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Recruiting allegations unfounded, district says

District 833 administrators said claims that East Ridge High School representatives tried to recruit Park High School student athletes to play Raptor sports were unfounded.

There has been no violation of policies prohibiting school officials from contacting students of another school about transferring to participate in a sport, said District 833 Assistant Superintendent Keith Ryskoski.

"Based on what we heard - and in many cases (involved) some contradictory or conflicting information - we determined that there was clearly no violation," Ryskoski said.

The review did, however, identify a need to better coordinate timing of the high schools' presentations to middle school students about each high school's extracurricular offerings, Ryskoski said. There were concerns about early presentations by East Ridge and Woodbury representatives.

The findings came after Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel went to the district requesting a review of recruiting allegations. Also, students told the South Washington County Bulletin in interviews that they were contacted by East Ridge representatives about transferring schools.

Kuemmel's information prompted administrators to conduct an internal review. The review involved meetings of Ryskoski and the three district high schools' activities directors - Kuemmel, Jason Schultz of Woodbury and East Ridge's Trent Hanson, who was at the center of the allegations but said they were "false claims."

Following the district's internal review, Hanson said he believed no one at East Ridge broke Minnesota State High School League rules.

"I am disheartened by the recruiting allegations levied against East Ridge High School and myself," Hanson said. "Integrity is the foundation upon which my professional practice as an educator is built. The hundreds of colleagues and thousands of families who have ever worked with me throughout my thirteen years in education know the truth about my committed, honest approach and consistent candor in decision-making."

Hanson had declined comment for a previous Bulletin story on the allegations, but said he did so at the district's request "to preserve the integrity of the district (internal review)."

The allegations involved underclassmen who are standout players for Park with at least two years left of high school football. Park's football team was winless last fall. East Ridge went 7-3 in only the team's secondyear. Park, in Cottage Grove, and East Ridge, in Woodbury, are in separate attendance boundaries, but the district has a policy allowing intra-district transfers. Recruiting students from another school to play sports is a violation of MSHSL policy.

"The district desires strong activities programs at each of our schools," a District 833 statement read. "This has been and continues to be among our goals for comprehensive high schools."

"We take all concerns seriously, while considering all aspects that are involved in a particular issue."

Hanson: I 'never

initiated contact'

Prompting the district's internal review were allegations from a Park freshman who said he was contacted by Hanson and other school representatives about transferring to East Ridge. Hanson dismissed claims involving "this or any other student."

"I have never initiated contact or solicited the transfer of any student-athlete to ERHS," Hanson said in a written response to the Bulletin. "Not only is doing so unethical but this would also be an injustice to the great families of our Raptor community that I serve each day. The only conversations I've ever engaged in with non-East Ridge families are when they initiate contact. These conversations are rare, isolated, and the conversation is focused exclusively on the MSHSL transfer bylaw and referral to District 833 student information officials."

Another standout Park football player said he was approached by an East Ridge player at Park High School with information about the Raptors program and how to contact the East Ridge coach and activities director. The student said he was never contacted directly by Hanson or any administrator or coach from East Ridge High School.

"Our coaches have never done so, and would never consider such a tactic that violates ethical and MSHSL rules," Hanson said.

Hanson said intra-district transfer statistics show that more East Ridge students moved to Park than there have been Park students transferring to East Ridge. Only four of 12 Park students who have transferred to East Ridge play sports, he said.

"The perception among select district constituents that East Ridge is intentionally targeting Park High School students is false and unfounded," he said. "Based on factual data, Park is a direct benefactor from the intra-district transfer process, with more students and athletes coming in than going out."

Claims fell

in 'gray area'

MSHSL Associate Director Craig Perry said the league does not comment whether it is involved in an investigation, and said any questions about alleged recruiting should go through the school district.

District administrators provided few details of the internal review, but Ryskoski said the process did include talking to students and parents. He didn't elaborate on those conversations.

The district's conclusion contradicts earlier statements made by students and a parent.

"I think it's probably a gray area," Ryskoski said. "I don't think anybody can clearly say this is absolutely what happened. As you talk to more people, the story is not as clear as it might be when you talk to one person."

Kuemmel said he went to the administration because "a ton" of recruiting rumors and allegations had left the community "pretty upset."

"It came to the point where I had to look into them," Kuemmel told the Bulletin prior to the conclusion of the district's internal review last week.

Hanson said he and his staff already know MSHSL rules and abide by them. Hanson said he doesn't see a need to increase training in the area.

"We will continue to serve our students in a first-class manner and look forward to celebrating further successes with our Raptor families," Hanson wrote.