Lake Region State College athletic director remains on administrative leave; has been cited in the past
Daniel Mertens was placed on leave by LRSC President Doug Darling on Oct. 29, “pending a review of information brought to the college’s attention,” according to a release from the school.
DEVILS LAKE – The athletics director and head coach of the women’s basketball team at Lake Region State College remains on paid administrative leave while being investigated by school administrators.
Daniel Mertens, who holds both positions, was placed on leave by LRSC President Doug Darling on Oct. 29, “pending a review of information brought to the college’s attention,” according to a release from the school. Per school policy, LRSC administrators have not said why Mertens was placed on leave.
Mertens has been cited or investigated by the school in the past. The Grand Forks Herald, via state open records laws, requested a series of documents from LRSC, which showed three incidents involving Mertens or the sports programs he oversees as athletics director.
In July 2017, Mertens served a three-day, unpaid suspension alongside then-Student Services Director Stephanie Shock after an investigation found they did not report an inappropriate relationship between then-head softball coach Ben Morris and a student. Morris’ contract was completed at the end of June that year, and he was not offered another one. Brigitte Greywater, head volleyball coach at that time, received a written reprimand because of the incident.
In an official notice of suspension to Mertens, Lloyd Halvorson, vice president of academic and student affairs, said Mertens’ actions were “significantly insufficient” in reporting the relationship. Mertens was Morris’ supervisor at that time.
“Your failure to report information as required and the resulting adverse effect on the student is not acceptable,” Halvorson wrote in 2017.
Another complaint against Mertens alleged he made sexist or racist remarks about minorities, although an investigation that ran between 2017 and 2018 found there wasn’t enough evidence behind the claim. That complaint was filed by Jessica Ramey-Gillian, an alumnus of the college, who told an executive assistant she heard Mertens make such comments in front of Daniel Johnson, a professor of mathematics at the school. Ramey-Gillian then filed the same complaint with the chancellor of the North Dakota University System.
According to a memo outlining that investigation, Doug Darling, president of LRSC, met with Mertens and Johnson to discuss the complaint in November 2017. Mertens denied using such language, and Johnson said “he had not heard Mertens speak of minorities in an unacceptable manner.”
Darling also met with Ramey-Gillian, who was not able to give specific examples of the language Mertens allegedly used, dates or times of when it might have happened or other witnesses that may have been present, per the report.
“Regarding Coach Mertens, I find insufficient evidence to conclude that he did or said anything inappropriate,” Halvorson wrote in January 2018. “The allegation itself is somewhat incomplete and overly vague leaving out what exactly was said, where it was said and when it was said.”
Another, more recent, athletics-related incident occurred at LRSC earlier this school year. In August, LRSC students attending a volleyball game against Trinity Bible College allegedly harassed players from the opposing team, to the point where a parent made a complaint. Students’ behavior included “grunting, barking and mooing” at Trinity Bible College players, and was directed specifically at girls based on their size and ethnicity, according to an email from Halvorson to Mertens and Jared Marshall, men’s basketball head coach.
Halvorson directed the coaches to assign a supervisor to the student section for home athletic events, and told them to take steps so such behavior is not repeated. According to Halvorson’s email, the coaches had previously said strictly clamping down on such behavior would cause students to not attend the games, and that LRSC students face such behavior when visiting other schools. Halvorson said those reasons do not “justify rude and tasteless behavior,” and that coaches must take action.
“The LRSC expectation for what is and is not acceptable is not open for negotiation,” Halvorson wrote. “You must understand that this is the final warning and the final conversation we will have regarding this.”
Through email, Mertens apologized to the mother who complained about students’ behavior.