DULUTH – Bullying, harassment and threats to his family played a large part in his choice to resign this week, said former Proctor High School football coach and teacher Derek Parendo.
Head coach of the team since 2008, Parendo says he was watching his daughter play soccer in another town at the time of an alleged incident so egregious it led to the cancellation of the entire football season and a police investigation that has entered its fourth week with no resolution.
"We feel thrown out there to be a scapegoat," Parendo said.
A 1992 Proctor graduate who played high school football, Parendo said he doesn't know for certain what happened during the incident that allegedly occurred after practice on a September afternoon. He's not under police investigation, and is awaiting the results of police work like everyone else, he said. He was told about the allegations by the high school principal, he said, and days later was suspended.
On Monday he resigned from his teaching and coaching roles and is on paid personal leave for the remainder of the school year. He says he's been treated unfairly by district administration for years, and this case was no different.
"I was painted to be guilty, because when you send home a letter saying you are looking for new leadership, then you are pointing the finger at me to begin with," he said of communication sent by the district to football families.
Superintendent John Engelking did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. District officials have cited privacy laws throughout the investigation, disclosing only that "serious" student misconduct has been alleged and is under investigation by the local police department.
Engelking previously said in a public statement: "We will take action against substantiated misconduct and we will address any and all problems in the football program; we are absolutely confident that when the program resumes next season, we will be RailStrong by representing our families, school, and community in a positive way both on and off the field and by doing the right thing at all times."
Parendo said he's been the target of death threats in the wake of the investigation and slanderous taunts from students at school. He said his daughter has also been the target of harassment. An incident at school this week that included chanting about him and his daughter was the final straw, he said.
Matt Berger, a former Proctor boys basketball coach and middle school teacher who worked with Parendo, said Parendo resigning was him "putting the team, school and whole community ahead of himself."
"I honestly feel the quickest way to begin the community healing process was to have him step down and let the program start fresh," Berger said. "It was a selfless thing for him to do."
The allegations don't coincide with the culture Parendo says he promoted among his players: one of discipline and accountability. He calls it an "isolated incident."
The allegation "wrecks me," said Parendo, an assistant coach at Proctor under the late Dave Hylla, because coaches are constantly working to build character among their players. "We talk all the time about how you are part of Proctor football. People don't know your name; you are part of a group. You do things for others, not yourself."
While it has not been confirmed as an act of hazing, Parendo said hazing "is so foreign to us."
"I don't know any coaches who talk about it or deal with it," he said. "To me it's old culture, [past] generations."
Parendo said he took a construction job this week to keep busy.
A Proctor city administrator said the investigation is expected to wrap up this week.