Two school districts have disciplined coaches involved in the dance team state tournament protest of Faribault's title-winning routine in February that spawned a huge public outcry and led to an investigation by a Minneapolis law firm.
Written reprimands were given to Lakeville South activities director Neal Strader, dance team coach Genevieve Adler and five assistant coaches. Wayzata's dance coach, Leslie Swiggum, also received a letter of reprimand and was suspended from coaching the first two dance competitions of the next school year, district spokeswoman Amy Parnell said.
A statement issued by Lakeville's district said the reprimands were needed to "reinforce the level of sportsmanship and professionalism that is expected of all coaches" in the district.
"More important, however," the statement continued, "was the need to express the firm belief that student-athletes should not be used by adults to express disagreement with a decision made by other adults."
The discipline followed the law firm's investigation of a protest by five teams at the Feb. 14 awards ceremony for the high-kick competition. After Faribault's dance team won the competition that evening, girls from the other schools stood off to the side of the Target Center floor holding hands in protest of what was alleged to be a plagiarized routine.
The investigation, done at the request of four districts, found that after the first round of the tournament, coaches of several teams considered boycotting the final round of the competition. Instead, what emerged was a highly unusual protest that left Faribault's dancers shaken and alone for what should have been their triumphant medal moment and set off a storm of social media commentary.
The episode drew swift criticism from the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), which had previously considered and dismissed a complaint about the routine before the competition. The league's board of directors is scheduled to discuss the matter at its meeting on Thursday.
MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle said the league has let the schools investigate and report back with "steps they're taking to deal with the issue. Our board will respond according to what they do."
The law firm investigated after meeting with officials from districts that included Wayzata, Lakeville South, Eastview and Eden Prairie. Representatives for the Eden Prairie and Eastview districts said this week that the firm's report has been received but not yet acted upon.
Chaska is conducting its own investigation, which is incomplete, district spokesman Brett Johnson said.
Among the conclusions of the Lakeville South investigation, conducted by Rupp, Anderson, Squires and Waldspurger:
•Coaches from Chaska, Wayzata, Eden Prairie and Eastview were leading the idea of a protest and considering a boycott of the final round, but the Lakeville South coaches objected and proposed the less extreme action "because their team had never advanced to the high kick finals before."
•While the Lakeville South dancers were not "coerced" into participating in the protest, there is no evidence that the coaches notified team members that they had the option to not be part of the demonstration.
•The Lakeville coaches were put in a difficult position by coaches from other teams, "including coaches with significant influence in the Minnesota dance community, who were passionate in their belief that the MSHSL did not appropriately handle the plagiarism allegations against Faribault."
The district explained to Strader that he was being reprimanded "for your support of the demonstration and failure to instruct Coach Adler to not participate in the protest."
Soon after the demonstration, the Lakeville South coaches and Strader apologized to the Faribault team.
Swiggum, the Wayzata coach, could not be reached for comment.
The Faribault dancers used the similar music and wore costumes resembling those used by the Copper Hills Azurettes, an award-winning team in Utah. The similarities led to an anonymous complaint of creative plagiarism to the high school league shortly before the tournament. The high school league exonerated the team and allowed Faribault to compete in the tournament. It alerted other teams in the tournament of its decision two days before the competition.
Betsy Helfand is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.