Cloquet hockey coach to learn fate tonightThe job status of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey coach Dave Esse is expected to be resolved tonight at a Cloquet School Board meeting, the third time the board has met to discuss the future of the 14-year coach after a parental complaint to have him removed was filed Feb. 4.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
The job status of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey coach Dave Esse is expected to be resolved tonight at a Cloquet School Board meeting, the third time the board has met to discuss the future of the 14-year coach after a parental complaint to have him removed was filed Feb. 4.
The board is expected to discuss the Esse matter in a closed-door session following its regular meeting, then return to open session to vote on whether or not to renew the coach’s contract.
About 45 people signed a petition seeking Esse’s dismissal, many of whom are parents who wrote statements accusing Esse of tirades and other inappropriate behavior during the past 10 years. The News Tribune recently obtained those statements and attempted to verify each accusation. Nearly all sources contacted, however, said they preferred to remain anonymous or did not return messages seeking comment.
One who did respond is former goaltender Jordan Olean, who recounted an incident during the 2003-04 season in which Esse allegedly became upset following a loss to White Bear Lake.
“Esse came in (to the locker room) pissed and he ended up booting a half-full water bottle, hitting me (with it),” Olean said from his home in Grand Forks, N.D. “As soon as that happened, he came over and kind of buddied up to me to make it look like it wasn’t such a big deal.”
Esse, a teacher at Carlton High School, acknowledged kicking a water bottle but said that it glanced off Olean’s shoulder.
“This whole thing is absolutely ridiculous,” Esse told the News Tribune on Saturday. “Kicking a water bottle umpteen years ago — it wasn’t at anybody. Should I have done it? No. Did I try to hurt anybody? No. I asked him right away if he was OK, and he said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Olean, who as a senior lost his starting position to a freshman, says Esse’s manner changed depending on how the team played.
“When we were losing, he got angry; when we were winning, he was a nice guy,” Olean said. “He was like Jekyll and Hyde.”
The season before, according to Olean, Esse became irate after an on-ice altercation between a CEC player and a Superior player and came into the locker room and threw a folding chair.
CEC player Chris Hudspith reportedly was in the locker room at the time, but when reached at his home in Minneapolis he declined to discuss the alleged incident and stood up for his former mentor.
“I think he’s a great coach,” he said. “I think, at times, you need to speak loudly in order to be heard, especially when kids aren’t listening to you. I support him 100 percent. He teaches accountability and hard work, which help his athletes succeed both on and off the ice. Cloquet would be making a mistake by letting him go.”
Esse, who will be present at tonight’s meeting, said the school district investigated the accusation and that it is unfounded.
“Every kid on that team can verify what happened, and it’s been verified and documented (during a school district investigation) in 2003,” he said. “That’s why I can’t believe anything is coming out now. If I had done anything that they are accusing me of, I would have been fired immediately.”
Esse has retained Superior attorney Richard Gondik and is considering a legal fight.
“I have an attorney and I am going full-fledged ahead,” he said.
That likely is in response to a public campaign to oust him, mounted by Brian and Noel Michaud of Esko. The Michauds, parents of four players on the team, started a petition to remove Esse and assistant Kyle Young and solicited comments from parents and players to present to the School Board.
The Michauds, who have retained Duluth attorney Robert Mathias, have indicated they will file a lawsuit against the board, Superintendent Ken Scarbrough and athletic director Tom Lenarz if the coaching staff remains in place.
“It hasn’t happened yet, but it will if something isn’t done, the way the board is jerking us around,” Noel Michaud said. “It’s amazing to me how (the district) is trying to protect the good ol’ boys.”
Noel Michaud says she hasn’t heard anything from the administration since meeting with Lenarz during the season. At that time, she claims, Lenarz asked them to hold off on the complaint until after the season.
When reached Saturday, Lenarz said he has to remain silent until after a vote is taken.
“I would like to talk at some point, but I have to wait until after the meeting Monday,” he said. “The superintendent has said we need to wait until the School Board makes a decision before we can talk to anybody about it.”
Phone calls and an e-mail to Scarbrough were not returned. He previously stated that the board may conclude its evaluation of Esse at the meeting scheduled for tonight.