Over my 25-plus years of writing, it seems the process just gets more difficult. I try harder to get it right. I know words matter, more than ever before. This article will require my best and I can only hope that my best gets the right message across.
First, one of my and my daughter Whitney’s favorite stories. I share this story with new friends of ours and both Whitney and I usually belly laugh. It’s a great story of how difficult parenting can be, especially as children grow and gain their own perspectives which often lack the wisdom already learned by the adult parent.
We were living in White Bear Lake. Whitney is going to throw herself a 7th-8th grade birthday party. Main attendees will be her competitive cheerleading team. It’s a co-ed team. Several boys and maybe a dozen girls attend. We had an awesome family room, lower level walkout. Wood burning fireplace. Nice pool table which we used often. Great music system. We loved this room. Anyway, from upstairs it sounded as if things were going awesome. I went downstairs to check on the kids. I come around the corner and my jaw dropped in horror. Shock maybe. I first saw one of the young ladies doing what I can only describe as a “provocative” dance in front of this co-ed group. On the couch, lay two of the boys, with girls sitting on top of them in “close quarters.” It all looked to me more than inappropriate. I wouldn’t doubt that my mouth was hanging open in shocked-surprise.
Now the story gets funny. At least Whitney and I think so. As I look to my left, there is my daughter Whitney, laser beams are coming from her eyes directly into mine. And then she mouths the following word: “pervert!” I was like, “huh?” Then I was like, “what?!?”
I said, “Whitney get over here right now.” Before I could get a word out of my mouth, Whitney says, and quite firmly, “Dad, you need to get out of here right now!” I said, “Whitney, I am not leaving here until this all changes. Boys can get up off the couch, we will sit on the couch, and as for the dancing … I am sure you can figure it out.” The party was brought back to more of the kind I was expecting.
The moral of the story, is important for today’s story. Is it not interesting how two people can see the same thing, but see two completely different things?
Now to today’s story. I resigned from coaching the White Bear Lake High School girls. I love the girls and the team. I love the coaches that I coach with. The three of us coaches added together don’t come close to perfect, but we do well on the “care about our girls” scale. So I can easily live with our various mistakes as we all work together to do better. And this is a big year. It is go-time for the WBL girls as the team has become more senior- and junior-dominated. And the girls have responded, having won 10 in a row as I write this.
I was told how imperfect I was as a coach in an e-mail directed to me, copied to our head coach and also to the school’s athletic director. It was authored by one of the team’s fathers and supported by two others. In the world of the coaching of high school teams, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Lots of parental discontent in many places. As we all know, this has gone on for a long time. For me, this was my first e-mail, directed at me, at least that I am aware of.
The e-mail said that parents have had enough of me. They said I have been “unhinged,” my language unacceptable, and the kicker, I had entered the locker room this past week without knocking. These three fathers are not totally wrong. They are 100 percent right about me not knocking that particular day. That said, it is time to reiterate, is it not interesting how people can see the same thing, but not see the same thing?
The incident that broke these parents, the motivation for them to send an e-mail, one it seems they have been wanting to send for some time, was this: We had two players quite late for practice. I understood that these two players felt they had some leeway this day. But this day, I see one of the two enter the rink before me. Seeing this, I knew they would have no problem getting to the ice on time.
Team members one-by-one and two-by-two came on to the practice sheet. Then everyone was on the ice except the two. We did what teams do. Skate around. Visit with teammates. Shoot some pucks. As practice start-time came, we were still short our two. I didn’t expect them to be late at all. But we would wait a minute or two. But then it was three and four. Then six-nine. At 10, I looked at the other coaches and asked, “Should I go get ‘em?”
And I was on my way. I didn’t knock. In the e-mail, the father’s supposed, “What if these girls had not been dressed?” The girls being undressed was furthest from what I thought I might see. I wanted to know what the heck these two were doing making their team wait on them. They were adequately dressed and about a minute from being ready to get to the ice. I told them I knew the additional challenge they had taken on, but it was an elective for them, something that I was about to tell them that in my opinion, should not be allowed to affect this team.
