The Kelsey McKay playbook Former players, colleagues call out criminally charged high school football coach for alleged breaches of trust and pain he inflicted

There was no mistaking when high school football coach Kelsey McKay lost his temper.

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There was no mistaking when high school football coach Kelsey McKay lost his temper.

Whether it was a drill not performed to his notion of perfection or a play poorly executed in a game, when McKay lost it — and he did so frequently — it was apparent to everyone.

His voice would jump an octave. He would have a “crazy” look that frightened players, alarmed parents and troubled his own coaches.

Everyone could see it, sense it, feel it, and everyone knew what likely was coming next — a reckoning on the field, the sidelines or in the locker room.

And then there was the unseen, although there were plenty of whispers and rumours: supper for players at his house; invites to join him in his hot tub; revelations sexual in nature; relationships that went far beyond appropriate professional conduct for an educator and coach.

He was controlling and intimidating, ex-players, parents and colleagues said, yet seemingly untouchable. He was, after all, one of the most successful football coaches in the province.

But as the high school football season gets underway, McKay is not on the sidelines leading Vincent Massey Collegiate Trojans’ title defence.

Instead, he is awaiting his day in court.

Winnipeg police arrested McKay in April and charged him with 14 offences in relation to sexual exploitation of minors after five former students came forward with allegations of misconduct while McKay was a physical education teacher and coach at Churchill and Vincent Massey high schools.

Additional charges came later that month when three more former students reported similar allegations. On Monday, police laid two more charges after a ninth former player came forward.

McKay now faces 24 sexual assault and exploitation-related charges for alleged incidents from the late 1990s to the 2000s.

The charges against McKay have not been proven. McKay and his lawyer declined interview requests while the case is before the courts.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Kelsey McKay coached high school football for nearly three decades, first with the Churchill Bulldogs and then the Vincent Massey Trojans. He now faces two dozen criminal charges.

It’s a far cry from his singular pursuit — that high school football, at least at the schools where he was in charge, was the only game that mattered.

His program, built from scratch after arriving at Vincent Massey in 2009 following nearly two decades of coaching at Churchill, was a winning program.

He recruited players from across the city and convened a booster club run by parents, which raised tens of thousands of dollars each season to support the team.

He had a large coaching staff and wrote a “Massey fight song” for the kids to sing after games. He rented coach-style buses to usher the team to games, while most schools relied on basic school buses, and organized pricey trips to play exhibition games in Italy and Hawaii.

At one point, McKay spoke of buying an inflatable tunnel — complete with a smoke machine — through which kids would make their grand entrance at games, just like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“He was trying to sell us, and the administration and all the parents, on this Friday Night Lights, U.S. big-time (type of program),” one parent said. “He wanted his program to be the biggest and the best. It was kind of impressive in the beginning. It was our first introduction to football, so coming to Massey, it was pretty cool.”

But soon, some of those parents found themselves disillusioned. They were concerned about the cash McKay was spending on the program and they worried about the coach’s behaviour.

“There’s a pattern of control here, of intimidation of kids, intimidation of parents, and intimidation of the administration,” a parent said. “He walked on water, he did what he wanted to do, and no one could question him. That’s really what I saw.”

“He walked on water, he did what he wanted to do, and no one could question him”–Parent

McKay’s football dreams died with the laying of the criminal charges. At the end, few were surprised by the turn of events, and fewer were willing to stand by him.

“When his charges came out, I heard no one, absolutely no one, defend him,” a former Massey teacher said. “There was hurt at his betrayal of students’, colleagues’ and friends’ trusts.”

Police didn’t rule out the possibility of more victims when they announced the latest charges this week. However, the scope of charges and number of alleged victims involving a Manitoba educator is unprecedented in recent history.

McKay was well known in Manitoba football circles, but was not a household name away from the sidelines. The Free Press sought to find out who he was, how he conducted himself as a teacher and coach, and why red flags were seemingly ignored.

One of the first things McKay did after taking over as head coach of the Churchill Bulldogs in 2003 was to create a football hall of fame for the school. It was a chance to make his mark as the team’s new bench boss and a way to celebrate the friendships and accomplishments of four decades of Bulldogs football.

