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After the firestorm: LP-A community divided following coaching controversy

Head Coach Jay Peterson, back left, is back coaching after being placed on administrative leave at Lake Park-Audubon, but the fallout from the controversy has been divisive for the small town. Photo: Caulfield Studios

The Lake-Park Audubon community is trying to heal following a week that ended up thrusting it into the limelight. This, as its girls head basketball coach, Jay Peterson, was reinstated after a week of paid administrative leave during an investigation into his conduct as a coach. It's proved to be an emotional, pain-filled week that has had community members in that small town pitted against each other.

"It's been something that continues to divide our school, and I just can't believe how people have acted on social media and jumped to conclusions without knowing any of the facts," said Dale Hogie, superintendent of the Lake Park-Audubon School District.

It's been a tough scenario for all involved and something that started out so small: Three girls basketball players for Lake Park-Audubon sit down with the coach and a member of the school administration to try to hammer out some complaints they had about his coaching style. The district, in response, puts the coach on paid administrative leave while it looks into the situation, and the team's assistant coach also steps away in solidarity with Peterson. These actions prompt a news story in this newspaper, as well as in other media outlets regionally and even across the country. From there, the fallout ensues, as social media takes sides in a vicious manner, and people begin picking sides. The situation is complicated by the fact that the coach is able to tell his side of the story, but the school district isn't. "We're bound by confidentiality laws," said Hogie explained. Then, Peterson is reinstated.

To most, that implies there was never anything significant found in the investigation, leading the USA Today to proclaim that it was simply "whiney parents and players" that caused this. But members of the Lake Park-Audubon School District say that while they are not able to share what the specific complaints are, it doesn't mean there weren't validity to them. There was, in fact, a letter of reprimand issued to Peterson, outlining a number of points that the district deemed unacceptable, including times when some players thought his comments were degrading and his behavior intimidating. There are several other points too, but they are all points that Peterson still disputes as valid, and as of Friday morning he had still refused to sign the letter of reprimand. The question of "what is over the line and what is simply coaching" appears to be up for debate depending on who is being asked.

Although two of the girls who filed the complaints have chosen to step down from the team since Peterson's reinstatement, there are signs that people on both side of the issue are now trying to move on from the controversy that nobody there believed would get so big.

"I understand that it's hard to come back from that," said sophomore starting center, Etta Miosek of the story virtually going viral and the social media firestorm the players and coach alike have faced in the wake of it all. "Since we are so small, you were either on one side or the other. I think even the community was kind of divided. I mean, there's still talk, but it's better."

After Peterson's reinstatement, the girls won games Monday and Tuesday against Fosston and Sebeka respectively but lost to Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal on Thursday.