That they or the adults around them would find coming late to our practice acceptable amazes me. I was Kevin Hartzell firm, no question, in telling them that they were thinking wrong. After the criticism of their current thinking, and to end with a little love, I reminded them of something that I have said only on a rare occasion. “I want to remind you two,” I said. “I have been a 100-percent volunteer here my entire time. I don’t take a penny. I come here because I actually love all you girls. I am here for you two and you both needed to hear this message. You cannot put yourself above the team; your being late is NOT acceptable.”
Given a “do over,” would I deliver this message to these two team members again? The answer is 100 percent yes. But I am told in the e-mail from the fathers that my language in this encounter was far from perfect. They weren’t there. That said, it is certainly possible that my language was not perfect, but I know me, my language is pretty good by a lot of people’s standards. I was also told I used the F-bomb once last year. True. Not proud of it. And these fathers contend that I have been “unhinged.” Personally, I don’t think I have ever been more calm.
I know I can be tough. But as they say, steel sharpens steel. And from my perspective, the thing I am most proud of with our team is the stronger mindset these young women are developing. I believe strongly we have won a couple of games this year because of it. And I have shared this perspective with our team. These girls have been tremendous. I have seen so many of them respond positively to some “strong” lessons in accountability with better effort and attention to detail. I couldn’t be prouder.
But this story is not about my strengths and imperfections. God knows that, like most human beings, I have plenty of both. Nor is this a story of these two girls or even the three fathers. This is a story of not knocking on the door. I hadn’t. I had complete confidence they were dressed. Nevertheless, I hadn’t knocked and the words from the fathers in the e-mail were that they were quite aware of this “sin” and not going to allow for forgiveness. I was reminded in their e-mail how bad it could have been had these girls not been dressed adequately and that I had crossed the line. They said, I had to go. After Marybeth and I both read the e-mail, I turned to her and asked in jest, “Does this disqualify me for running for the U.S. Senate?”
I didn’t think any line had been crossed. But I am aware of something very important here: Is it not interesting, that two people can see the same thing, but see two completely different things? In our current crazy world, it doesn’t matter what I think. It only matters what someone else thinks.
We are living in a crazy time. In our current world complicated by the speed of the internet, there is no due process. Folks get accused of things. It ruins some people’s lives. So when I look back on this story and in particular, that the “not knocking” was even part of the story, it is still a shock to my system.
Seeing what these fathers think of me, scares the crap out of me. Who’s to say how future events will be seen by whomever? Or how such events will be relayed to those who were not even there. Scary.
I have worked my whole life to get to this point. We just sold our business (Proguard). Marybeth and I are on a self-proclaimed two-year honeymoon. This is our time.
Upon looking at the e-mail from the fathers, Marybeth didn’t hesitate. She said, “Wow, these guys sure appreciate your contributions. You need to quit right now.” She is rarely wrong. Ironically, Marybeth, I and the three fathers all agree on this. I needed to quit. But of course, we had different reasons.
In the end, for me anyway, this is a story of how far off-track society has become on a number of levels. Parents and sports. I was hopeful sports were a ticket out of the need for future college campus “safe spaces.” I don’t hear anything about safe spaces going away. With the aid of current technologies, we seem to have given up on the idea of due process. Also, right at the top of my list of our society being “off track.” And knowing the disdain these fathers have for me, who knows what could happen next.
As I was thinking of sharing this story in LPH, I asked Marybeth, should I write this or is it too personal? And might it affect some girls on the team in a bad way? In typical Marybeth fashion (and she is tougher than most), she said, “Share it … it’s good for everyone, including these girls, to think about all this stuff.”
Is it not interesting how two people can see the same thing, but see two completely different things? Feeling in a foreign world where I am unsure of the new normal, I think I am safest just sitting some things out. That includes coaching girls’ hockey.
A St. Paul native and forward for the University of Minnesota from 1978-82, Kevin Hartzell coached in the USHL from 1983-89 with the St. Paul Vulcans and from 2005-12 with the Sioux Falls Stampede. He was the head coach of Lillehammer in Norway’s GET-Ligaen from 2012-14. His columns have appeared in Let’s Play Hockey since the late 1980s. His book “Leading From the Ice” is available at amazon.com.