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Prep football: Proctor works to rebuild culture after canceled season

The Rails may not win a ton of games in 2022, but coach Matt Krivinchuk is using his experience at Superior and St. Scholastica to build a new type of program.

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Proctor head coach Matthew Krivinchuk cheers for his players during introductions against Cloquet at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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PROCTOR — For the first time in nearly a year, Proctor took to the football field against Cloquet Friday at Bromberg Field.

The Rails struggled to get anything going while the Lumberjack offense scored early and often in a 57-0 win for Cloquet.

Despite the lopsided score, just getting on the field is a victory for the Rails and first-year head coach Matt Krivinchuk.

Last year, Proctor’s football season was suspended and eventually canceled after a shocking hazing incident made headlines across the state and roiled the local community.

A News Tribune investigation found allegations of misconduct and abusive behavior by the football team going back nearly 30 years.

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The scandal resulted in the departure of the entire Proctor coaching staff and and a sexual assualt conviction for one former player.

When Krivinchuk, a mentor with the Superior School District, interviewed for the position with the district, the controversy and its long term effects were on his mind.

“My first question to the interview panelists was, ‘How are the kids, what do they need?’” Krivinchuk said. “Making sure I had that information before I accepted anything was vital. Kids come first — it’s not just adult-to-adult relationships, it’s kid-to-adults and kid-to-kid. I want to make sure all three phases are getting opportunities to know each other and understand where you come from.”

The Rails’ new coach played for Superior and was an assistant for the Spartans as well as at Vermilion Community College and St. Scholastica.

After accepting the position, Krivinchuk interviewed each Proctor player individually, trying to understand each one’s “values and beliefs” and found a lot more similarities than differences.

“The overriding theme is we were really one belief system that just needed some direction,” Krivinchuk said.

Krivinchuk played high school football in the late 1990s for Superior, not long after the Spartans’ 1990 state championship season. He said there wasn’t a “great culture” around the Superior program at the end of his time as a player or when he became an assistant a few years later.

When current Superior head coach Bob DeMeyer took over the program in 2006, Krivinchuk was one of the few previous staff members to remain with the Spartans. He saw the culture begin to turn around under DeMeyer.

Superior head football coach Bob DeMeyer looks over the field as his Spartans warm up
Superior head football coach Bob DeMeyer looks over the field as his Spartans warm up before their game with Rice Lake at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“The one thing I learned from Bob, right off the bat, was being very intentional about building relationships,” Krivinchuk said. “That has stuck with me. Throughout my time, every team I’ve been a part of, that’s been something that has been implemented — even if it’s not a directive from guys in charge as head coach, it’s been a focus of mine to be intentional about building relationships and growing and understanding what is culture.”

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‘It takes a village’

Throughout the summer, Krivinchuk worked with the team and coaching staff to implement a new type of program that included four pillars — respect, integrity, grit and stewardship, or “RIGS.”

“He brought in people to talk about specific (pillars) and what it means to be a Rail and I think it’s rubbing off on a lot of kids,” junior running back Zak McPhee said.

He also brought a number of speakers to talk to the team about each pillar, including DeMeyer and Sister Lisa Maurer of the St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth to help reinforce his message.

“It helps to sell your message with a different voice,” Krivinchuk said. “People outside the coaching staff can talk about programmatic values using a little bit different terminology or tell a little bit different story … One thing I believe in 23 years of coaching and being around education is it takes a village to raise kids — try to do it yourself and you’re going to fail kids.”

high school football game
Kollin Bonneville (9) of Cloquet and Zak McPee (22) of Proctor reach for a pass at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DeMeyer led Superior to the Wisconsin state semifinals in 2019 with Krivinchuk as his defensive coordinator. Perhaps more important is DeMeyer’s focus on guiding his players and students to become better people. He even teaches a class at Superior High School called “Changing Lives'' that focuses on positive character qualities and teen issues.

“We want to help them make good, positive decisions and learn from their mistakes,” DeMeyer said. “We want them to realize there’s people in this world that care about them and support them because they’re going to have to persevere through some challenging times.”

Quinn Schnabel, a senior offensive lineman and linebacker, said he appreciated DeMeyer’s message and its focus on helping out teammates in need.

“He really talked about how to persevere through hard times and just stand up and get going,” Schnabel said. “If you get knocked down, there’s going to be someone there to help you up and if you’re not sitting on your butt, you should definitely go over and help somebody who is. I just found it came from the heart.”

