Taking far more drastic action than four school districts before it, the Minnesota State High School League on Monday issued one-year suspensions for head coaches of four of the state’s top dance teams, stemming from a highly public protest that the league’s president deemed the “worst I’ve seen.”
The league’s board of directors approved suspensions of coaches from Chaska, Eastview, Lakeville South and Wayzata, all finalists in the dance team state tournament in February. Those teams, along with Eden Prairie, took part in a protest of Faribault’s title-winning routine after complaining to league officials that it plagiarized another routine.
Coaches and girls from the five teams stood off to the side of the Target Center floor holding hands in protest as Faribault was named the champion. Board President Scott McCready on Monday called the unprecedented act ‘‘not at all what we stand for. This is beyond what should have happened.”
But the league also said it will review its own guidelines that led it to reject plagiarism complaints about the Faribault routine in the days before the tournament.
League associate director Kevin Merkle said he will begin working within the next few weeks with the Minnesota Association of Dance Teams as well as coaches and judges to reach a compromise.
“I was always satisfied with the process we used based on our current rule,” Merkle said Monday. “But we are working on a rule change and we’ll have something for next year that will tighten the rule. Because right now it was very general and so when we reviewed the allegation, we didn’t have a whole lot to go on. What we’ll have moving forward is more specific things to look for.”
The events at the conclusion of the Class 3A high-kick state tournament on Feb. 14 triggered an outpouring of reaction, much of it fueled by social media.
Allison Bridges, vice president of the Minnesota Association of Dance Teams, called Monday’s action by the league “horribly disappointing. I don’t think the league had all the information. The punishment did not fit the crime.”
But league executive director Dave Stead said, “A very public act took place. Asking a bunch of questions wasn’t the issue.”
More than two dozen people interested in the outcome attended Monday’s board meeting at league headquarters in Brooklyn Center.
The board heard from 17 speakers, including administrators and coaches from Chaska, Eastview, Lakeville South and Wayzata. All of them claim the league denied them due process and requested more time for additional investigating. Coaches at all four schools said they were never contacted by league officials.
Faribault activities director Ken Hubert spoke last at Monday’s meeting, telling the board “process is not the problem here. You have to address the actions that took place. I believe these coaches are good people, but good people make mistakes and that’s what happened here.”
The league’s executive/eligibility committee voted 9-1 for the one-year suspension in an earlier meeting Monday. Its proposal to the board also stipulated a letter of censure to each program’s activities director and participation by coaches in an in-service initiative called Why We Play, sponsored by the league.
After discussion, the board approved the proposal by majority voice vote. Three board members were opposed.
Previously a Minneapolis law firm investigated the protest at the behest of four school districts representing the teams. Chaska conducted its own inquiry.
Those probes led to less-severe sanctions than the league imposed on Monday.
Eastview coach Jenny Raiche and Chaska coach Kris Rydland received letters of reprimand and had been suspended for the first two meets next season, according to spokesmen in their district.
Written reprimands previously were given to Lakeville South activities director Neil Strader, dance team coach Genevieve Adler and five assistant coaches. Wayzata dance coach Leslie Swiggum also received a letter of reprimand and had been suspended from coaching the first two dance competitions of the next school year, district spokeswoman Amy Parnell said.
Five coaches from the Eden Prairie team, also involved in the protest, “made the decision not to continue on in their coaching roles,” school district spokeswoman Jaclyn Swords said in April. Their departures were not the result of disciplinary action, she said.
Representatives of Wayzata and Eastview declined to comment after the meeting. A statement from Eastern Carver County Schools, which includes Chaska, said: “Coming into the June 1 Minnesota State High School League meeting, we did not know what to expect. Very little was communicated from the league prior to today. Therefore, we will take some time to review what happened today.”
Also on Monday, the board approved medals for the student-athletes from second-place Wayzata and third-place Eastview. Medals were not handed out at the state competition.
“They did nothing wrong,” said an emotional Jaime Sherwood, Wayzata activities director.
Hubert concurred but added the schools should not receive team trophies.