“When I went to school here and played football, my coach, Brian Dobie, made it a special place to be with an incredible atmosphere and I want our players to have the same feeling and same experience,” McKay said in an April 2003 Free Press article. “This is about bringing the history of the program to the kids, making it something they can see every day and making it something they can take pride in.”

It wasn’t the first time McKay had spoken about his desire to coach kids and the value of being involved in high school sports. Two years earlier, McKay, who was hired as a full-time phys-ed teacher at Churchill in 1998, talked about his commitment to student-athletes and the importance of being a dedicated educator and coach.

“We all love kids and love working with kids. We believe in the benefits of high school athletics, we saw what it gave us, and we want to make sure it’s there for the kids in the future,” McKay told the Free Press in January 2001. “I guess I’m a Bulldog for life!”

Teaching paid the bills, but coaching brought the glory. And few had as much influence at Churchill as the person tasked with running the storied Bulldogs, power that seemed to supersede the school’s top administrators.

“There was a constant rotation of principals,” said a former Churchill teacher who also helped with the football team. “The one constant, though, was the football coach. And because sports kind of ruled there, football ruled above all else.”

The discrepancies between football and other programs often bred resentment. It was not uncommon for teachers who were frustrated with the football program’s clout to disassociate with colleagues who helped with the team.

“It was as if you crossed to the other side,” the teacher said. “It was the cult of the school.”

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Kelsey McKay, coaching the Vincent Massey Trojans.

Another former Churchill educator says teachers would often butt heads with McKay, mostly over a difference in teaching philosophy.

McKay, he said, often blurred the boundaries between teacher and student.

“He was a coach first, let’s put it that way,” said the former teacher. “It seemed like he wanted to be more of a friend.”

Several former teachers interviewed said because of McKay’s stature as the football coach he often got away with not teaching classes. Other teachers would have to cover some of his workload for McKay to focus on football.

And as the team garnered more success, McKay became more arrogant. Some said it was as if he was the big man on campus, which created an uneasy and sometimes toxic work environment.

“At that time I think — no, I know he did — he had more influence than the principal,” a former teacher said. “He basically could have made all the decisions for that school. More so for student-athletes, if they had done something wrong in or out of school, he influenced what happened to them. There was not much punishment or consequence as far as discipline for his students when there really needed to be.”

McKay was only partially exaggerating he was a Bulldog for life. His connection to the football program dated back to the mid-1980s when he attended the school.

With McKay as Churchill’s starting quarterback for the 1986 and 1987 seasons — his Grade 11 and 12 years — the Bulldogs went 6-1 and 7-0 but fell short of a championship both times.

“This school has a history of great quarterbacks, but I think Kelsey is the headiest of them all,” Dobie told the Free Press in 1987. “He’s one of the great leaders on our team.”

By the fall of 1990, McKay found himself at a football crossroads.

He had spent the 1989 season as the third-string quarterback with the University of Manitoba Bisons but was cut the following year. That fall he found himself back on the Churchill sidelines after Dobie invited him to join his coaching staff as an assistant.

“The thing about (Dobie) is that he takes a lot of kids who might be the loser-type and makes them believe in themselves,” McKay said in a Free Press article during his second season as an assistant coach. “When they come out here, they’re taught discipline and class.”

Also in 1990, McKay helped coach the provincial team. It was during this time he decided to give playing another shot.

He joined the St. Vital Mustangs of the Manitoba Junior Football League in 1991, claiming it was a better fit compared to the Bisons because the schedule allowed him to keep coaching at the high school level. McKay credited the younger players he was mentoring on the provincial team for inspiring him to get back on the field.

“Some of the guys on the team were just a year younger than me,” McKay said in an interview with the Free Press at the time. “They kept saying, ‘Why aren’t you still playing?’ The next day… I phoned the Mustangs and I said I was ready to play.”

In two seasons with the Mustangs, McKay evolved into one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

He led the MJFL in passing his first season and was named an all-Canadian. McKay wasn’t the most mobile, but he had an accurate arm and a high IQ for the game.

“Kelsey’s just a great QB,” Mustangs wide receiver Chris Morand, who also played with McKay at Churchill, told the Free Press at the time, “and he’s like another coach out there.”

