision approximately 90 minutes before the Bears were scheduled to face Harvard-Westlake in a nonleague road contest Wednesday evening.
Pope, very upset about the situation, authorized assistant coach Frederick Hawthorne to speak on his behalf. Hawthorne said that they did not inform the players until after the game.
“There was no due process,” Hawthorne said of Pope being terminated.
The firing is reportedly tied to a well-known San Fernando Valley basketball tournament organizer who, according to sources, made numerous phone calls to the Burbank Unified School District and Burroughs High last week demanding payment for his services.
This is the same tournament organizer who once told a reporter from this publication that he would have to pay to watch a Burbank High basketball game that he was in charge of. The tournament director also used the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday to insinuate that a big story was coming out of Burbank. This same individual also showed support for Oganyan on Twitter coaching the boys’ team this past April.
Several Burroughs players reached out to Myburbank on Thursday to offer their thoughts of support for coach Pope.
According to multiple sources, Pope, who was coaching the team during the summer, is said to have asked the tournament director to help schedule 10 fall and or summer games, for which just five have officially been played. He has reportedly asked for full payment.
“Every rumor being passed around is false and Coach Pope would never do anything like this. He is a great man and has (e)ffected everyone’s life in this program in a positive way. He wanted what was best for the kids and gave his all for the program. This team can’t even imagine playing under another coach. He helped us grow as players and especially as people. Please reconsider this decision and do what’s right,” senior Arthur Gabrielyan said.
Burroughs team captain Chase Kardosh also endorsed Pope.
“Coach Pope has been nothing but the best coach we could have asked for. Not only the best coach but the best person and mentor. Coach Pope took this job not for anything but the kids. He’s made tons of sacrifices for this program just to see the kids of this program succeed. I know people may try to throw dirt on Austin’s name but everyone knows how good of a person he is and how much he cared about every single person in this program” Kardosh e-mailed to Myburbank. “Players on this team look at Coach Pope not only as a coach but as a mentor. I speak for my team when we say we can’t imagine playing under another coach. Our entire coaching staff was an accumulation of great coaches and even greater people. Seeing the things people say about Coach Pope is sickening. I would like to remain anonymous but I just wanted to give you an understanding of how appreciative every player in this program is for Coach Pope and everything he’s done for us in a short amount of time.”
myBurbank followed up with Kardosh to see if it was okay to publish his comments after initially stating he did not want his comments printed. He changed his mind and gave his authorization.
Burroughs principal Kenny Knoop commented on the situation.
“I truly care about the kids and the program and want what is best for them,” he said. “I know it is emotional, but we are all in this together. This is a very difficult situation. I have every intention of them not missing a single game or second of practice.”
Burroughs was scheduled to play Village Christian on Thursday, but that game did not take place.
Pope was officially relieved of his duties in a termination letter that was delivered to him at 2:30 p.m. at the school.
Pope wanted to have his attorney, who is currently out of state, present. He also wanted to have his personal videographer record the meeting between him and Knoop and Burbank Unified officials, who handed him his termination letter without further comment.
Burroughs alum Cassandra Orjuela, who has a younger brother in the basketball program, offered comments supporting Pope.
“I would just like to say that Coach Austin Pope is a stand-up human being. Since he started, he has been nothing but a fantastic influence on our boys and has treated the families with the utmost respect,” she said. “I previously attended JBHS and graduated in 2019. I was always excited to know that my brother Elijah would one day be attending the same school and hopefully have a good experience like I did. At the meeting in the MPR, the same room that I would have cheerleading practice in, I could not stop myself from getting emotional because it was so disheartening to see the boys sitting there feeling let down by the administration. They are all such great kids with big hearts and instead of being able to focus on their education and basketball, they have to endure all of this chaos right before the season is set to begin.”
Parent Patricia Myers offered her support for Pope and said the players do not want to play for Oganyan.
“Many parents have expressed that this was done by Coach Vicky from the girl’s varsity. She wanted Coach Pope’s job and orchestrated all of this to get him fired. We believe she’s the problem and want her out of the school,” Myers said. “We don’t want her coaching our children. A person with such horrible morals should not be anywhere near our children. We are determined to bring her down and prove Coach Pope’s innocence. We all stand by him. None of the kids want to play unless he’s reinstated. The school is lying and can’t provide any justification (as) to why he was fired. This is nothing but a racist move by the Burbank school district. If he wasn’t black we wouldn’t be going through this. We want him reinstated immediately. All the kids were crying. He has been a role model for them. He’s helping them in their development as athletes but also is helping them succeed academically. This man didn’t deserve to be treated like this. We will not let this go and we will seek justice.”
Another parent, Alessandra Sabato, also showed support for Pope.
“Austin Pope has played a pivotal role in the development and success of the basketball team. Not only has he significantly improved the team’s skills and performance, but he has also been a positive influence on the players, fostering a sense of camaraderie and discipline. The impact he has had on my son, his teammates, and the parents has been overwhelmingly positive,” Sabato said. “What troubles me most is the apparent lack of clear communication regarding the reason for Pope’s dismissal. It is disheartening to learn that he wasn’t even notified of the grounds for his termination. I believe that as concerned parents and community, we have the right to understand the basis for such a significant decision, especially when it involves someone who has dedicated so much to the team and its success. Moreover, it is important to recognize that Coach Pope possesses unique knowledge and coaching abilities that have significantly contributed to the team’s achievements. Losing such an asset without a clear understanding of the situation is not only unjust to him but also detrimental to the team’s future success.”
Knoop said he does plan to release a statement on Friday to further address Pope’s dismissal.