Carrington wrestling coach retains position after raccoon incident
Mark Pazdernik retained his current head coaching position with the Cardinals after allowing a handful of his wrestlers to capture and transport a raccoon during a team bus trip from Carrington to Grafton on Friday.
CARRINGTON, N.D. — No motion was made on a recommendation by the Carrington High School administration to place wrestling coach Mark Pazdernik on administrative leave through the remainder of the 2010-11 high school wrestling season during Tuesday’s open school board meeting.
As a result, Pazdernik retained his current head coaching position with the Cardinals after allowing a handful of his wrestlers to capture and transport a raccoon during a team bus trip from Carrington to Grafton on Friday.
“No motion means no action will be taken either way on this,” said school board president Scott Fetch. “Basically, things will continue on the way they were.”
In a statement presented by Carrington superintendent Brian Duchscherer, he said Pazdernik stopped the bus on the way to Grafton to allow “four or five athletes to leave the bus.”
Duchscherer then said the athletes hit the raccoon with a pail and placed it in a storage compartment under the bus. The superintendent said Pazdernik and the team didn’t realize the raccoon was still alive until the following day.
The Carrington wrestling team was traveling to Grafton to compete in the North Dakota Region 2 dual high school wrestling tournament, which was held on Saturday. The team left Carrington at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Friday, according to Carrington High School principal David Nowatzki, and spent the night in Grafton.
Nowatzki gave the only explanation as to why the incident took place.
“Just to get the raccoon,” Nowatzki said. (Bloggers note - this is one of the disturbing angles of the story, why they'd stop their team bus just to torment, and try to kill, a random wild animal. What'd the raccoon ever do to them?)
The recommendation to place Pazdernik on administrative leave was brought to the board by Duchscherer, Nowatzki and Carrington athletic director Karla Michaelson.
“I’m here tonight to defend my character and my position. It was an impulse that if I could reverse, I would in an instant,” Pazdernik said. “Nobody feels worse than I do.”
But according to school administrators, this wasn’t the first time Pazdernik has come under fire as coach. Duchscherer said school administrators had met with Pazdernik on four different occasions to address “general coaching concerns,” stemming from parents concerned about the conduct of the wrestling program.
Pazdernik has been Carrington’s wrestling coach since the 1999-00 season.
“I want everyone to understand, this isn’t the isolated instance,” Michaelson said.
But in the end it was apparent that the opinion of the board was that the removal of Pazdernik as coach would just damage the current team further.
Carrington administrators pulled the team out of the Region 2 tournament after finding out the team had been exposed to the raccoon for health safety concerns. By that time, the team was just one victory away from winning its fourth consecutive Region 2 championship.
The team was forced to forfeit the championship dual against North Border-Cavalier, and a 7-0 vote by Region 2 coaches sent third-place team Central Cass to the upcoming state dual tournament as the No. 2 team from Region 2.
“I’m very concerned that (removing Pazdernik) would disrupt the team even more as we get to the climax of the season,” board member Joel Lemer said.
Carrington still plans to compete in the Region 2 individual wrestling tournament scheduled for Saturday in Larimore, where wrestlers can still advance to the state meet scheduled for Feb. 17-19 in Fargo.
“I think we need to do what’s best for the kids, school and community, and get through these next 11 days and put this behind us,” board member Bruce Bachmeier added. “I would like to see, at this time, to finish the season with who we have.”
Pazdernik is also a fifth grade teacher at Carrington Elementary School, but his status as a teacher within the school district was never in question on Tuesday night.
Pazdernik, who has coached eight Carrington athletes to Class B individual titles, was pleased with the outcome of the board. Carrington finished second in last year’s state dual tournament, and was 11-0 in duals this year before Saturday’s forfeit.
“Obviously, I’m ecstatic with the decision. I think they feel I’m still capable to handle my position and move forward,” Pazdernik said. “If they felt I was not responsible enough, I believe they would have taken action the other way.”
The room in which Tuesday night’s meeting was held was packed wall-to-wall, mostly with students and parents who were in support of Pazdernik.
“That means a lot in this instance ... there are some people out there that are trying to get me,” Pazdernik said. “I had more support than I thought.”
The coach wouldn’t comment on specific details concerning the incident with the raccoon, but he did want to make one thing clear.
“(The raccoon) was never, ever brought on to the bus.”