School board surprised to learn of Munsen's rule violation, program's probation

Mitchell Board of Education members were surprised to learn Monday that the school's boys' basketball program began serving a year-long probationary period last month.

Gary Munsen

Mitchell Board of Education members were surprised to learn Monday that the school's boys' basketball program began serving a year-long probationary period last month.

The penalty stems from a rule violation by longtime coach Gary Munsen, who coached a Mitchell player or players out of season at a Dakota Schoolers basketball tournament in mid-April, Mitchell Activities Director Geoff Gross confirmed Monday afternoon.

The Daily Republic was not able to reach Munsen on Monday despite numerous attempts.

The disciplinary action was handed down by the board of the South Dakota High School Activities Association at its April 19-20 meeting in Pierre. In addition to the one-year probation, Mitchell boys' basketball coaches will be denied the opportunity to plan and organize four team activities this summer; the district was fined $200; a letter of reprimand was sent to Mitchell School District administrators; and the district must send its own letter to the Activities Association detailing steps to ensure similar violations will not happen again.

The disciplinary action escaped public and media attention for the past month because it was not on the agenda prior to the Activities Association's board meeting, and Mitchell School District administrators who were aware of the action did not notify school board members.


The Daily Republic learned of the action Monday from an anonymous tip that the newspaper immediately confirmed.

Throughout the day Monday, The Daily Republic phoned each of Mitchell's five school board members. Brenda Freidel, Dana Price, Neil Putnam, Theresa Kriese and Eric Christensen all told The Daily Republic they had no knowledge of the situation.

"This is the first I have heard about it," Christensen wrote in an e-mail response to Daily Republic questions. "And needless to say, I am very disappointed to learn about it first from The Daily Republic instead of our superintendent and/or athletic director."

Administrators defended their actions by saying the Activities Association did not require them to notify the school board.

Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves said Gross notified him of the violation prior to the Activities Association board meeting, but neither notified the school board.

"I hadn't informed the board, and it's not required to do so," Graves said. "But it's something that I haven't done yet; I will be sure that they are informed now."

Later Monday, at a regularly scheduled board meeting after The Daily Republic had informed every board member of the situation by phone, Graves verbally and publicly acknowledged the situation. Board member Brenda Freidel thanked him for the information and said "better late than never."

Earlier, on the phone with The Daily Republic, Graves said the Activities Association's action was conducted "in a public meeting, so it was fairly easy to get to. I just hadn't sent a letter or told the board members."


The disciplinary action is accessible on the Activities Association website, but there is nothing that points specifically to it. The only way to find it is to open the minutes for the April 19-20 board meeting and scroll down to page 13 of the 17-page document.

According to those minutes, Mitchell High School violated the Out-Of-Season Section of the Athletic Handbook. A rule in that section states that from Aug. 1 until the completion of the state track meet the following school year, coaching is allowed only during the regular SDSHAA-defined sport season. That is the rule Munsen broke.

There are some exceptions to the rule. During the school year, coaches may plan and organize up to four team competitions/outings for the upcoming summer. As part of the disciplinary action, Munsen and his staff will lose that privilege.

"There's really no defense to what was done," Gross said. "We reported it (to the SDHSAA) and we were willing to take whatever disciplinarily action they wanted to take."

Wayne Carney, the executive director for the SDHSAA, said the complaint about Munsen came from one of the tournament directors at the school where the Dakota Schoolers event was hosted. The Dakota Schoolers website says there was an event April 16-17 in Brandon. Dakota Schoolers rosters on the site show at least one Mitchell player.

"I talked with parents from one of the communities, and they said there were like 20 other coaches there that all knew what the rule was," Carney said. "They couldn't believe that coach Munsen was down on the bench. It was noticed by a lot of people.

"It's not a new rule by any means; it's been on the books for quite a while."

Gross was informed of the violation by a fellow activities director on the day the violation occurred. Gross declined to reveal which activities director notified him.


"He was witnessing him coach at a basketball tournament camp," Gross said of the activities director that notified him. "We acted on it, we reported it to the Activities Association, and this happened on a Saturday afternoon. I contacted the Activities Association that day ... and the next Tuesday, ironically, was a board meeting, so we had already filed the report of our findings."

Gross said Munsen has agreed to pay the $200 fine.

"It's his mistake," Gross said. "If I make a mistake and it costs the school money, I need to pay for it."

Gross said Munsen will not miss any games next year due to this violation. Though coaches will not be allowed their four summer-time activities with the team, Gross said coaches will be allowed to have open gym sessions.

Besides Munsen, the boys' basketball coaching staff includes Craig Mock, Clint Kiewel and Chris Weier.

"They had no involvement in this situation at all," Gross said of the three assistant coaches.

Carney elaborated on what the probation entails for MHS.

"The program will be watched very closely for the next year and if the same thing happens again, or if there's another violation by the Mitchell basketball program, then the board could make it more severe," Carney said. "They could maybe make them ineligible for postseason play. ... If there's another violation, it might put the entire athletic program at Mitchell High School on probation, not just the boys' basketball program."

Munsen, who completed his 38th season with the MHS basketball program last season, coached the Kernel boys to a second-place finish at the Class AA state tournament in March at Sioux Falls. He has 33 trips to the state tournament and nine state titles in his time with the Mitchell boys' and girls' basketball programs. Last season, he surpassed 600 wins during his Mitchell High School career.

Munsen also has a history of rule and policy violations.

His program has been put on probation at least once before, when members of the boys' basketball team participated in an informal scrimmage with members of the Dakota Wesleyan University basketball team. At the time, it was reported that high school scrimmages against collegiate teams were a violation of Activities Association bylaws.

Munsen also has been disciplined for unauthorized use of a school vehicle and for his arrest on a domestic assault charge that was later dropped.

"Coach Munsen has been coaching for almost 40 years," Gross said. "But it's our job to know the rules and follow them, and coach Munsen has more experience than any coach in the state of South Dakota."

- The Daily Republic's Luke Hagen contributed to this report.

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