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Tom Mix, Published February 05 2014

VIDEO: Shanley baseball coach of 14 years says contract not renewed due to complaint about text message

FARGO – When the Fargo Shanley baseball team hits the field this spring, it will do so with a new coach.

Joel Swanson, who started the Deacons program in 1999, was informed by school administrators Monday that his coaching contract would not be renewed for the 2014 season.

According to Swanson, the reason for the nonrenewal is a complaint from a parent of one of the players in the Shanley program regarding a text message he sent to players last week regarding preparations for the upcoming season.

Swanson told The Forum that he met with Shanley activities director Randy Nelson and Dr. Michael Smith, the Superintendent of Blessed John Paul II Catholic Schools Network of Fargo on Monday to discuss the text message. In the meeting, Swanson said he was told a complaint had been issued by a parent.

“They told me the text message was considered threatening in tone and wording,” Swanson said. “They went on to say that it violated Shanley’s values and that my contract would not be renewed.”

Nelson confirmed Wednesday that Swanson’s contract was not renewed, but declined to comment on what prompted the decision, citing the matter as a personnel issue.

Swanson, who teaches alternative education at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo, coached 14 seasons with the Deacons and was coming off of a 10-12 season in which Shanley won the North Dakota Class A state championship.

Defending that championship is what prompted Swanson to send his players the text message.

Swanson provided The Forum a letter he sent Nelson and Dr. Smith in response to his dismissal, which included what he says is the transcript of the text message he sent to the players.

The text goes into great length about Swanson’s expectations for the 2014 season and his displeasure with players having poor attendance at non-mandatory open gym sessions.

“We are two months into open gyms and obviously all of you are satisfied with last year’s title,” the message reads. “We are the team that will have a target on our backs. We are the team that everyone throws their ace against. We are the team everyone wants to beat this year. I am sick of stupid excuses to not come to open gym. … If you want to be an athlete commit to it. One hour a week is not too much to ask if you want to be an athlete.

“If you make an excuse not to come then you are telling me what kind of athlete you are. I cannot require you to come but I thought I would have a group excited to try and defend a title. Not to make excuses and not care. Some of you are not even in a sport right now, which is even more pathetic. … I will not send out another message like this, but some of you may be in for a rude awakening when the season comes and you are not in the lineup due to a younger player that puts in the time.”

The Class A baseball season opens March 17, with the first contests scheduled for March 28.

Swanson has received hundreds of emails and text messages of support following the decision, which he cites as unjust due to the lack of opportunity to defend himself.

Swanson said he was afforded no challenge to the complaint nor was he allowed to meet – in a mediated setting – with the parent that issued the complaint, which he considers to be standard practice.

“It seems like something is missing here,” Swanson said. “If they want me to step down from my position, then fine, but it was done in an unprofessional way. I was released without ever being able to talk to this parent. I wasn’t able to defend myself as far as what the content of the text message was.”

In May of 2013, Minnesota passed a law preventing parent complaints as being the sole reason for a board to not renew a coaching contract in its high schools. No similar legislation exists in North Dakota.

“It is just too bad,” Swanson said. “We have a large senior class this year and they are a good group of kids. We didn’t have the best record in the regular season last year, but they were fun to coach. … It is tough to leave that. As a coach you want to help kids and share your knowledge, but there always is somebody who seems to think that is not good enough or they can do better.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562