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Low marks for handling of Charlie Fleck’s contract

Since October, a quiet has pervaded Perham sports like there is an elephant in the gymnasium.

All parties involved have been polite, if not redundant, in using the term “no comment” when it comes to the contract non-renewal of former head gymnastics coach Charlie Fleck.

Because of Fleck’s incredible run of success in Perham and prior state championship seasons in North Dakota, the quiet is frustrating to those who want to know what happened to a coaching legend.

Citing privacy rights, the school district has no comment, according to Superintendent Mitch Anderson.

Mr. Fleck remains publicly quiet for obvious reasons.

The Lakes Area Gymnastics Academy (LAGA) board has remained mum since sending out a letter noting the non-renewal. The letter was mailed to parents and subsequently leaked to the media October 25. No specific details as to why Fleck’s contract was not renewed were given in that letter, and there was not so much as a ‘thank you’ to Fleck for his years of service.

Now, nearly a month later, with the rumor mill swirling, continued silence by the LAGA board, apparently waiting for a shoe to drop or for it all to magically go away, continues an embarrassing situation for the most successful athletic program at Perham High School.

Quietly standing behind LAGA were the Perham school board members who, with no public discussion, said their “ayes” two weeks later in not renewing Fleck’s contract with the school.

The loudest comment made on this topic so far was by school board member Mike Hamann, in abstaining to vote. And that really doesn’t say much.

In all, someone or some entity is to blame here, and they should stand up and take what’s coming to them.

There are proper ways to do things, especially when a person’s livelihood is on the line.

The school district, while not commenting or defending any position, seems to have been put between a rock and a hard place after the LAGA made its decision. The school and LAGA are separate programs, but they share the same coach and the same gymnasts.

One can’t help but notice that many of the last names of LAGA members match names that hang on banners in the Perham High School gymnasium – namely parents of Perham champion gymnasts.

Was Coach Fleck removed from Perham gymnastics because it was better for the program, or was he ousted because it was better for a group of parents?

Because nobody will say an official word about it, speculation ensues. The fault for such inquiry, as far as I’m concerned, rests solely on those who refuse to speak, not we who have a job to ask questions.

In May, Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a house omnibus bill, to the chagrin of the Minnesota School Board Association, with an added sentence to an existing statute that protects high school coaches.

That line was, “The existence of parent complaints must not be the sole reason for a board to not renew a coaching contract.”

A report by Paul Kluda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune in April stated that critics of the added sentence, such as the Minnesota School Board Association, believe the bill’s measure will undermine the authority of school boards, which make such contract decisions.

Here in Perham, this decision was essentially made for the school board by the LAGA board. The school district could not have renewed Fleck’s contract without significantly changing the gymnastics program.

If the school board is to be blamed for anything specific, it was the fact there was no conversation about the matter. None. The measure came up for vote and simply passed and out went Charlie Fleck.

With the LAGA board, which is full of parents, being the progenitor of this entire scenario, it stinks of exactly why the line was added to the omnibus bill that is now an actual law.

Coaches in Minnesota work under a yearly contract. They are not protected by a union. In fact, many times, they are all alone.

Such is now the scenario for Coach Fleck.

Nobody publicly supported the man who brought gymnastics to Perham and, within an incredibly short amount of time, made Perham gymnastics the talk of Minnesota.

Those involved in the decision have created an air of uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings between all parties, like the elephant in the gym is gassy.

Those people are affecting Coach Fleck’s life in a detrimental manner.

There are more than 20 open gymnastics coaching positions in Minnesota, and plenty more in the surrounding states.

Why have none of those programs jumped at the chance to hire the high school gymnastics coach with the best record in the region, a man considered one of the best high school gymnastics coaches in history?

Fleck’s reputation has been sullied by a poorly worded letter and the continued silence of those involved and, in my opinion, Fleck should be issued a public apology by the LAGA.

At the very least, a man who strived for excellence and success – and achieved those high pursuits to the benefit of the school, the LAGA and the city of Perham – deserves a professional exit, some thought before rash action, and a public ‘thank you’ for his years of service.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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