This year’s softball season was officially cancelled on March 23 when only seven players remained on the team after eight players quit.
The team began the preseason with 15 players. However, after major team conflicts, eight players ultimately quit the team after their demand for a coaching change was not granted. The seven remaining players do not fill the nine positions required for college softball.
Prior to the players quitting, the players and coach dealt with various conflicts before the team’s trip to Florida for spring training over spring break.
Players brought their issues to the Vice President of Student Development Jeff Kirksey the week before spring break.
“During the week of March 2, I had meetings with the coaching staff, athletic director and the softball team,” Kirskey commented in an email.
He offered individual interviews for any player who wanted one.
“Three team members met with me individually to express their thoughts and concerns. We discussed team injuries, the role of the coaching staff and the responsibilities of team members,” Kirksey explained.
The injuries discussed included recovering injuries for the only two pitchers on the team. This was a major point of contention for the team since they had no trained pitchers who could perform in Florida.
Some students expressed that they did not want to go to Florida because of this reason, but the school was obligated to certain contracts that would make cancellation nearly impossible, Athletics Director Dr. Nancy Detwiler said.
A few players met with the two coaches, Head Coach Stephanie Gillett and Assistant Coach Alexa D’Onofrio, the week before spring break to learn and practice pitching.
In Florida, one of the injured pitchers ended up pitching a few games, while other players volunteered to substitute.
The softball team played six games in Florida. The final two on Thursday, March 12, were cancelled at the last minute by the coach. This instance further escalated tension on the team.
After coming back from Florida, all softball players quit the team on Monday, March 16.
The players demanded a coaching change, which Detwiler was not willing to grant them.
One reason for this is because the Head Coach, Gillett, signed a 1-year contract last fall. This is standard for all head coaches at ENC.
This is also Gillett’s second year coaching ENC’s softball team.
Kirksey and Detwiler promptly called for meetings with the players to discuss the team issues.
“They unloaded all their frustrations, and we heard their frustrations,” Detwiler commented.
One player shared her reasons for quitting the team.
“Our intent in quitting was to make a statement. We wanted to show how serious we were about not playing under the current coaching staff,” freshman Katherine Paul said.
Meetings with the coaching staff and President McGee also occurred during this time.
By the end of the meetings on Wednesday, March 18, seven students had decided to return to the team under the same coaching staff of Gillett and D’Onofrio. Yet this still did not provide enough players, since a softball team requires a minimum of nine players.
Detwiler and the coaching staff sought out students on campus who had been interested in playing softball in spring 2016, yet no one joined. After two days of seeking, Detwiler confirmed that the season would not take place.
“We tried to think of how we were going to minimize the impact on the conference because they’re losing games,” Detwiler explained. “We had nothing but tremendous support from the conference.”
Kirksey sent out a campus-wide email on Monday, March 23, relaying that the softball season was terminated.
Some of the players who returned to the team are continuing to practice with Coach Gillett throughout the rest of the semester.
“[Coach Gillett has] had some of them come and ask her to work with them,” Detwiler commented.
One of the major issues Detwiler pinpointed was the “chain of command” that players did not follow.
“There are procedures and protocols for the proper way of doing things. That did not happen here. If it had, the end result would have been different, I think,” she said.
The proper chain of command procedure includes first addressing the coach with any issues, then the Athletic Director (Detwiler), and then the VP of Student Development (Kirksey).
Some players believe their actions were appropriate for the situation.
“We went to the higher authorities first in hopes of getting their attention. We feared that if we did not get the higher authorities involved ourselves then they would not see the severity of our issues,” junior Sterling Germani said, “Another faculty member who witnessed our struggles and frustrations had mentioned that going to staff such as Mr. [Mason] or Mr. Kirksey would get our voices heard the most.”
Another player claimed that they did initially try to speak to Gillett about the team’s concerns.
“We brought some of our concerns to our coach first, but we felt that the things we said fell on deaf ears,” Paul said.
An additional player believed that following the chain of command should have happened in this situation.
“We didn’t take the appropriate steps and I feel like we made long-lasting decisions based on impulse and rage rather than thoroughly thinking everything through,” sophomore Kaitlyn Jimenez, one of the seven who returned to the team, shared.
Detwiler said all athletes are aware of this chain of command, since she outlines it at the beginning of the sports season.
“In every fall athletic meeting, I say to them, ‘My door is open. Anytime you want to come in and talk… I will answer,'” Detwiler commented.
Several players expressed their sadness about the termination of the season.
“I am extremely upset about not having a season this year,” Jimenez shared. “It’s disappointing when you worked hard for something and it’s taken right out of your hands, with nothing you can do about it.”
Detwiler clarified that players who quit the team have used a “year of eligibility” this year. But, any student is welcome to try out for the team next season. There is no rule that states that if a player has quit midseason, then they cannot play the next season.
Transferring to another school is where playing eligibility becomes a little hazy. The student must be in good academic and “behavioral” standing to be eligible to transfer to another school’s team, Detwiler explained.
This is Detwiler’s last year as Athletic Director before entering retirement.
“In all of my fifty years in athletics, this is first time anything like this has ever happened,” she commented.
In trying to reach Coach Gillett, she responded with only this comment: “I am disappointed there will not be a season this year, but we look forward to working with the remaining softball team members as we prepare for the 2016 season.”
Reporting for this story was contributed by Veritas News reporter and copy editor Kassidy Kelley.