In the 1992 season, McKay helped guide the Mustangs to their first provincial title in five years. Another former teammate described McKay as a “quiet leader who wasn’t a yeller” and someone who was able to “settle down the offence.”

Over time, though, a few former teammates said he developed an ego that required his peers to “knock him down a peg when he got too high.” Egotistical and cocky, along with intelligent and methodical, were adjectives that would come to define McKay over his coaching career.

That same year, the Bulldogs were rolling. McKay, now the quarterbacks coach, was part of a staff that led Churchill to a perfect 10-0 season, capped off with a come-from-behind win over the Sisler Spartans to claim the 1992 Winnipeg High School Football League Championship.

The WHSFL is where McKay would remain for the next 30 years, split between Churchill and Vincent Massey. The gridiron is also where he’s alleged to have preyed on players.

Dave Converse, a childhood friend and former coaching colleague of Mckay’s, considers himself to be an observant person. When news broke McKay had been charged with sexually abusing eight of his former players, Converse was forced to take a long look at himself, wondering what he could have missed.

“After all this came out, I just thought to myself: ‘Was I asleep at the wheel?’” he said. “Like, how did I miss all this?”

Overwhelmed by the severity of the charges and consumed by all the chatter within the football community, including speaking with a couple of McKay’s accusers, Converse sought professional help to get a better handle on his feelings. He has been reduced to tears on occasion over what he calls an unforgivable breach of trust by McKay and an unthinkable amount of pain he caused.

McKay wasn’t just an acquaintance. He was a childhood friend. They grew up together; played football and then coached together. McKay was the emcee at his wedding. He knew Converse’s kids.

Converse said McKay, shortly after being released on bail last spring, attempted to contact people he was close with in recent years. Converse never received a call; the two hadn’t coached together for years and with different priorities later in life, their friendship had been reduced to a golf game four or five times a summer.

If McKay ever did try to call, Converse said he would hang up. His support is reserved for the former players.

“I don’t know that he truly realizes how many people he’s affected by this,” he said. “It’s thousands of people. There are so many people he’s connected to. I mean, he’s like the most popular high school coach in the province — he’s the most well-known, for sure.”

“I don’t know that he truly realizes how many people he’s affected by this… It’s thousands of people. There are so many people he’s connected to.”– Dave Converse

Converse first met McKay in October 1982, shortly after his family moved from Calgary to Winnipeg. They were in the same Grade 7 home-room class that year and lived blocks away from one another, making for a seamless friendship.

Much of their time in their early teens was spent playing floor hockey and video games. They knew each other’s families, with Converse describing McKay’s home life as stable, as far as he knew.

The pair spent one season with the bantam Fort Rouge Packers before playing two years of high school together with the Bulldogs.

McKay was a jock throughout junior high and high school, participating in basketball, volleyball, hockey and, of course, football.

“He didn’t really date or anything like that,” Converse said. “He played a lot of sports, he focused on that.”

There are few things Griffen Hirayama is prouder of than being a Bulldog. Some of his greatest memories were spent on the football field, including winning the 1992 championship.

Hirayama said only those who played at Churchill and were embedded in its unique culture can understand the pride he still feels today. Being part of the school’s football program was much more than winning games and fighting for championships; you were part of a legacy.

“It was a family,” Hirayama said. “The school motto was pride and tradition and that really started with the football team. It’s a legacy that goes back to the ’60s, when the school first started winning championships.”

Churchill wasn’t like other city high school schools. It was smaller, had fewer students; in the early 1990s, it was rare for someone to be cut from the team. If you wanted to play, be part of something special, you had a home with the Bulldogs.

But despite not having the deepest crop of players, Churchill always seemed to find a way to punch above its weight class.

The Bulldogs were living proof that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of fight in the dog.

“This was all we had, man. No one that was born in Fort Rouge was born a winner,” Tony Capasso, a former kicker with Churchill, told the Free Press in 2017, shortly after the ’92 team was inducted into the Bulldogs Hall of Fame.

“The point is: everyone was all-in on this. For the coaches, the teachers, our parents and the entire community, we really thought that this was our world. We weren’t ever going to be pros, so this was our chance to do something great and no one was going to let that slip by.”

