A former girls' hockey coach at Park of Cottage Grove High School has been charged with serving liquor to two 16-year-old players he coached the previous season and then, along with another man, having sex with them at his home in Washington County.

The charges against Eric P. Darwitz, 31, filed Wednesday, prompted his current school, Shattuck-St. Mary's, a private college preparatory school in Faribault, Minn., to put him on paid leave as coach of its under-16 girls' hockey team.

Nick Stoneman, Shattuck's head of school, said the school didn't find out about the allegations against Darwitz until Thursday afternoon. In fact, Darwitz reported to work Thursday morning, one day after he was charged with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He has not been arrested.

Darwitz took over at Shattuck in 2006-07, following two years at Park, his alma mater.

Several parents said they were alarmed by the allegations but didn't want to rush to judgment about the coach. Shattuck, which operates a boarding school and day program, has one of the nation's leading hockey prep school programs, with skaters enrolling there from throughout the United States and Canada.

"I was just blown out of the water today," said Katie Neal, a member of the Parents' Association Board. "It definitely impacts the kids' lives." She said she met Darwitz in 2007 when he gave her son a tour of the school. She urged parents to talk to their children about the incident.

The offenses allegedly occurred in August 2006 at Darwitz's home in Woodbury; he now lives in Oakdale. Efforts to reach him for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

'Father figure' to the girls

The charges against Darwitz, based on interviews with the girls in March, said Darwitz sent a text message to one of the girls and invited them both to a party. He picked them up in Cottage Grove and drove them to his house, where he gave them drinks.

Soon after, Darwitz had sex with one girl, while the other man had sex with her friend. Darwitz later had sex with the other girl, the charges allege.

Darwitz acknowledged to police that he had sex with one of the girls that night and admitted knowing they were both 16 at the time, the charges said. He said he did not recall having sex with the other girl.

He also told police, according to the charges, that he saw himself as "a father figure and a big brother" to the girls.

The other man involved will not be charged, prosecutors said, because unlike Darwitz, he hadn't been in a position of authority over the girls. In Minnesota, 16 is the age of consent for consensual sex in most circumstances, although a person in a position of authority is held to a stricter standard.

The South Washington County School District would say only that Darwitz had resigned as coach by the time the alleged offenses occurred. He had also coached ninth-grade baseball and was an occasional substitute teacher for the district.

Police were not aware of the allegations until February, when a boyfriend of one of the girls alerted authorities. At Shattuck, where school officials knew nothing of the allegations, Darwitz continued to coach the girls during the monthslong police investigation, said Shattuck Athletic Director John LaFontaine.

The school notified parents about the charges Thursday.

"The school administration has things happen unexpectedly," said Vicki Sinz, co-president of the Parents' Association Board at Shattuck. "I think the school has handled it well."

In December, the school community dealt with the on-campus suicide of a teacher and dorm director. Len Jones, 34, shot himself in his apartment. After that, the school created an alert system for students and parents, which was used Thursday.

According to an online biography, Darwitz has been an elementary school teacher and is director of Shattuck's boys' elite hockey camps. He also serves as an admissions associate at Shattuck. He earned his undergraduate degree in elementary education and physical education from the University of St. Thomas.

While at St. Thomas, he was a member of three conference championship teams and a member of the 2000 NCAA Division III runner-up team.

Darwitz is a cousin of University of Minnesota and Olympic hockey star and Minnesota Gophers assistant women's coach Natalie Darwitz.

pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 lpabst@startribune.com • 612-673-4628