School board reinstates six Elk River coaches, with punishmentsby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
Elk River, Minn. — The Elk River High School football team will have its entire coaching staff back on the sidelines this week, after the district's school board voted last night to reinstate them.
Six coaches were on paid leave in the wake of a hazing incident that also saw nine players disciplined. Even with the reinstatement, the coaches are being disciplined as well -- and will learn what those punishments are in coming days. The school board's only actions Tuesday night were to unanimously approve resolutions calling for six Elk River coaches to be disciplined, including head coach Mike Cross.
Board members would not detail those punishments, citing data privacy laws. But Superintendent Mark Bezek at least answered the big question that was on the minds of the 100 or so people gathered at the meeting.
"All of our coaches -- all of our coaches -- will be on the field this Friday evening for the game," Bezek told the crowd.
That means the coaches will be disciplined in a way that will be marked on their employment file at the Elk River School District, but not in a way that keeps them away from the team any longer. Those coaches are head coach Mike Cross and five assistants: Mike Breyen, Mark Leland, Rick Michalak, Brad Olson, and John Pink.
The actions stem from a hazing incident last month that initially led to the suspension of the entire football program. Nine players were later disciplined, including four who were removed from the team.
Police say players reported being struck or poked by other players with a broom handle on their backsides and legs. No injuries were ever reported and no criminal charges have been filed.
The district has only said that a hazing incident occurred, though Bezek said last night there were indications that some of the players who did the hazing this year had been the recipients of it in previous years.
Bezek also reiterated his belief that the district acted appropriately and he called the parents who first reported the hazing 'courageous.'
"When these things happen, they have to feel confident that when they report that, things are going to happen - we're going to take them seriously," Bezek said. "We have to move very quickly on this piece and do what's right."
The decision to reinstate the coaches pleased Sandy Pink -- she's the wife of assistant coach John Pink, who wasn't allowed to be on the sidelines last week during Elk River's season opening loss.
"He's going to be very happy," Pink said. "He's the quarterback coach and he's a great coach, and I'm happy it's done, it's over. The team can move on, people can move on, the families can move on."
None of the coaches were on hand for last night's meeting, but Bill Hjertstedt, president of the Elk River teachers' union, spoke on their behalf. He said he had no indication that the coaches knew what was happening or were present when the hazing took place.
"I have complete confidence that these coaches adequately supervised the students," Hjertstedt said. "As parents, it's difficult -- nearly impossible -- to know where every teenager is every second of every day."
The district still isn't releasing the report that a lawyer prepared after investigating the hazing allegations, but officials said some parts of that report might become public at a later time.
Officials also said they'll review facilities to see if any physical changes are needed. That's because officials say the wrestling room where the hazing took place was both an easy place to hide in, and a room that had to stay unlocked to comply with fire codes.
- Morning Edition, 09/08/2010, 7:20 a.m.