“We weren’t ever going to be pros, so this was our chance to do something great and no one was going to let that slip by.”– Tony Capasso

Hirayama said he’s disgusted by what he’s heard about his former coach, and his heart goes out to the players. However, he’s not exactly surprised, even if he had no idea it was happening at the time.

“Even at that point, early into his coaching career, he always had his little group of favourites,” he said. “There were all these inappropriate actions, whether it was him showing up at our parties or having meetings at his house with the football guys. He would go on trips with players and have them drive with him the whole way. Just weird stuff.”

Hirayama, a halfback on defence and slotback on offence, admits McKay was a talented coach. He preached proper mechanics and stressed the technical aspects of being a quarterback, such as good footwork and shoulder position. It wasn’t unusual to see McKay teach someone to throw a perfect spiral by the end of a single workout.

But what he remembers most was McKay’s ego and arrogance. Often, Hirayama said, the coach’s personality led to clashes with players. While there were many who cared for McKay, there were just as many who despised him.

“He was more for himself than the team,” Hirayama said. “But none of us really cared. We didn’t respect Kelsey like he thought he should be respected. He was a different bird. There were guys that flat out did not like Kelsey, just didn’t get along with him.”

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kelsey McKay’s football dreams died with the laying of the criminal charges. At the end, few were surprised by the turn of events, and fewer were willing to stand by him.

Hirayama insists the allegations of McKay abusing players, though chilling, don’t ruin his connection to Churchill. He’s not willing to give McKay that much credit.

That’s not to suggest Hirayama hasn’t been deeply affected by what’s happened. He said it’s been an emotional roller-coaster trying to make sense of what his former coach is alleged to have done, especially given what the football program stands for.

Trying to come up with a way to offer support, Hirayama started a group chat on WhatsApp, where he’s invited all alumni from Churchill and Vincent Massey to join. He did so to create a space for anyone who might need to talk or anyone who might be struggling and feel alone.

There are still so many questions in need of answers.

“Take the emotion out of it, try to figure out how this could have happened,” Hirayama said. “What did he do? What was the system he used? How did he fake everyone out? It feels like you’ve been gut punched.”

He takes a deep sigh before collecting his thoughts.

“As much as I don’t want to know what he did, I almost feel like I need to know, like, what the f— did he do?” Hirayama said.

“You read about sexual harassment, that he’s vetting guys and I don’t even know what that means. What I do know is there are people out there hurting that need our help.”

Dustin Harder still gets chills whenever he looks at his photograph from the ’92 championship team, a picture where McKay is positioned beside him during the post-game celebration.

Early into his football career, McKay, the quarterback coach, pushed him to play QB. Harder, a naturally gifted athlete who would win athlete of the year every spring from Grade 8 to his senior year, preferred running back because the ground game was more in vogue in high school at the time.

But that didn’t stop McKay from taking an interest in him.

“I’ve realized, yeah, he was grooming and he was luring me into spending one-on-one time with him,” Harder said. “He knew I lived in East Kildonan, so it was a longer drive home.”

Those 20-minute rides included grabbing Slurpees on the way, and allowed McKay to dig into Harder’s life, everything from his unsteady family situation to issues he might be having at school or with friends. In hindsight, Harder believes he was being tested in each interaction.

McKay also coached Harder in basketball and would invite players to his home to watch the NBA playoffs and for spaghetti dinners.

“Oh, we were close,” Harder said. “Well, we were close until an incident at halftime during one of our games.”

The details are blurry nearly 30 years later, but Harder recalls McKay, angered by a misplay during the opening half, stormed into the locker room to tear a strip off the guilty player. As it escalated, McKay grabbed the player and shook him by the shoulder pads.

The players looked on in shock, but not Harder, then only in Grade 10.

“As soon as he put the guy down, I walked up to Kelsey and I smacked him right in the face,” Harder said. “I smacked him right in the face in front of everybody and told him what he was doing wasn’t cool.”

Afterwards, Harder recalls, McKay, who was not yet a teacher, looked “white as a ghost” and never retaliated.

It was the only incident in which Harder felt McKay had crossed the line as a coach. It was also a moment that changed the dynamics between the two. The Slurpee runs and rides home stopped.

