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West Fargo releases findings in swim coach investigation

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The West Fargo School District released its report on Thursday, Sept. 20, highlighting its reasons for dismissing varsity girls swimming and diving coach Ronald Hehn.

Hehn, a first-year coach, was dismissed on Sept. 14 for "inappropriate coaching practices." The firing came two days after a video was posted on Facebook by Hehm of a Packer student manager swimming 25 yards with a series of weights around his waist.

It was part of a training method Hehn said he learned from college coach Sam Freas, a former President of the College Swim Coaches Association.

When interviewed, the manager told school officials he volunteered to do the weighted swim because he wanted to try an exercise practiced by the team that day.

Afterwards, West Fargo Activities Director Jay DeCann received an email from an unidentified coach and administrator in Pennsylvania who feared the method "would be deemed criminal if it were used as part of our student training."

Officials then interviewed four team members who had attempted the technique, saying the following themes emerged:

• Equipment used was not issued by the school.

• When the girls asked to stop, the coach continued the technique.

• There was no instruction or rationale provided to the swimmer.

• Lifeguards stopped the practice because it appeared dangerous.

• Girls were afraid during several tasks.

On Thursday, Hehn denied the reports' claims.

"No girls felt endangered," said Hehn, who added that it was "completely inaccurate" that lifeguards interfered with the team's practice.

Issues with Hehn's methods were also raised by the man said to have inspired them.

Freas says the system, which he's been using for more than 20 years, was implemented incorrectly at West Fargo. Freas, who currently coaches at Oklahoma Baptist University, says weight total should "at most be 15 pounds and never (used) in deep water."

"If he did this in shallow water, there would be no mistake," Freas said. "But my system is nothing like (what he did)."

Hehn disputes Freas' claim that he implemented the system incorrectly.

"It's cutting-edge training," Hehn said. "He's retracting to save his own job and not put himself under public scrutiny. I get that. I wouldn't want anyone else to go through what I've been through."

The incident was not the first time Hehn had created controversy on social media. Early in September, he made numerous critical Facebook posts regarding the meet management of an Aug. 30 home dual, behavior Hulbert Aquatic Center Director Chad Day called "highly inappropriate."

Hehn again defended his behavior, criticizing the maintenance of the pool at Hulbert, which hosts Packer home meet, claiming it created health problems for his competitors.

"Girls were complaining of sore throats and coughing," he said. "The pool is being mismanaged and people want to keep their jobs. I put them on blast on social media, so they somehow spun it."

To support this claim, Hehn provided a chemical report he says was conducted by lifeguard Carson Keller, one of his assistant coaches. In the report, it is stated that the pool had a pH level of 8.4. According to the Fargo Cass Public Health Aquatic Facility Water Testing Policy, pH "must test within a range of 6.5-8.0."

The Pioneer made a request to Fargo Cass Public Health seeking information on any closings at the Hulbert Aquatic Center over the past six months. The information had not been made available as of Monday night.