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ACADEMIC RESIGNATION DECATHLON HEAD LEAVES AMID DISPUTE OVER ARTICLE.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

The head of the U.S. Academic Decathlon has resigned after Los Angeles area coaches raised concerns about a religious article he wrote and included in a research guide used by students studying for the prestigious competition.

James Alvino said Tuesday that he and the board of directors came to a ``joint decision'' during the board's monthly meeting Friday that he should step down as executive director, a position he held since 1996.

``I think that misunderstandings surrounding that article helped precipitate these actions,'' Alvino said in a phone interview.

Alvino will stay with the organization on an interim basis until a replacement is hired, officials said.

Alvino's resignation came amid growing criticism from Academic Decathlon coaches at high school campuses regarding his article on Kashmir Shaivism, a branch of Hinduism. It was included in the study guide for the Super Quiz portion of the competition.

``The fact that he was proselytizing in the Super Quiz book, I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back,'' said Jim Hatem, who coaches the Academic Decathlon team at Los Angeles High School.

``I think this is so embarrassing to the USAD that it spelled (Alvino's) doom,'' added Hatem, who wrote numerous letters to the organization calling for Alvino to be fired.

Coaches voiced their concerns about Alvino's article in letters to the U.S. Academic Decathlon and in comments posted on an Internet Web site they created.

Alvino denied he was preaching to students and said he included the article in the study guide because he and the staff wanted to provide students with a broad range of examples on this year's competition themes of religion, philosophy and psychology.

``When we were planning the resource guide, we wanted to give, in addition to mainstream (religious and philosophical texts), an alternative view that was much less known,'' Alvino said.

``There is absolutely no proselytizing in the article,'' said Alvino, who holds a doctorate in philosophy. ``The intent of all this was quite benign, quite innocent, to give the students a different perspective.''

The article was among other examples of philosophy and religion in the Super Quiz guide, which students use to prepare for the highly competitive academic competition, which fields top-notch students from around the country.

Coaches said they had three primary concerns about Alvino's article: His was the only article not taken from previously published texts; it was the only piece to direct students to additional reference material; and, upon further investigation, it seemed to promote behavior they considered cultlike.

Alvino denied allegations that Kashmir Shaivism promotes cultlike activities.

``Absolutely and unequivocally not,'' he said.

The article contained a tagline that listed as an additional reference a book by Swami Muktananda, who coaches assert was a controversial cult leader.

Franklin Wurtzel, president of the U.S. Academic Decathlon Board of Directors, lauded Alvino's contributions to the organization, but said officials agreed a change in leadership was needed.

``There was a conclusion drawn that the Academic Decathlon needed to ensure that its relationship with its constituents remains a positive one.''

Larry Jones, who coaches the Moorpark High School team, which captured the national title in 1999, said he and other Academic Decathlon advisers had serious questions about the program under Alvino's leadership.

``All I want is a fair competition that follows educationally sound principles,'' he said. ``Now I just want to make it positive and let the kids shine.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 20, 2000
Words:572
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