“If he was grooming me any further, maybe that was his moment where he thought, ‘OK, I’m not going to touch this guy,’” Harder said.

McKay pushed buttons to get the most out of the team and was often successful in doing so. While some players were motivated to meet McKay’s demands, it also rubbed a lot of guys the wrong way, creating division in the locker room.

“He challenged you and lot of guys didn’t like him because he would challenge you,” Jarett McLaughlin said. “He would call you out in front of the group and make you accountable, whether it was a misplay, your behaviour or whatever, and you had to own it.”

McLaughlin played three seasons (1993-95) with the Bulldogs and, as a quarterback, spent a lot of time with McKay, who had been elevated to offensive co-ordinator.

McLaughlin later returned to Churchill to coach football, joining the staff after McKay was promoted to head coach in 2003.

“It almost seems like what was going on with us was just the small beginning to what was going to happen down the road.”– Jarett McLaughlin

If he had a knock against McKay’s coaching style, it was his belief he could say anything to a player.

After Churchill lost in the high school football championship in 1995, McLaughlin said McKay made a disparaging comment to a player who dropped a touchdown pass that could have sealed the game.

“He says to the guy, within an hour or two after the game, ‘Oh, so have you slit your wrists yet?’” McLaughlin said. “From that day on, the guy hated him.”

McLaughlin said McKay would have his favourites, calling it McKay’s “inner circle.”

“He’d take his group for Big Gulps. Or he’d meet you at the school to throw the ball around and then drop you off at home after,” McLaughlin said. “I remember him making a comment to me, I think I was in either Grade 11 or 12, he said, ‘You know, Jarett, you’re not the guy I’m worried about or the guy I think I need to help out.’ It was this guy and this guy because of their home life and whatever. He knew that stuff about his players.

“It almost seems like what was going on with us was just the small beginning to what was going to happen down the road,” McLaughlin said.

At age 15, all Adam Mazowita thought about was football. He was a budding star for Sisler High School, where, in Grade 10, he set a league record for most touchdowns in a game, with six, in a win over Daniel McIntyre Collegiate in 2006.

But as well as he was playing, Mazowita thought his best chance to grow his skill set and maybe even earn a university scholarship was playing at a school that took football more seriously. In his mind, there was no better option than Churchill.

Mazowita and his father set up a meeting with McKay. It didn’t take long for both to fall in love with what Churchill had to offer.

“Kelsey just dives in, right away, to this whole history of Churchill football and he’s naming off all these guys, all these players he’s coached and everyone that’s gone through the program,” Mazowita said.

“Especially at that age, you go in there and you’re, like, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ At the time I was just so obsessed with football — I watched everything from CFL, NFL, U.S. college football — and Kelsey said if he could compare, that Churchill football is like the Notre Dame of Winnipeg high school football.”

McKay had another card he would often play to prospective players and their families and that was his deep connection to Dobie, who left Churchill in 1996 to become the U of M Bisons’ head football coach.

After all, it wasn’t unusual to see a few Churchill players each year move on to play for the Bisons.

“I knew if I went there and he liked me, he might talk to Brian and get Dobie to look at me and maybe give me a scholarship,” Mazowita said. “Kelsey definitely mentioned his history with Brian Dobie, how he used to coach at Churchill for 20 years and was now with the Bisons. It played into a lot of players’ decisions to join the program. It definitely had its perks.”

Brian Dobie’s statement

University of Manitoba Bisons’ football coach Brian coached Kelsey McKay as a player at Churchill High School and had later brought McKay onto his coaching staff at the school. He issued the following statement Friday:

“When I first learned of the horrific allegations against Kelsey McKay, like everyone, I was shocked. My initial shock quickly turned to a deep and disheartened disappointment, and then to a furious anger. I continue to be saddened for many victims, and my heart leaps out to them, their families and to their friends and teammates.

University of Manitoba Bisons’ football coach Brian coached Kelsey McKay as a player at Churchill High School and had later brought McKay onto his coaching staff at the school. He issued the following statement Friday:

“When I first learned of the horrific allegations against Kelsey McKay, like everyone, I was shocked. My initial shock quickly turned to a deep and disheartened disappointment, and then to a furious anger. I continue to be saddened for many victims, and my heart leaps out to them, their families and to their friends and teammates.

