Red River High School in Grand Forks, N.D., placed decorated boys' hockey coach Bill Chase on leave last week for "conduct unbecoming and unfitting of a high school coach, including a history [of] derogatory, demeaning, and intimidating language," according to documents obtained by the Grand Forks Herald through an open records request.
In his 10th season as head coach, Chase has led Red River to state championships in 2011, 2013 and 2016 — the latter title capping a 27-0 season, only the second undefeated season in state history. That year, he was named the All-USA boys hockey national Coach of the Year by USA Today.
Chase received formal notice of his leave Feb. 12, the day the Rough Riders opened East Region tournament play. It states that Chase's language "contradicts district expectations surrounding ethical standards, values and practices for coaches and educators."
Grand Forks District athletic director Mark Rerick, whose name appears on the notice along with assistant superintendent Catherine Gillach, explained its timing. "When you learn information that causes concern, how comfortable are you as an administrator waiting to act on that?" he said. "The decisions we make shouldn't be about the competitive ability of a team. For me, I'm going to move forward in a manner I think is right whether that's the morning of East Region or the state championship or the middle of July."
An investigation has begun, but Rerick said interviews with parents and players, both current and former, will be sensitive to the timing of this week's state tournament, which begins Thursday in Fargo. No timeline has been set for the investigation.
"In fairness to everyone, including coach Chase, it's important to do due diligence," Rerick said. "There are two sides. You have a group of kids, and ultimately there's a responsibility of advocacy to them. At the same time, you have a coach who has done a nice job for the school. We don't want to put an end time because we have to make sure we're flipping as many stones as necessary."
Rerick gave Chase satisfactory grades on 20 of the 24 categories in the coach's most recent evaluation, following the 2017-18 season. The four remaining categories were marked "needs improvement," including under the category of "develops respect by example in appearance, behavior, language and conduct during contests and practices."
"We need to continue defining the purpose of your program beyond winning hockey games," Rerick wrote in the evaluation's comments. "Slowly improving the culture of [Red River] hockey will be a large piece of being successful in the future. I appreciate your dedication to our athletes and our program."
The Herald also cited an evaluation of Chase's performance as counselor at South Middle School — a position he has held for 25 years and continues to fill during his absence from the Red River bench — that mentions his "unique and highly effective style" while working "extremely effectively with students, staff and parents."