Two weeks after Maple Grove High School vowed to move beyond the suspensions of more than half of its boys' hockey team, school officials, the team and its embattled coach are facing new questions.
Two motions, including a no-confidence vote regarding longtime head coach Gary Stefano, have been placed before the Osseo-Maple Grove youth hockey association, persons with knowledge of those motions said Tuesday. The second motion would take the equally rare step of distancing the youth program from Stefano and the high school team, and would bar them from "team practices, travel committee planning and implementation meetings, travel tryouts and [youth] coach selection.''
The motions could be voted on as early as Sunday.
The moves are a signal that controversy continues to swirl around Maple Grove's high- profile high school hockey program. If passed, the motions would be a severe jolt to Stefano, since youth associations are the feeder programs for high school teams. In essence, the youth hockey program would not allow the high school's players or Stefano -- the high school coach is typically closely involved with a youth association -- to conduct clinics or have any interaction with young hockey players in the association.
The move by members of the association, which has roughly a thousand youth hockey players, comes as school officials continue to disclose little about what happened at a private home in mid-December that led to two- and four-game suspensions in January for 13 high school hockey players. Stefano briefly was placed on leave --but was then reinstated -- as school officials investigated issues related to the head coach and the suspensions.
A school district spokeswoman said Tuesday school officials would not comment on "any other organization's business."
Stefano, who did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday, had earlier called the suspensions "by far my worst experience" as a coach, and Sara Vernig, the school's principal, last month called the episode "devastating and disappointing." Vernig indicated the school district's internal investigation included allegations of a sex video.
School district spokeswoman Barbara Olson acknowledged that the school district was continuing to deal with the aftermath, and added that some citizens have complained "that the student consequences, as reported by the media, were not sufficiently strict." Olson declined to say whether students and their parents were being told that players could be dismissed from the team if they discussed the incident. But she added that "if students refuse to follow staff direction [to focus on school and refrain from gossip], disciplinary consequences may be applied."
At Tuesday's school board meeting, board chairman Dean Henke said district officials were aware that there were "many rumors" regarding the incident, but said that because of data privacy laws, the school board "cannot confirm or deny even the most far-reaching rumors."
There was other, lingering confusion regarding the incident.
School officials said police were consulted as part of the original investigation, but a Maple Grove police captain has since described the police department's involvement as simply being asked to see whether there had been a police report filed following the incident at the private home.
"No, we did not assist with the school district's investigation," said Maple Grove Capt. Tracy Stille, who added that he did not believe school officials "misrepresented any knowledge of the incident" to police.
The lack of answers has frustrated many associated with the 1,700-student high school, which reached the state high school hockey tournament for the first time last year.
"I don't know what the school is doing getting involved in something that didn't happen at the school. To me, it's a legal and a parent issue," said Bob Ayres, the president of the school's 250-member football booster club.
Despite some criticism, school officials have stood by Stefano, who has won several coach-of-the-year honors and will help carry out the district's "action plan'' to build leadership and character among students. School officials announced the plan Jan. 24, following the suspensions.
Stefano, the only varsity hockey coach in the school's 17-year history, pleaded guilty to drunken driving in 2010. He performed two days of community work as part of his criminal sentence, and was required to attend a post-sentence program for those convicted of drunken driving.
Though Stefano said he had never dealt with a similar crisis as the one now facing the hockey team, Maple Grove police responded to an episode a year ago in which one of Stefano's star players went to confront a teammate at his home. A fight ensued and one of the players was sent to the emergency room with injuries. The police report also indicated that a parent took part in the fight.
The mother of one of the players said her son was briefly suspended from the team because of the incident. Police classified the incident as a fifth-degree assault, but documents showed that the mother did not press charges after police said her son could also be charged in the incident.
At the news conference with school officials regarding the most recent suspensions, Stefano said he had not lost control of his program and was then asked whether there had been other, similar incidents involving members of his hockey team. Before the coach could answer, Olson, the school district spokeswoman, interjected: "That's going to be private data."
Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388 Dennis Brackin • 612-673-1740
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