“These past few weeks have felt like a dagger to the gut, not just to our football community but to all coaches, teachers and athletes who invest so much of their being in the pursuit of their chosen sports.

“As coaches and educators, we spend our lives trying to help young people pursue their dreams and become the best that they can be. Coaching, and the athletes you coach, never leave you. When something like this happens, we need to remind ourselves to continue to get better and better and accelerate our attention to bring forward all the best the sport has to offer.

“I firmly believe the sport is the world’s greatest classroom. We need to find strength in our beliefs and absolutely not allow the terrible actions of an individual to defeat us.”

Dobie, speaking publicly for first time since McKay was charged last April, reached out to the Free Press Friday afternoon.

Dobie said his primary focus since the news broke has been the welfare of the players, including those currently on the Bisons who have connections to Vincent Massey and the many athletes McKay coached at Churchill.

“When I first learned of the horrific allegations against Kelsey McKay, like everyone, I was shocked,” Dobie said in a subsequent statement to the Free Press.

“My initial shock quickly turned to a deep and disheartened disappointment, and then to a furious anger. I continue to be saddened for many victims, and my heart leaps out to them, their families and to their friends and teammates.”

Mazowita recalls how kind and generous McKay was during their initial meetings. Once he joined the team, he began to see a different side to his coach.

McKay had an old-school approach and would yell at players, he said, but how demanding he was sticks out the most.

When a player messed up, McKay wouldn’t sugar coat his displeasure, Mazowita said. He was also prone to mood swings, and if something bothered him enough, whether on a drill during practice or a play in a game, he was known to wear it for hours.

Mazowita notes he had a good relationship with McKay and he appreciates some of the things he did for him and his career. That’s tougher to reconcile now in light of the criminal charges.

It was McKay who approached him prior to his senior season, in 2008, and convinced Mazowita to change from running back to defensive back. The sales pitch was that he would have a better chance of cracking a university roster playing on defence, which proved correct, as Mazowita ended up playing five seasons with the U of M in the defensive backfield.

There were other instances Mazowita quietly questioned during his two seasons at Churchill that carry more weight today.

As one of the players McKay respected, Mazowita said he was asked to join the team’s leadership group, which met at lunchtime once a month and was made up solely of students heading into their final season.

“It seemed like a positive experience, like the coach really expects a lot from me, he wants me to be a leader, and at 16 years old all you think is ‘this is cool’ and that there’s nothing wrong with it,” Mazowita said.

Once the group was formed, McKay used it as an opportunity to invite the players over to his house. He offered to make dinner and afterwards they would watch the NFL’s Sunday Night Football game and talk about expectations for the next year.

All seemed normal until McKay proposed a new idea. With the televised game over, he suggested they hop into the hot tub for a late-night dip.

The players declined the offer, Mazowita said, saying they hadn’t packed the appropriate attire. McKay then became persistent, saying he had enough swimsuits for everyone and that it would be a nice way to wind down after a fun night.

“It was kind of weird that he wanted three teenage boys in his hot tub,” Mazowita said. “But at the time we just brushed it off and I really didn’t think anything of it. We all left at the same time, and I never went to his house again.”

“It was kind of weird that he wanted three teenage boys in his hot tub… But at the time we just brushed it off and I really didn’t think anything of it.”– Adam Mazowita

Mazowita, among others who were interviewed, said McKay would drive kids home from practice and wherever they wanted to go at lunchtime. He sometimes lent his car to those he trusted most. While he never returned to McKay’s home, Mazowita was aware of others who did spend time there.

With the benefit of hindsight, Mazowita is reviewing his time at Churchill with a different perspective.

“Everything he does in life, there’s a purpose behind it,” he said. “I saw in football how he would run practice and games, and now all this stuff that’s come out, he wasn’t just trying to have me and my friends over there to talk about football, there was something else that he wanted. Everything he did, he was very methodical about it.”

The Bulldogs would win their second WHSFL championship with McKay as head coach in 2008. Earlier in the season, McKay had confided in Mazowita about an opportunity he had to start a new program at a rival school.

After 11 years teaching and 19 years coaching at Churchill, including the last six as the head coach, McKay’s run with the Bulldogs was over.

