By Harry Welty
Published May 13, 2003
Coach on the Bubble
The Duluth School District will lay off 72 teachers this year. We may lay off a
similar number next year. School Board members are arguing about whether a high
school will close after next year or in three years. Our secondary schools will
only offer six class periods a day next year rather than seven. Elementary
schools will close. Bus schedules will be less convenient. Choices will be
limited. And, oh yes, there will be a new hockey coach at Duluth East High
I can count noses. Last Tuesday, at the Human Resource Committee meeting, it was
obvious that a clear majority of the Board of Education has no interest in
hearing any more testimony about the former, and storied, East High hockey
coach, Mike Randolph.
I had promised Mike, another informal hearing at the HR Committee. When I heard
that two other school board members had put the subject on the agenda I didn't
bother doing it myself. Unfortunately, the issue was placed under the Education Committee agenda instead, and was limited to a discussion of
"the process" for addressing athletic grievances.
Most of the School Board members were at the HR committee and it was all I could
do to get ten minutes for Mr. Randolph's ardent supporters. Ten minutes
stretched to 25 before the Board went on to its regularly scheduled
Business Committee meeting with its own behemoth agenda.
I'm tired of this controversy too. I'd much prefer to write about something else
this week like, for instance, the possibility of gunplay at my daughter's summer
wedding. Instead, I've acceded to my editor's request to write more about
hockey. The Reader is in a tizzy because people have actually been asking for
copies of the Reader with my last Randolph column. Publishers have no shame.
So, the Randolph supporters asked the Board ten tough questions. Big deal. I was
laying for Mike and had 30 questions for him until the rest of the Board cut my
legs off at the knees. After passing my questions out, in all their
insinuating glory, I was only able to ask one lousy question about a possible
conflict of interest before we plowed ahead with the Business Committee.
For the next three hours the east hockey coaches poured over my insinuating
questions, which were mostly based on months or years of rumors about the
program. After the Business Committee adjourned the coaches were ready for me.
Embarrassed at having muffed the HR agenda setting and encumbered with a bad
case of Minnesota nice I heard them out until the evening news. They in their
turn sacrificed watching the final game of the Stanley Cup.
The coaches had eminently reasonable sounding answers for all my nasty
questions. Knowing so little about East end hockey life I was in no position to
argue with them. They were every bit as sincere and credible as the people I've
talked to who are critical of the hockey program. I am not a human lie detector and I don't have King Solomon's power to slice a baby in two
to determine who its real mother is.
Nothing has changed. The three issues I proffered in last week's column
Recruiting, Financial irregularities and Player treatment, still loom large. I
will go to my grave not knowing exactly what happened in Duluth East hockey. My
credulity has been so reduced that I now believe whatever the last person, who
has talked to me about East hockey, has to say.
Hockey coaches are the guys who decide which players will make the team. Kids
who might or might not make the cut are said to be "on the bubble."
It's a subjective decision. The contract that the coaches play under gives the same power to a building principal subject to the approval of the principal's
superiors. Mike Randolph was on the bubble like so many of his own players
before him. Now his bubble has burst.
Whatever happened with East Hockey I can confidently tell people that Mike
Randolph is beloved by many of his past players. They have learned much from
Mike and still use his life lessons.
Two of my favorite principals, Larry Johnson and Terry Cottingham, both say that
Mike is an exemplary teacher at Stowe Elementary School and that Mike
particularly likes working with kids who don't enjoy all of life's advantages.
If Mike is a Jeckle and Hyde I've not seen it. Of course, for a brief time I've
held Mike's fate in my hands as a member of the School Board. I'm not one of the
awkward, impressionable teenagers hoping to make Mike's team. I
can guarantee that as long as Mike shows the world the same face that he's shown
me, he will be beloved and admired by all who meet him.
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com
more than you can possibly want to know about the Mike Randolph controversy