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Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published April 30, 2003

Mr. Randolph Wants to Know

Crusades can suck all the oxygen out of a fire and leave it smoldering. That seems to have happened in Duluth over Mike Randolph. Every other crisis facing the school district has been left gasping for breath. Iím about to step into this smoldering controversy hoping against hope not to cause a back draft and a raging inferno.

 

Over the last month, Iíve spent five hours meeting with Mike and dozens of hours on the phone with his supporters. Iíve read many complaints from his detractors and spoken to the few of them willing to identify themselves. They no longer have any real anonymity. Mike and his supporters know who said what except for ďDeep Throat.Ē  One person called an administrator and apologized for attending the Randolph Rallies because he was afraid that, if he didnít, Mike would exact revenge on his son. It hasnít been easy trying to figure out what the truth is with all the paranoia but this is what I think I can safely say:

 

Mike took over a team of rich, spoiled, undisciplined kids that no other team wanted to play. (One kid kicked the urinals off the wall in a Grand Rapids locker room). The coach faced down the player's high powered parents and molded them into a polite and winning team. He was the first coach at East High School to take a community brimming over with hockey talent and make East High a regular competitor at the State tournament. In doing this, however, he has come perilously close to embodying the philosophy that: ďwinning isnít everything, itís the only thing.Ē

 

I can easily picture young parents taking their ten-year old boys, best friends, to an East Division squirt hockey practice one day and waking up the next hating each other because one childís talents have been nourished while the less talented child has been allowed to languish. Mikeís philosophy permeates the entire youth hockey system and people either love Mike or hate him.

 

The School Administration has simply followed state law by leaving the School Board out of the loop in its decision making. Normally this is just the way things are but this time the Coach has demanded an explanation. His demands have been echoed by Hockey families and now the larger public wants to know if the Administrationís decision was justified. That has left me, a politician subject to the court of public opinion, to scramble to learn all about this subject which, until now, has been foreign to me.

 

Until today Mike Randolph was the only coach who ever called me regularly. He praised me for my lonely quest to close a high school. I was particularly grateful that he expressed no preference about whether we should close East or Central High School . Coach Randolph told me he barely had enough hockey players to choose from with our declining student population.

 

And itís not just a shrinking population that has limited Mikeís choices. Itís not unusual for a family to spend tens of thousands over their childís hockey career. Only a select group of families can afford a couple yearsí worth of college tuition to nurture their childrenís ambition. After spending this kind of money such parents depend on Mikeís program to get their kidís a college scholarship. But it takes more than hockey skills to get a scholarship.

 

The most moving testimonial at last weekís pro-Randolph extravaganza came from a father whose son was benched until he buckled down academically. This doesnít seem to be the typical experience for Mikeís hockey kids.

 

Despite High School League rules to the contrary Mike has enforced a mandatory Sunday training regimen. He takes kids out of class hours before they need to get on the bus to drive to away games. In a hundred small ways an East Hockey playerís time is eaten up until only hockey remains. As a result many hockey players experienced significant declines in their grades during the hockey season. Lousy grades donít earn scholarships.

 

The DAHA (Duluth Area Hockey Assn) born in the heart-warming glow of the Fryberger team that skated all the way to Madison Square Garden in the 1950ís has given way to three unequal divisions, West, Central and East. As hockey has become the province of the rich the West and Central Divisions have withered.

 

Somehow the East division, which should be open to all children living in the eastern part of the city, has become the East High School division. Marshall Students who live out East are routinely blackballed from the East Division teams. At least thatís what some parents maintain.

 

Last night when I met again with Mike, I told him that it appeared that there were three strikes against him whether they were true or not. The first, and least important to me, is recruiting. Iíve been told that recruiting is as common in Minnesota (especially at Duluth East) as malaria is in the Congo . Mike utterly denies recruiting. I donít know who to believe.

 

I told Mike that financial irregularities were probably the second reason for the decision. Lots of money has been raised. Not all of it has been accounted for. Or has it? I donít know. Our Internal Auditorís report which does not include all the receipts of the hockey boosterís club has gone to the State Auditor. Maybe something will come out of this. Certainly the anonymous allegations that money has gone into peopleís pockets are worrisome. I particularly dislike the idea that kids who have raised money for the team can be cut after turning it in.

 

Finally, and most importantly, is the issue of the treatment of our kids. I donít care how flawed the decision making process may have been if kids have been mistreated. I understand that some of the East Hockey players who havenít defended the coach enthusiastically have gotten into fights with his more ardent supporters. Its stories like this, and they may just be stories, that give me pause. On the other hand, I canít just shrug off the compelling testimony of so many people who rushed to Mikeís defense, especially from Mikeís former players.

 

Mikeís supporters tell me that if they donít get satisfaction from the School District , they will have no other choice but to examine the principalís motivation publicly. If that happens I think it will be necessary to have a serious investigation of the unpleasant things Iíve just written about as well. As our Director of Operations predicted, things have gotten ugly. So be it. Mr. Randolph wants to know.

 

Harry Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com

I don't hear back from many people about my columns but I did get one critical email on this one. You can read it and my reply, and the reply to my reply.

For more than you can possibly want to know about the Mike Randolph controversy click here