Not Eudora   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 School.

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

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