McKay, then 38 years old, officially took over the newly minted Vincent Massey football program in January 2009. He also joined the staff as a phys-ed teacher.

“Vincent Massey Collegiate is extremely fortunate to have an educator of Kelsey McKay’s quality joining our professional staff,” principal Rick Martin said in a Free Press article published at the time, “and to assume responsibility of the new football program.”

While the news sent shock waves across the high school football scene, those who worked closely with McKay knew it had been in the works for months.

McLaughlin, a coach at Churchill, said McKay confided in his coaching staff before the news was made public.

“He’s telling us how it broke his heart to leave Churchill, that he was leaving for a new beginning and that Churchill will always be Churchill,” McLaughlin said. “Did he see the writing on the wall? I don’t know. But for an egomaniac like him, does he need to start his own program and have that stamp on it? Absolutely. It’s his environment. It’s his everything.”

Prior to his last Churchill season, McKay called a meeting with the coaching staff. He asked what they liked and disliked about his approach to coaching, among whatever else they wanted to say — almost as if he was running his own intervention.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 091013 Vincent Massey Collegiate football coach Kelsey McKay in practice Tues. evening.

The men in the room looked around at one another, some in disbelief of what was unfolding, with one coach openly disagreeing with McKay’s unorthodox approach to criticism before walking out. Others also spoke up.

Converse, McKay’s childhood friend who had been on the Bulldogs coaching staff since 1991, decided to add his voice. He questioned McKay’s temper and how demanding he could be with the players.

“When we ran a play and Kelsey wasn’t happy with it, he would run the same play 10 or 12 times in a row. Just to send a message,” Converse said. “‘Not good enough, do it again. Not good enough, do it again.’ It was often overkill.”

But there was a specific incident that Converse referenced from McKay’s final Churchill season, when McKay completely lost his temper while disciplining players. Converse told McKay that he looked “crazy” and “was just freaking out.”

“So, we got into a pretty intense conversation, and I said that he looked out of control sometimes and that it comes across badly to parents,” Converse recalls.

“He groomed us. He groomed the parents. He groomed everyone.”–Dave Converse

McLaughlin said the meeting took a bizarre turn a short time later.

“Within about 10 minutes of them telling him what they thought of him and their opinion, he had them apologizing and completely backtracking on what they just said. He had them convinced they were wrong,” McLaughlin said. “I’m thinking to myself, like, ‘What the f— just happened here?’ I was blown away by it.”

Converse said the showdown takes on a new meaning since McKay was charged as it offers a perspective into how methodical McKay was in everything he did.

“Knowing the person that he is, he had a system for everything, so why wouldn’t he have a system for this?” Converse said. “He groomed us. He groomed the parents. He groomed everyone.”

It wasn’t long into McKay’s tenure at Massey that colleagues began discussing how close his relationships seemed to be with students, particularly those on the football team. According to one former Massey teacher, stories of how McKay would have his players over to his home surfaced almost immediately.

“One of the teachers made an off-handed remark about how it’s common knowledge amongst all the staff at Churchill that Kelsey McKay has players come over to his house,” Gus Watanabe said. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, excuse me?’”

Watanabe said he brought the information to the attention of school principal Rick Martin.

Watanabe stressed it was only rumours he raised: “There were no allegations. I was just raising questions.” Had there been concrete evidence of anything explicitly illegal happening then he would have contacted the police or Child and Family Services, Watanabe said.

“I just thought, ‘Why does a male teacher, or any teacher, have students over to their house on such a regular basis?’” Watanabe said.

Watanabe said Martin approached him the next day to provide a possible explanation. Martin was under the impression McKay was dating the mother of one of the players and therefore would have run into some of the team outside of school-sanctioned activities, the teacher said.

“I just thought, ‘Why does a male teacher, or any teacher, have students over to their house on such a regular basis?’”–Gus Watanabe

“I took that at face value,”  Watanabe said. “As far as I was concerned, I reported a concern, the principal had thought about it and had come back to me. So, for me, it was done.”

Watanabe has been deeply affected by the case and, as a sexual abuse survivor, he said believed it was critical that he publicly spoke out.

