|4/30/2020 12:51:00 PM|
Arhart non-renewed as boys hockey coach Monday, many speak out on Thursday
The Chisago Lakes School Board held a special teleconference meeting on Monday, April 13 for personnel and CLEM updates.
A majority of the meeting was closed to the public, but when they reconvened after the closed session, the board announced they would not be renewing the contract of boys hockey coach Cale Arhart.
Arhart, a Chisago Lakes alumni, was 35-33-1 in two and a half seasons at the helm of the program. In both of his full time seasons, the boys made it to at least the final four of the section tournament.
He took over in January of 2018 when then-Head Coach Paul Gibson and three of his assistants resigned in the middle of the season.
The boys finished that tumultuous season out 4-8-1 under Arhart, including a win in the first round of sections. In 2018-19, Arhart’s first full season behind the bench, the team went 16-12 and earned a spot in the section championship game, falling just short of the state tournament.
This season, the boys went 15-13 and upset second-seeded North Branch in the section quarterfinals before falling in the semifinals to eventual section runner up Pine City.
There was an issue early in this season in which Arhart was suspended for a two week stretch. At the time, the activities office gave no comment, but district Superintendent Dean Jennissen said, “Mr. Arhart will return to coaching on Friday, December 6, 2019. In Mr. Arhart’s absence, Activities Director Jodi Otte is the acting head coach. Alli Borgstrom, will continue to assist Ms. Otte in that role until Mr. Arhart returns.”
The suspension was later described as being due to a lack of supervision by the head coach during picture day early in the season, which is considered a practice.
The decision not to renew Arhart’s contract was approved unanimously by the board. When reached for comment after the meeting, Jennissen said, “The district has chosen to not renew Mr. Arhart’s contract. We believe the program would benefit from new leadership. We thank Mr. Arhart for his service and wish him well.”
Arhart, who wanted to continue coaching Chisago Lakes and spoke of his desire to build a home and start a family in the area, said that he’s had a problem with the communication aspect of the situation. The boys hockey season ended on Saturday, February 22 with a loss to Pine City in the section semi-finals.
For the next five days, Arhart and his assistants began to put together the off-season program and plan for summer sessions.
He said he was called in for a meeting on Thursday, February 27 with High School Principal Dave Ertl and Chisago Lakes Director of Human Resources Darci Peckman-Krueger. In that meeting, Arhart says, he was told he was being placed under investigation and that we was not to have any contact with players or parents until the district came to a resolution of that investigation. Arhart said he asked what he was being investigated for and the district would not tell him. “They did mention that I would be brought in at a later date for my side of the story,” he continued.
However, Arhart says he was never brought in for his side. He also said his assistants were never contacted as part of the investigation, despite one of them, Brady Peterson, reaching out to the district for some resolution, as they were attempting to figure out off-season plans. To this day, according to Arhart, he has no clue what he was being investigated for. He said it was 49 days from contact between himself and the district, and that was to inform him that his contract would not be renewed.
At the regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday, April 16, Arhart and many of his supporters took part in the open forum portion of the meeting.
Current players, former players, former coaches, assistant coaches and co-workers who are involved in high school hockey all vouched for Arhart and the passion he had for the Wildcat program.
Borgstrom, a CL grad who was Arhart’s assistant coach throughout his tenure as well as a fourth grade teacher at Lakeside Elementary, was emotional as she talked about Arhart. Borgstrom, who was an All-American and MIAC Player of the Year for St. Thomas, said she was going to play professionally overseas after her college career ended but stayed home to teach and coach at Chisago Lakes instead. “I only applied for one teaching job, and it was in Chisago Lakes and when I got that job, it was the only thing that kept me here,” she explained as she fought back tears. “I figured I’d be coaching in the girls program, but Cale gave me this opportunity. He is fun, passionate, and knowledgeable about hockey and Chisago Lakes. He’s a phenomenal coach, person and friend.”
Three former and current players explained how much they enjoyed playing for Arhart and the energy he brought to the team. “He was fun, but he worked us hard and he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He cared about us and the school,” one said.
“I wouldn’t want any other coach than Cale. He gave me all he had. He’s the best big game coach I’ve played for, and he’s one of the big reasons we made it as far as we did every year in sections,” another said.
Dustin Vogelsang also spoke on behalf of Arhart. He works with him and has firsthand experience coaching, as he’s the current boys hockey Head Coach at East Ridge High School in Woodbury.
“The amount of time Cale and I spent discussing hockey and how to make our kids better players and better men is astounding. I’ve been in coaching for 17 years and I don’t know of a better coach than Cale. You guys have lost an amazing man and coach.” he said before directing some terse words to the board. “The best part of my job besides the kids is knowing that the administration and booster club I work with has my back 100 percent. It will be hard for Chisago Lakes to find a good coach if administration doesn’t have their back.”
Arhart himself was the last participant in the open forum discussion. He described some of the communication issues he had with the district and with Activities Director Jodi Otte. In one instance, he said, Otte contacted him and said hockey players were being rude in school. Arhart said he asked for examples and asked what they were doing, and Otte gave no details and told him to serve consequences to those players.
“I consulted with one of the parents after that happened twice, and that parent heard nothing from the district or AD. But the punishment had to be from me, not the district,” Arhart said during open forum.
On January 2, 2020, Arhart said he got an e-mail and call from a parent that a player was being bullied in the locker room and they were concerned with the mental well being of the child.
“I immediately escalated it to the AD given the topic and she said she would take care of it. I was told it was one of my captains and asked for evidence so I could coach to it,” Arhart said. “And [Otte] simply replied I need to do something about it and there needs to be consequences. She never followed up or offered any suggestions as to how.”
Arhart continued, “Most recently, when a picture was taken with a coaches white board, I called the AD on how to respond. She never called me back. Instead, she consulted with another hockey parent and they decided how to handle it. Never once did she contact me, respond to parents or defend me. I had to respond to parents and I got reprimanded for it. Of course I’m going to defend my coaches and my players, that’s what good leaders do.
“I’ve never heard of someone being fired in secrecy,” he said. “Or not knowing what they were fired for or not getting a chance to defend themselves. If things needed to change, communicate with me.
“You’re letting go of a staff that year over year, the boys hockey team GPA increased. We had zero suspensions. We’ve created a pen pal program with the elementary school. We have the fewest paid coaches in the M8C with two. Monticello has five, North Branch has four.
Arhart ended his open forum by saying, “ A big thanks to the people that have supported me. Especially senior parents this year and last. To the coaching staff, I’ll cherish that time we spent evaluating players and coming up with plans. And to the players, thank you. The door remains open, you’ve got my number.”
Since it was open forum, the board did not respond to anything that was said, as that’s common practice. Otte had no comment after Monday’s board meeting in which Arhart was non-renewed.