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School Board won't renew Smalley's contract

The Cloquet School Board voted Monday morning to not renew boys hockey coach Kevin Smalley's contract. Pine Journal file

In front of a standing-room-only crowd Monday morning, Cloquet School Board members voted unanimously not to renew the contract of boys varsity hockey coach Kevin Smalley.

The decision came after a special meeting by the board, which included comments from the public. It was followed by a closed meeting with only board members, Cloquet school administration and Smalley for part of the time.

Smalley was hired a year ago to lead the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey program after longtime coach Dave Esse stepped down.

Smalley submitted a resignation letter to the school district in mid-July, citing the need to focus more on his full-time job at Sinnott Blacktop, where he works in sales. However, the coach was booked into the St. Louis County Jail on July 8 on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He was released and had not yet been charged when he submitted his resignation. At the time, Smalley said the arrest did not factor into his decision.

Smalley has since rescinded that resignation, and he still hasn't been charged by St. Louis County.

During the meeting, Smalley's daughter, Kaylee Smalley, and parent and volunteer hockey coach Scott Stoyanoff addressed the board.

Kaylee Smalley (standing), daughter of coach Kevin Smalley, speaks during the School Board meeting. Jana Peterson / Pine JournalKaylee pointed out the packed room and the 15 boys hockey players sitting across the front row at 7:30 a.m. when the meeting started.

"The support of the boys should show you how good of a coach my dad is and how much they mean to him and how much the players value him as a coach and a person," she said after thanking the crowd of about 30 parents, players and community members for attending. "I can't speak for everyone, but I know the majority of these boys had a great season and they want their coach back next season. He's a good guy and good people make mistakes."

Stoyanoff compared the previous coaching administration under Esse and the current administration under Smalley, citing as an example the end-of-season hockey banquets this year and two years ago.

He said the banquet two years ago was "etched in his mind" forever, and not for good reasons.

"The morale, the somberness, the tone of those seniors as they stood up ... There was definitely something wrong," said Stoyanoff, whose son, Dane, will be a senior defensemen on this year's team. "A kid stands up there and says: 'Don't let them take the game from you. Don't let them destroy your love of hockey.'

"Go back to last season's banquet, Jed Anich stands up there and says it was the best season of his life," Stoyanoff said. "I'll never forget it."

Stoyanoff credited Smalley and his coaching with the change, noting that it should be about the kids' experience more than wins and losses.

Following audience comments, the board voted to go into closed session and asked audience members to step into the hallway, while they discussed the issue with administration and talked to Smalley, who exited the boardroom before they began deliberations.

The closed meeting lasted about 50 minutes. When the meeting reopened, the five board members voted unanimously not to renew Smalley's contract.

Board Chairman Ted Lammi reported on the closed session, then moved that the board non-renew Smalley. Board member Dan Danielson seconded the motion.

Two board members, Jim Crowley and Nate Sandman, stressed that it was a difficult decision.

"I have high expectations for coaches and the responsibility they have in the community and being leaders for our student athletes," Sandman said.

Lammi said he had no doubt Smalley would be successful in his future coaching career, but reaffirmed his decision.

The board did not specifically address the reason for the non-renewal. When asked, Cary said Smalley could submit a written request for the reason of his non-renewal.

Cloquet High School Principal Steve Battaglia explained the position was posted after Smalley tendered his resignation. They have interviews planned with several candidates and hope to bring a recommendation to the board at the regular meeting Monday, Aug. 13.