Casey Kester, head coach of the Bret Harte Bullfrogs varsity football program since March 2015, announced his immediate resignation Tuesday morning, three days after he told his offense to take a knee rather than run a play while trailing in the final minute of a 21-3 loss.

Kester said in a phone interview his resignation was in response to a parent’s concerns raised Monday night at a meeting of the Bret Harte Union High School District board.

“A parent got upset with me and went to the school board,” Kester said. “The kid quit. He’s a disgruntled parent. He was upset with me for what was going on.”

Bret Harte varsity football, like some other Sac-Joaquin Section programs, has been plagued by low player turnouts in recent years. This year’s team has dressed 15 to 16 varsity players a game, endured the suspensions of three players for vaping, and injuries. Kester has been open about it. A roster for the Sept. 7 Bullfrogs game at Delta Charter outside Tracy listed nine ineligible players.

Kelly Osborn, a Bret Harte graduate who played Bullfrogs football and continued playing football at Sacramento State University, and a former defensive coordinator for Bret Harte varsity football, has accepted an offer from the school district to take over as interim head coach for the rest of this 2019 season, Mike Chimente, the Bret Harte Union High School District superintendent, said Tuesday afternoon.

Kester’s retirement announcement Tuesday was brief. He said in part, “Earlier this morning I submitted my resignation as the head football coach at Bret Harte High School, effective immediately. . . . I want to thank everyone for the opportunity to coach at Bret Harte and to work with a great bunch of people. I have enjoyed my time here and wish nothing but the best for Bret Harte athletics.”

Cathy Stelling, the Bret Harte High School athletic director, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Joan Lark, president of Bret Harte Union High School District board, also did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Chimente initially declined to name the parent who got up and spoke to the Bret Harte Union High School District board during the public meeting Monday night. Later Tuesday Chimente did identify the parent, around the same time the parent contacted The Union Democrat.

Damien Stephens, father of one of Bret Harte varsity football’s captains, said he spoke to the school board Monday night about Kester’s coaching and Kester’s interactions with his son, Kodiak Stephens, at the end of the El Dorado game Friday night at Bret Harte..

“They kneeled at the end of the game with about 40-45 seconds left,” Damien Stephens said. “They were trailing 21-3, by 18 points, and they kneeled to run the clock out. That’s not what I expect coaches to be teaching young people on the football team. Taking a knee like that is like asking a wrestler to lay on his back and wait to be pinned.”

Some things happened after the game, and Kodiak Stephens spoke up, and Damien Stephens said Kester’s interactions with his son were “inappropriate” because he thought his son handled the situation maturely and “I don’t think the coach returned the favor.”

Kodiak Stephens decided to quit the team to protest what happened Friday night. He has since returned to the team, in the wake of Kester’s retirement.

“I’m not happy about the coach leaving,” Damien Stephens said. “I didn’t have anything personal with him. He’s been dealing with a difficult task. But some things have not been right, and our family stands up for what’s right.”

Chimente said that after Damien Stephens spoke to the Bret Harte Union High School District board, there was no discussion and there were no comments from the board.

“It’s unfortunate for any sport to lose your coach in midseason,” Chimente said. “I appreciate the years of service Coach Kester gave our students and community and I wish him the best.”

Cody Broglio, president of Bret Harte Football Boosters, said he and his group support the Bullfrogs football program regardless of who’s in charge.

“We support Coach Kester on whatever is next for him,” Broglio said Tuesday.

Kester was named Bullfrogs varsity head coach in March 2015 and his selection was approved by the Bret Harte Union School Board. His 2016 team posted a winning overall record at 6-5, and lost an opening round Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoff game, 29-27, on the road at Orestimba. His best Mother Lode League records were 2-4 in 2015 and 2016. His final record as Bullfrogs head coach, including Bret Harte’s 1-2 start this year, is 15 wins and 29 losses.

Chimente welcomed Osborn as Kester’s replacement.

“We’re thankful he’s willing to come in and help us through this interim period,” Chimente said Tuesday about Osborn. “He currently works for Vallecito High School as a teacher.”

Vallecito High School shares campus space with Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp.

Osborn will remain the Bullfrogs interim varsity football coach through the end of the 2019 season. The district will then advertise an opening for Bret Harte High School’s head football coach position, open it up to all applicants, Chimente said. Osborn will be welcome to apply and so will other applicants.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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