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Teens turn in coach who offered beer

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES and PAT PHEIFER
  • Star Tribune
  • March 24, 2008 - 9:34 PM

A 21-year-old assistant wrestling coach at Woodbury High School is being investigated after five wrestlers reported that he brought a case of beer to their St. Paul hotel room during the recent state high school wrestling tournament.

The assistant coach, a former wrestler at the high school, wasn't an employee of the South Washington County School District and, as a result of the allegations, no longer will be coaching wrestlers at the high school, district officials said Monday.

He was in his first year of coaching, said John Soma, the school's activities director.

"My son, it bothered him a lot that he was put in that situation," said Dennis Lazenberry, father of a wrestler who was staying in the room. "The kids stuck together and did the right thing in an awkward situation."

Lazenberry, who is vice president of the Woodbury wrestling booster club, said he didn't know why the coach came to the room with beer -- and with two high school girls -- but said the boys didn't drink any. He said the boys left the room, hoping the coach would leave, but when they came back he was still there. The boys reported the incident to school authorities the next morning, he said.

The former assistant coach hasn't been charged or arrested, Woodbury police said. The former coach couldn't be reached Monday to comment.

According to a search warrant affidavit filed in Ramsey County District Court, the school's head wrestling coach told police that he rented five rooms on two floors at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul. The students told a Woodbury police officer that the assistant coach came to their room about 11 p.m. Feb. 29 with two high school girls and a case of beer "that he offered to all in the room," the document said.

The students are not of legal drinking age. The coach turned 21 on Feb. 18. Providing alcohol to minors is a gross misdemeanor, said Capt. Kris Mienert of the Woodbury Public Safety Department. Any possible charges would come from the Woodbury city attorney, the Ramsey County attorney's office said.

The search warrant asks for room registration information and "all video, digital and or audio recordings ... to show [the assistant coach] carrying the alcoholic beverage into the hotel."

Randy Zipf, an assistant South Washington County superintendent, said wrestlers reported the incident to their head coach, who then informed district administrators. The administrators contacted police. The hotel room involved was rented for wrestlers, not fans, he said.

"To our knowledge, student athletes did not consume alcohol," Zipf said.

Lazenberry said the booster club paid the assistant coach with club funds but he didn't know how much. The assistant coach, one of four hired this past season for the team of about 30 wrestlers, was responsible for teaching techniques and conditioning.

The assistant coach underwent a standard background check before he was hired, Zipf said.

Woodbury police contacted St. Paul's police vice unit for help in the investigation, according to court documents.

"To my knowledge, coaches supplying alcohol for their teams or students is really unusual," said Tom Walsh, a St. Paul police spokesman. He said that a "fair amount of drinking happens at these events," and said that St. Paul hotels hire off-duty police officers during tournaments.

The incident comes two months after a much different scenario involving Woodbury High School students and alcohol. In January, 12 Woodbury High students were questioned and four were disciplined after several students were shown drinking and possessing alcohol on Facebook, a social networking website. It was the second time that month that students at a metro area high school were disciplined after underage-drinking photos surfaced on the site; Eden Prairie High School questioned 42 students and doled out punishment to 13 in a similar incident.

Lazenberry said the wrestlers found the incident to be a distraction after they had worked so hard to reach the tournament, and he commended the boys for coming forward. "It's a real unfortunate circumstance," he said.

"There are some out there who make the right choices, as difficult as it might be," he said.

kgiles@startribune.com • 651-298-1554 ppheifer@startribune.com • 651-298-1551

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