Sauter steps down from hockey program

Coaching staff frustrated by perceived parental influence

Ryan Sauter resigned from his post as Forest Lake’s varsity girls hockey coach on Friday, April 11.

Ryan Sauter
Ryan Sauter

The former head coach spent three seasons with the program, tallying a record of 27-41-5. His tenure included a Section 7AA championship and state tournament appearance in 2013.

Sauter said he made his decision following a meeting with Forest Lake Activities Director Joel Olson and High School Principal Steve Massey at the season’s close.

“A lot of factors went into this decision, which was a very difficult one for me,” Sauter said. “The program hasn’t had a head coach for more than three years, and the turnover rate has been a problem for the program.”

Assistant coach Paul Bailey will not be returning to the program either, which also factored into Sauter’s resignation. Bailey was voted the Section 7AA Assistant Coach of the Year this winter.

“The first thing they said in the meeting was that ‘Bails’ was not allowed back, even though nothing in those reviews had anything negative to do with Bailey,” Sauter said.

Sauter said Bailey had written the School Board about the need for more structure within the administration.

Olson and Massey declined to comment on specifics.

“What I would say is I can’t get into personnel discussions due to data privacy, so I can’t go there,” Massey said. “My answer in response is of a general nature – that programs are evaluated by the administration, including the activities office, then recommendations for moving forward are discussed and put in place.”

Prior to Sauter, Jeff Neidt was the head coach for three years. Heidi Link preceded Neidt for one season, and Paul Kendrick coached in an interim role for two seasons before that.

Current junior varsity coach Rick Shelafoe has been with the program for eight years. The Forest Lake resident said the program has had difficulty with parents. He said this winter, with the team coming off its second state appearance in 12 years, was the worst.

“They are on an agenda for their kids, basically,” Shelafoe said. “I think Ryan basically resigned because the administration did not stick up for him. After three or four times in parent meetings, we asked Joel and Steve eye to eye if they would have our backs and they said, ‘Don’t worry, we have your backs.’ And then in the interview, they didn’t.”

According to Sauter, six of 32 players’ parents submitted negative coaching evaluation forms through the Forest Lake activities website at the end of the year. Some parents warned their daughters would leave the program if Sauter remained the head coach, he said.

Massey said the forms are just one tool for  evaluation.

“I would say that players and parents are asked to provide feedback after an evaluation process,” he said. “Those are read and considered, but parents are not involved in what changes may be needed in a program.”

Shelafoe is unsure of whether to continue with the program now that Sauter and Bailey have left.

“I loved coaching with them — they knew their stuff,” Shelafoe said. “What happened is the administration buckled to a grip of parents who banded together.”

Bailey said in his 15 years of coaching almost every level from youth to college, he has seen a rise in parental influence on a national level.

“I just feel sorry for Ryan, and this isn’t the first time it’s happened, and once again they’re going to get away with it,” Bailey said. “Parents have the audacity to say, ‘It’s not fun for the kids,’ but it’s OK to destroy a man’s career and reputation. Tell me, where is the balance in that?”

  • Frank Houle

    why don’t they call out these parents publicly and make them explain themselves in front of the whole team?

    • Hanz Lehrke

      Unfortunately Massey and Olson don’t care. I was told by a number of parents that they left messages on Massey’s phone and/or sent e-mails which were never returned. If I had to guess, Massey and Olson believe the ones who support the coach will not say much if anything (only you commented on this article) while the very few parents and players who dislike the coach will cause an uproar to get what they want. It has worked in the past and continues to. I also find it interesting that a number of soccer girls play hockey. Draw your own conclusions.

  • Hanz Lehrke

    As a former girls head coach for FLAHS, Section Coach of the Year in 2011, and forced to leave in 2012 by about 4 sets of parents and a couple of player evals filled with lies and things taken out of context, I sympathize with Ryan. What Massey and Olson told the hockey coaches are almost verbatim of what they told me, they had my back. As Olson told me, “I was the victim of a witch hunt.” He even admitted he knew the allegations by these people were lies. I have never in my entire 25+ year coaching career with over 16 as a head HS coach mostly of girls, had any formal or informal negative actions, not 1. Until that day Olson said I was doing a great job, liked how I kept the parents informed, and appreciated my passion, dedication, effort, and how I was running the program and the stability I was creating with set tryouts, a handbook, and my consistent and fair handling of players. There is clearly an issue at FLAHS and I hope it is investigated and dealt with before more coaches are run out of their programs.

  • Hanz Lehrke

    I also find it interesting that a number of the girls who play soccer also play hockey. This is ongoing and is exactly why MN added to the statute on HS coaching contract renewal; “The existence of parent complaints must not be the sole reason for a board to not renew a coaching contract.” These administrator actions, or lack of actions, need to be investigated. This hurting both the coaches and the players.

  • LaVonne Bohaty Ostrom

    Kids playing school sports SHOULD be about having fun, having RESPECT for your coach & your teammates, parents have become way to verbally involved & less involved actively. It is always that group of parents who hyper over react, get hung up on politics of the sport, complain & inject negative conversation. They are never happy & neither are their kids.

  • John

    Ryan Sauter with girls hockey, Billy Kirsch with Football – seems to me we had two good young coaches who were doing the right things for the right reasons and BOTH suffer at the hands of an administration that doesn’t want to do the hard work of supporting coaches. Reading the other comments, it looks like the same thing happened to Coach Lehrke. Unfortunately, once the admin sets the precedent of wavering to the vocal minority, the die is cast and good luck to any Ranger coach with ANY sort of athlete-parent issue. Who’s the next FL coach to be hung out to dry by Mr. Massey – not a question of IF, but WHEN.