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Continued: Despite new law, parents' complaints remain an issue for high school coaches

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 22, 2014 - 7:03 AM

Sager, girls’ hockey coaches association president, said he had sent an e-mail to Rep. Dean Urdahl, who authored the bill, to share his gratitude for the effort. But personal experience marred Sager’s enthusiasm.

“I haven’t heard of it helping anyone keep their job,” Sager said. “Coaches who leave say it’s for family or more time but a lot of them just get tired of dealing with the off-ice stuff. Playing time and who plays where aren’t reasons to be fired.”

In boys’ hockey, 19 coaches have left since last season, including three who were dealing with parent complaints, said Mike MacMillan, executive director of the hockey coaches association.

Half of the girls’ basketball coaches hired in 2009 are no longer head coaches, said Carl Pierson, recently elected president of the state girls’ basketball coaches association. Based on his 12 years of experience as a head coach in Minnesota, Pierson said he “would confidently say over 40 percent of them were pushed out of the profession by parental pressures.”

Urdahl said Erickson’s group “outlined a procedure for dismissal” of coaches but it did not have enough legislative support to pass. Sension said he would like to see coaches afforded the same protection as teachers covered by union contracts.

Erickson and Urdahl said eliminating parent complaints was never the bill’s intent.

– to have some integrity in the process. You can’t do that with a haphazard investigation. Hopefully we’ve helped activities directors be able to tell parents, ‘Look, this isn’t how we go about this.’ ”

Added Urdahl, “If school administrators really want to get rid of a coach, they can. They can still get creative with their reasons.”

Flawed process, same result

According to Sension, things started to unravel for him on March 26, three weeks after the team concluded a 7-19 season.

The Orioles had lost in the playoffs to Hopkins, where Sension spent five years as a varsity assistant. He had helped the Royals to three Class 4A state championships before coming to St. Louis Park, where losing was the norm.

Frustration mounted as his second season wore on. Sension experimented with his lineup, including a radical move in which units of five players were substituted multiple times each game. That resulted in less playing time for some players.

Sension said he won over players, building unity with offseason workouts and instilling pride by raising money for traveling team apparel, but never endeared himself to parents. Sension told them they were not allowed at practice and not allowed to talk to him about basketball.

Sension met with St. Louis Park activities director Andy Ewald and Principal Joann Karetov on March 26 expecting to review his self-evaluation for the season. At the meeting’s end, Sension learned his coaching contract would not be renewed.

He chose to resign, but after changing his mind, he filed a grievance with the district on April 15 to be reinstated as varsity coach.

That same day, basketball parent Kathleen Perkins e-mailed Ewald, Karetov and Superintendent Robert Metz. She stated support for Sension to remain as the varsity coach and expressed her frustration with the process that led to his nonrenewal. The e-mail listed 13 parents as supporters.

None of them was interviewed for additional perspective, said Perkins, who was part of the committee who hired Sension.

Metz declined to provide specifics on the breadth of their investigation. Through a district spokesperson, Ewald declined to comment. Karetov did not comment when reached.

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  • Evidence of his coaching chops hangs on a wall of Tim Sension’s home. Sension helped coach Hopkins to three state titles before going to St. Louis Park.

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