Neal: Suspension over, Eden Prairie coach Flom looks to make amends

Wayzata visited Eden Prairie on Tuesday with a 10-3 record as the overwhelming favorite. Yet the Eagles, despite being outgunned and undermanned entering the boys basketball game, got the first loud cheers of the night.

The gymnasium was far from sold out, but when Eden Prairie coach David Flom was announced during pregame introductions, he received a partial standing ovation and loud cheers for about 20 seconds.

Flom is back on the sideline after being suspended for six weeks while the school district conducted an investigation about his use of a racial slur to players and coaches as he read a post while discussing the responsible use of social media.

While he tried to make a point that day, Flom was wrong and ignited a controversy.

"It means so much and you don't really know until you're gone," Flom said. "Don't ever take anything for granted in that regard, when you are in front of them. You realize how much you miss them, you miss it, you miss all the things."

Racial slurs weren't allowed to be spoken in our household. My father stressed to myself, my sister and my brother the importance of speaking clearly and professionally — and not swearing — when in public. Hanging out with friends, it was OK to cut up. But racial slurs were not part of our lexicon.

This is not about being woke. It's about being polite and respectful to others. And not using words you wouldn't want spoken to you. It doesn't matter what race you are, the word should not be used, particularly in a school setting.

Flom shouldn't have read the message verbatim. He could have stopped before he got to that word. But he didn't and made a mistake he had to pay for. What is troubling is that a person with authority over teenagers sent a conflicting message: "Don't use this word, although I just used it." Not sure what lesson is being taught there.

Flom, 390-156 in his coaching career, was sincere and remorseful on Tuesday as we sat in the stands and talked during the junior varsity game.

"I'm happy that I have been reinstated," said Flom, who was informed on Monday and immediately met with the team. "I'm grateful. I want to look forward. At the same time, I know the harm I have caused and, thankfully, I got to start that process when I got in front of the players and genuinely share how regretful I was for my mistake.

"I'd love to be part of any discussions going forward, from an education standpoint and for my own learning. I've changed in terms of my grace and being judgmental. I'm excited to move forward now and get it to be about the kids and playing."

Three players left the program while Flom's job security was in question. Two players, including Joey Flom, the coach's son, are expected to return to the team. A third, forward Chiddi Obiazor, graduated early and headed to Kansas State, where he signed to play football. There was a chance Obiazor would have remained for the remainder of the season if not for Flom's suspension.

At the end of it all, it was the Eagles players who lost the most from Flom's mistake and an investigation that should have taken a week, at most. But it's time to move on and become more about the kids and playing once again.

With leading scorer Max Lorenson out with an injury, Eden Prairie trailed Wayzata 49-41 at halftime. The Eagles had no answers for Trojans guard Hayden Tibbits, who buried six three-pointers while scoring 24 points in the half. Wayzata, ranked No. 6 in Class 4A, won 112-71 as Tibbits scored 33. Flom shook hands with fans and hugged youth players as he exited the court. But everything was not back to normal yet.

"I think that in a couple games it will feel normal," Flom said. "I say that because I haven't had the chance to be with them. We have to get reorganized."