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Sylmar basketball coach Bort Escoto is facing vaccination deadline

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“I didn’t do it.”

For years, that’s how Sylmar basketball coach Bort Escoto has answered the phone whenever he saw I was calling. He enjoys making fun of my investigative skills.

Our relationship has been complicated. Years ago, during one season, he refused to call in scores after games in retaliation for a story he didn’t like. Every year, I ask how many transfers he has (he has become an expert at City Section transfer rules).

We’ve long made up. I kid him about how many technicals he’ll receive (he’s improved his court demeanor but has a large lead for all-time technicals). The fact he’s stayed for 27 years as a walk-on coach at Sylmar is truly remarkable.

Time is running out for Escoto to make a decision that could end his coaching career at Sylmar. Friday is the deadline for coaches and Los Angeles Unified School District employees to have received at least one shot toward being fully vaccinated by Nov. 15.

“I’m still on the fence,” Escoto said Tuesday evening.

Escoto said he doesn’t have a problem with vaccines or anyone who decided to be vaccinated. He has a problem with LAUSD forcing him to be vaccinated if he wants to keep his job.

“I don’t think it’s fair how they’re handling it,” he said. “They’re going to lose benefits, maybe pensions and not get unemployment. It’s too extreme and I don’t know if I want to be part of it. I thought this was America. I thought we were free to make our own decisions.”

Rumors that his time as coach would end after Friday reached his basketball team during practice on Tuesday. Players were not pleased. “I had to stop practice because there was no desire,” he said.

Escoto decided not to have a team last spring because of the COVID-19 disruptions. He has tried to keep his program together, and that challenge would be one motivation to get vaccinated.

“The program was in shambles,” he said. “I don’t want to go out that way, but I don’t want to be forced to do something.”

Decisions are being made throughout the LAUSD. Reseda has informed the City Section that its girls’ tennis team won’t be participating in the playoffs because it will not have a coach after Friday because of the mandate.

Escoto might wait until the last possible moment to fulfill the LAUSD mandate.

“Friday is D-day,” he said.

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