Parent: Hockey team has been 'cheating'

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Did Janesville’s violation of WIAA rules give its high school hockey team an unfair advantage?

That’s what Bluebirds hockey parent Michael Scieszinski believes.

In an Oct. 7 letter to the WIAA, Scieszinski wrote:

“It’s time for Janesville to own up to their cheating over the last eight years and have two high school hockey teams in Janesville. This will provide many more students the chance to play high school hockey … It’s time to level the playing field and make it fair for all Wisconsin’s high school teams that have to compete with the Janesville co-op high school ‘elite’ hockey team.”

The co-op team is a combination of players from Craig and Parker high schools. It is allowed because district officials have certified to the WIAA that Parker has not had enough players to field a team on its own.

Certainly, the Bluebirds could have benefited from the opportunity to get the best players from both high schools, with a student base of more than 3,000, while other high schools have much smaller enrollments. But the WIAA has allowed the co-op to exist even with the disparity in enrollments.

Coach John Mauermann counters that the Bluebirds have never been a dominant team. Even in the year the Bluebirds went to the state tournament, the team was below .500 well into the season, he said.

Mauermann adds that when he coached Parker before the co-op, “Madison (teams) always wanted us to be more competitive, because they would come down and pound us whenever we were by ourselves.”

Dave Anderson, the WIAA’s deputy director, said he doesn’t know if the violations gave the Bluebirds an unfair advantage.

“The members do get upset when another member doesn’t abide by the rules, and not to mention parents in (Janesville),” Anderson said.

Violations of the no-cut rule are infrequent, Anderson said. For the most part, teams abide by the rules and seek “to provide opportunities, not to create a culture of cherry-picking or ‘only the best’ or that kind of thing.”

Janesville School District Athletics Director Kevin Porter said the cuts couldn’t affect the quality of the team’s play.

“I don’t think so whatsoever, from the standpoint of, you’re going to play the best players whether you cut or you don’t cut. It’s high school varsity athletics. Part of your objective is to win games. … It’s no different from any other sport that we have at the high schools.”

The WIAA does not require teams to give everyone a chance to play, Anderson said.

Mauermann had this to say Wednesday:

“The most important thing for a young kid, to feel good about themselves, is to play. And that’s what we’ve tried to do in the past. Everybody had a chance to play someplace, and that’s what we did, and I feel good about that. And when they got to the high school level, juniors-seniors, and they were academically eligible, they were on our team.”

Who knew what, when?

The Janesville Bluebirds, a co-op hockey team that includes students from Craig and Parker high schools, goes back to 1991. Here’s a timeline on the controversy over the team’s violation of the WIAA no-cut policy for co-op teams, gleaned from documents obtained by The Janesville Gazette and interviews:

1991: John Mauermann begins coaching the combined Craig-Parker hockey team, the Bluebirds, in the first year of the co-op agreement with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association.

1993: Mauermann leaves the Bluebirds after he is suspended for “practice violations,” according to a Janesville Gazette report. Mauermann becomes head coach of the Beloit Memorial High School team.

1999: Mauermann returns to coach the Bluebirds. In a meeting, district officials counsel Mauermann on how to tell less skilled players that they might not get as much ice time on the high school team as they would on a club team, according to a later investigative report. The report references a 1999 letter that summarized the meeting in which officials discussed “the most direct and compassionate way to inform students whether or not they had made the team. It is clear from reading this letter that the school officials intended Coach Mauermann to cut players from the co-op team, at least in 1999.”

2005-06: Mauermann cuts players, according to school district officials. The district investigation later states that “players were cut between 1999 and 2006,” but 2005-06 is the only year that the district has admitted cutting occurred.

2006: November—Janesville School District Athletics Director Kevin Porter, in his second year on the job, attends a conference for athletics directors and learns that the WIAA has a no-cut policy for co-op teams. Mauermann later tells investigators that this was the year he first heard of the policy, and no cuts were made after that.

2007: Sometime in March—Superintendent Tom Evert and school board President Dennis Vechinsky sign the latest two-year agreement for the co-op team with WIAA. The agreement states that the reason for the agreement is “we do not have enough students at Janesville Parker to form their own team.”