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The ‘gift’

Maurer met Krivinchuk during his time as an assistant at St. Scholastica and he asked her to come by and talk to the players about stewardship and appreciating the opportunities they’ve been given.

St. Scholastica football players enjoyed a snowy practice Wednesday at Malosky Stadium. There was a playful snowball fight and a couple of players slid across the field on their stomachs like it was a Slip 'N Slide. Off on one side, offensive lin...

“We’ve all been gifted by God with our life,” Maurer. “I spoke about how they have their youth and all those great gifts, but also that they’ve been gifted with this opportunity to play football and to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Maurer talked to the team about their legacy and said it was a “gift” to be able to play this season after the disastrous 2021 campaign.

Maurer
Sister Lisa Maurer met new Proctor coach Matt Krivinchuk when he was an assistant at St. Scholastica. Krivinchuk asked Maurer to speak to his team ahead of their first contest after the 2021 season was suspended three games in.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

“I thought it was really eye-opening because I guess we took it for granted,” McPhee said. “She said that her dad was a coach and she was always around football, but was never able to play. I was like wow, there’s so many other people where it’s not in their capacity and it’s just a gift to have the opportunity to play.”

‘Winning will take care of itself’

Proctor has struggled to win in the last few seasons — the team was 0-3 when the 2021 season was canceled and has just four wins since the 2017 season.

With 50 players out program-wide, Krivinchuk isn’t expecting the team to pile up wins in 2022, either, but that’s not the point.

“The reality is we have a number of challenges we’re going to face on and off the field,” Krivinchuk said. “I’m not focused on outcome for this season. Administration has been very supportive and it’s not about outcome. They want something kids can be proud of and be a part of. We’re going to compete in every game we’re in — that’s the goal, we’re going to compete and we’re going to play together.”

McPhee said Krivinchuk has established a routine for the team in practices and holds them accountable for being on the field and ready to go.

high school football game
Quinn Schnabel (49) of Proctor blocks Carter Hornet (44) of Cloquet at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“Whether it’s gathering balls or getting out there on time, we’re always trying,” McPhee said. “We’re always trying our best, but we’re not always perfect. We’re just getting the right mindset. It’s something we’ve got to get better at but we’ll get there over time.”

If the positive experiences of current players filter back out into the community, more kids will come out for the team and, hopefully, some on-field success as well.

Either way, Krivinchuk has a fan in Proctor High School teacher Nathan Johnson. Johnson coached with the team for about 10 years before stepping away several years ago. He currently works with the team on “community building.”

“There’s a goal, there is a concrete culture and character traits that are being taught and it’s intentional,” Johnson said. “There’s time being taken to teach these models and hold kids accountable … The No. 1 goal is, like coach Kriv said, a place where kids want to come and the winning will take care of itself — it’s more about that culture. We want to build good young men in our community and that’s been the laser focus throughout his time here.”

high school football game
Zak McPee (22) of Proctor carries the ball against Cloquet at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school football game
Proctor head coach, Matthew Krivinchuk talks to his players during halftime against Cloquet at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school football game
Proctor head coach, Matthew Krivinchuk, right, coaches his team against Proctor at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school football game
Proctor quarterback Carter St. Germaine passes the ball against Cloquet at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school football game
Proctor head coach, Matthew Krivinchuk talks to his players during halftime against Cloquet at Bromberg Field Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
MORE ABOUT THE PROCTOR FOOTBALL TEAM
The district told parents in an email it would “take action against substantiated misconduct” and would “address any and all problems in the football program.”
Former coach Derek Parendo claimed no knowledge of the most recent allegations of serious misconduct by Proctor football players.
Derek Parendo had coached the Rails since the 2008 season.
Despite allegations of misconduct regarding the Proctor football team, the students have embraced the school’s other teams during the past few weeks and are looking forward to Friday’s girls soccer game against Hermantown.
They are seeking at least $75,000 in damages.
They are seeking at least $75,000 in damages.
Despite allegations of misconduct regarding the Proctor football team, the students have embraced the school’s other teams during the past few weeks and are looking forward to Friday’s girls soccer game against Hermantown.

Superior head football coach Bob DeMeyer talks to his players
Superior head football coach Bob DeMeyer talks to his players after a touchdown during their game with Rice Lake at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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