Board votes to retain CEC hockey coach after investigationDave Esse will remain as the head coach of the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team after a 4-1 vote by the Cloquet School Board at its Monday night meeting.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
Dave Esse will remain as the head coach of the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team after a 4-1 vote by the Cloquet School Board at its Monday night meeting.
The board met in a pair of closed sessions — both before and after its scheduled meeting — to discuss the job status of the 14-year head coach, who was the subject of a complaint filed by parents of current and former Cloquet hockey players. At the end of the second closed session, the board members returned and voted to retain Esse as coach for another year.
“Obviously, I’m very happy about [the decision],” Esse said after the meeting. “I left the decision in the hands of my superiors.”
The complaint accused Esse of using intimidation tactics and violating the Minnesota State High School League’s code of ethics in alleged incidents dating back to 2003.
One of the complainants was longtime Cloquet youth hockey coach Brian Michaud. Three of his sons — senior captain Beau, junior wing Weston and sophomore wing Dylan — played on this year’s CEC team.
Michaud attended the board meeting with his wife, Noel, and members of his family, but left before the board began its post-meeting closed session.
Afterward, Michaud said he had been informed that Esse’s status would not come up for a vote at the meeting.
Initially, the agenda item pertaining to Esse was pulled off the agenda by Board Chairman Gary Huard, but then reinstated by the board on a 3-2 vote after a 75-minute closed-door conference call between the board and the district’s attorneys.
More than 100 onlookers attended the meeting at various points. Many remained throughout the 77-minute post-meeting closed session, and supporters greeted the board vote to retain Esse with a standing ovation.
Huard, who cast the only vote against retaining Esse and whose grandson played on this year’s CEC team, did not attend the second closed meeting, although he remained in the building.
Huard said Tuesday that his vote against Esse was not a judgment of the coach but rather an indictment of the process used to evaluate him, which he said did not give sufficient opportunity for complainants to make their views known.
Huard also said he never thought about recusing himself from the vote due to having a relative on the team.
“Maybe I should have, in hindsight,” Huard said. “That didn’t enter into my realm of thinking. Things didn’t change because I voted no, but I have no animosity toward Dave Esse. [His vote] was over the way the process went down.”
Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said Tuesday that the evaluation process was both complete and within the law, and guided by the school district’s attorney.
Board members Duane Buytaert, Dave Battaglia, Dan Danielson and Jim Crowley took part in the second closed meeting, which also involved Esse and CHS Activities Director Tom Lenarz.
Lenarz said he received numerous allegations against Esse from community members and players and was thorough in his due diligence.
“I know that was a concern for some people,” Lenarz said. “Some of the allegations were from events that took place before I was athletic director so we did the best we could to reach people in our investigation. Some of the allegations came from people who did not submit [the complaint], so we tried to reach them all. That took about six weeks.”
“A lot of the allegations were from five, six, seven, eight years ago and were never reported,” Lenarz added. “That took time to track down. But in the end, we investigated fully and Dave Esse knows I support him.”
Counting Monday’s meeting and the attorney phone call, the board discussed Esse’s status in four closed sessions totaling over five hours.
The Michaud family expressed disappointment at the decision but agreed Monday night with Huard’s later assessment of the process.
“I had two sons who were never talked to [by district officials] and who wanted to talk,” Noel Michaud said. “I’m just appalled that this happened. I can’t put it into words.”
The Michauds also would not rule out potential legal action against the school district.
“We’ll talk with our attorney (Duluth lawyer Robert Mathias) and go from there,” Brian Michaud said.
“I’m just relieved that this part of it is over,” Lenarz said.