Today, what’s harder to reconcile in the years since, is that despite numerous professional development sessions at the school outlining appropriate conduct between teachers and students, along with identifying predatory behaviour, no one questioned McKay’s conduct.

Watanabe said while he never saw or heard McKay talk about having students at his home, that didn’t stop him from openly emailing and texting students.

“He did it so often as to not be questioned as to the inappropriateness,” Watanabe said. “Although, when the Centre for Child Protection came to the school for professional development, they identified that type of behaviour as inappropriate and no one questioned why Kelsey texted so much other than to say football was his life.”

It would take a few years, but by the 2015 season the McKay-led Trojans was the best high school team in the province. Massey would win the title twice more under McKay, including as recently as 2021, just a few months before he was arrested.

McKay had delivered on his promise to develop a winning program.

But even before the team’s second championship, in 2018, players had started to push back against McKay’s aggressive style. Things got so bad that a group of parents brought their concerns to school and division officials.

“This has haunted us for years, and we knew this day would come,” one parent told the Free Press in May shortly after McKay was charged.

Between 2013 and 2017, several players revealed to their parents a litany of concerns. It was the same erratic behaviour that marked McKay’s time at Churchill.

It ranged from “extreme rage” on the field and in the locker room to being belittled with personal insults and tirades. He would build the players up, the parents said, only to tear them down.

Off the field, he was texting students repeatedly, including on weekends and even after they graduated. In some cases, he would text to arrange after-hours social visits.

“We teach our kids not to bully, we teach our kids to report it and that it’s unacceptable in the school system,” one parent told the Free Press. “So why, under the guise of a football program, is a teacher and coach allowed to behave that way?”

“This has haunted us for years, and we knew this day would come.”– Parent

The parents first took their concerns to then-Vincent Massey principal Tony Carvey. That led to Pembina Trails assistant superintendent Elaine Egan setting up a meeting with McKay and a union representative.

Although the division began to implement steps to deal with McKay’s conduct — including increased monitoring of some practices as well as additional staff present at games — they proved to be ineffective, leaving parents further frustrated.

Additional measures were put in place. McKay was told he could not text or meet students outside of school-sanctioned practices and games, nor was he allowed to be alone with students, though the second person present wasn’t required to be an adult.

McKay ignored the protocols, the parents said. He texted at least one student, while confronting another in an attempt to find out more about the complaints filed with the school. And, most concerning, there were still workouts being conducted without additional monitoring.

“I continue to experience great anxiety over Mr. McKay’s ability to control himself and being clear on appropriate boundaries as an adult, teacher and coach,” one parent wrote to Carvey, in an email seen by the Free Press.

In the end, the parents were overwhelmingly disappointed with Pembina Trails’ response, with one describing the process “so far below what we thought was a minimum standard.”

Kelsey McKay (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Superintendent Ted Fransen, in an interview with the Free Press in May, said the division had undergone a “thorough investigation” and that they took the claims of the students “very, very seriously.”

Fransen, who has since retired, said the investigation involved meeting with parents, students, McKay, Winnipeg police and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

The parents have refuted Fransen’s claim the investigation was thorough, including at least two saying they were unaware police had been contacted.

Citing personnel privacy regulations, Fransen said he was unable to speak to the specific actions that were taken.

“The safety of our students is always paramount, and we took this case seriously…,” Fransen said. “We’re always troubled when cases like this arise, and they are few and far between, but they’re serious and they’re handled in a serious way.”

McKay, on an unpaid administrative leave, has been out on bail since he was first arrested in April. His release conditions prohibit him from coaching, having contact with minors and attending places where youth may be present.

Meanwhile, as the high school season ramps up, Vincent Massey is preparing its title defence.

There’s a different coach on the sidelines. There are new players ready to step up and replace graduating seniors. There’s the promise of new beginnings.

For now, however, a shadow darkens the football field.

— with files from Melissa Martin

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

History

Updated on Friday, September 16, 2022 4:57 PM CDT: Tweaks comment from Brian Dobie

Updated on Friday, September 16, 2022 6:04 PM CDT: Corrects attribution in pull quote

Updated on Sunday, September 18, 2022 9:23 AM CDT: typo fixed in Dave Converse name spelling

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