March 13—Several hockey parents complain to Porter about Mauermann’s conduct, including allegations that he cut players and encouraged others to quit the team.

March 28—Attorneys Sara Gehrig and Timothy Lindau of Nowlan & Mouat law firm complete an investigation for the district administration into the parents’ allegations. The report concludes that Mauermann violated school policy by using “excessively profane and degrading language toward players in practices and games.” It also concludes Mauermann did not knowingly violate the WIAA no-cut policy. Mauermann told investigators he did not see the policy in writing until 2006. The report says that evidence shows Mauermann, from 1999 to 2006, encouraged less-qualified players to play club hockey. The report states this encouragement does not violate WIAA policy, but the WIAA later said that “counseling out” is not allowed.

Sometime in March—The administration imposes on Mauermann a five-game suspension without pay, in the event his contract was renewed, and recommends he take anger-management and effective-communication courses. Later, the high school principals decide not to renew Mauermann’s contract for 2007-08.

April 30—Hockey parent Michael F. Scieszinski requests the school board review the March 13 complaint from parents, apparently not knowing about the previous discipline of Mauermann.

May 4—School board President Debra Kolste is formally informed of the complaint and the attorneys’ investigation.

May 15—The school board meets in closed session.

May 22—The board holds another closed meeting and votes 5-3 to reinstate Mauermann as coach but impose the five-game suspension without pay and require him to take an anger-management course.

May 25—The school board meets again in closed session and approves a written version of their decision on a 6-2 vote with one abstention. The meeting includes considerable disagreement among board members, but the minutes in all three meetings say almost nothing about what board members say.

June 6—Porter sends a letter notifying the WIAA that the team violated the no-cut policy in November 2005. “The coaching staff and administration were unaware of the ‘no-cut policy’ until so informed … in the fall of 2006,” Porter wrote. “Subsequently, the coaching staff informed the administration that they had made cuts in the past.”

Aug. 7—Porter sends a follow-up letter to WIAA, stating that Mauermann had been given a five-game suspension from coaching, without pay, at the beginning of the 2007-08 season and that he was required to take courses in anger management and effective communication. The letter does not tell the WIAA that Mauermann’s suspension was for using degrading language.

Aug. 23—WIAA sends a letter to Porter, saying the Bluebirds are on probation through the end of the 2008-09 season for violating the no-cut rule.

Sept. 10—WIAA sends a letter to Scieszinski, responding to Scieszinski’s previous inquiries and referencing the terms of the probation, including: “The district will provide the WIAA with participation levels of all youth hockey programs (in grades 6 and up), and that information will be a part of consideration if attempts are made to renew the current cooperative agreement.”

Around Sept. 10—Porter said he informs Mauermann of the probation. Mauermann said Porter claims he had given him an envelope with the information at a booster club meeting, but Mauermann doesn’t recall it happening.

Sept. 14—Evert sends a confidential memo to the school board, saying he had just learned the team is on probation, including this statement: “I am not happy to have been informed three weeks after the fact and am following up as to why this occurred.” Porter says Evert was notified “within days” of Porter receiving the Aug. 23 WIAA letter.

Sept. 26—Mauermann and other coaches meet with hockey parents and players to explain expectations for the upcoming season.

Oct. 5—Mauermann said he first hears of the probation from Porter.

Oct. 7—The Janesville Gazette publishes an article by Stan Milam, detailing the WIAA probation. Hockey parent Michael Scieszinski sends a three-page letter to the WIAA, complaining at what he saw as Mauermann’s attempts to “counsel out” players at the Sept. 26 meeting. Scieszinski copies the letter to Evert, who sends copies to Mauermann, the school board and other school officials.

Oct. 8—Evert sends a memo to school board members, reacting to Milam’s article. Evert tells the board: “Mr. Porter states he did show Mr. Mauermann the letter that the hockey program would be on probation. He also discussed this with Mr. Mauermann.”

Sometime last week—WIAA director Doug Chickering has a conference call with district officials asking for information related to Scieszinski’s letter.

According to Porter’s response to questions on “The Stan Milam Show” on Wednesday, Chickering threatened sanctions against the team, including a ban from the state tournament, if the district is not forthcoming.

Porter said Wednesday that the district is preparing a response.

Last updated: 7:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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