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Former players allege verbal abuse, mistreatment by Co lin Likas | Edito r in Chief
BY MAT T HEW VANT RYON | ASST. SPORT S EDIT OR Previous Butler athletes speak out against coach as four women transfer Nine student-athletes have transf erred f rom Butler University’s women’s basketball program over the past f our academic years. Additionally, f our coaches have lef t the program and f ive players have chosen not to return over the last f ive seasons. Four of those student-athletes— juniors Taylor Schippers and Liz Stratman, sophomore Haley Howard and f reshman Ashton Feldhaus—announced their intention to transf er f rom the program within the last month. Some players are now alleging verbal abuse, a lack of team control by the coaching staf f , and players being required to participate in practices and games while injured or sick.
T he allegations come f rom f ormer players who were with the program as f ar back as 2007. Jenny Ostrom, a member of the basketball program f rom 2007 to 2009, said a culture of f ear dominated head coach Beth Couture’s program while she was part of it. Couture has been at Butler f or 11 seasons as the team’s head coach. “T here was a lot of f ear,” Ostrom said. “T hey were trying to make us f ear so we would perf orm better. I can quote things f rom when I was there, like, ‘You guys sure don’t respect me, but you’re sure as hell going to f ear me.’ “T hat’s not a good environment to grow in.” Ostrom also mentioned a situation where she was verbally abused by the coaching staf f . “Another player on the team went to the coaches and told them something about me that wasn’t true,” she said. “Instead of talking to me about it, the coaching staf f brought it up in a team meeting in f ront of everybody. T hey didn’t bother to check any other f acts.” T he situation did not end there, according to Ostrom. “T hat af f ected how (Couture) treated me f rom then on out,” Ostrom said. “T he situation got thrown back in my f ace over and over and over again.” Couture was unavailable to comment, according to an email f rom Kit Stetzel, assistant sports inf ormation director. Ostrom tore the labrum in one of her shoulders during her junior season, but she said she was f orced to practice in spite of the injury to earn playing time. “I practiced f or a month with this dislocated shoulder,” Ostrom said. “My hands were numb and I could barely do homework. I was af raid to ask to not practice, and it eventually got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore.”
She addressed the situation with Couture, who Ostrom said downplayed the signif icance of the injury. “(Couture) said, ‘I think (doctors) are just telling you surgery. It’s not that serious,’” Ostrom said. Ostrom said other players with injuries did not practice but still appeared in games. When asked f or a reason as to why she was not playing, Ostrom said the coaching staf f told her she was “more hurt.” Ostrom said she was given the choice whether or not to practice. When she chose not to, she said she was reprimanded. “I did request to not practice one day, and there was a whole to-do about injuries. T hey basically said I wasn’t injured,” Ostrom said. A f ormer player who wished to remain anonymous said she was also f orced to practice in spite of illness, or she would run the risk of f acing repercussions. “I was sick and we had early morning practice. I went straight to the trainer, and had a 103 (degree) temperature,” she said. “T he coach told me either I practice or I wasn’t going to start the next game.” She said she then realized that the program had priorities that conf licted with her own. “It was apparent to me that personal well being was not a priority,” she said. “As a person, I think that is more important than playing a basketball game. I had to choose between going to the hospital or losing my starting spot.” Olivia Wrencher, who transf erred f rom the women’s program af ter f all break this school year, said she experienced abuse f rom coaches as well. Wrencher said she was f orced to go above and beyond to stay in shape. “It became disconcerting to me because I had to keep f ood diaries, I had to run extra, and I had to do extra work on top of what we were doing as a team,” Wrencher said, “because they told me I was too f at, that I was too big.” Wrencher said she ran with Couture every morning during her f reshman year but never f elt like she had met the coach’s expectations. A second f ormer member of the program who wished to remain anonymous said the extreme physical expectations are not always limited to individuals. “We had practices at the end of the year with eight people that were three hours long, and we just got absolutely murdered,” she said. “(T his was) stuf f that we should have been doing at the beginning of the year, not at the end of the year, and def initely not with eight players. (Couture) wanted us to run f or whatever reason.” Multiple f ormer Butler players cited a lack of connection between the coaches and players as a leading f orce f or problems in the program. Another f ormer player, who wished to remain anonymous, said a f ight broke out between two players in the locker room at one point during a season. “We had a player sitting in the locker room waiting to f ight another player, and when the other player walked in the locker room, one of the players pushed and shoved her and started throwing punches, and we had to hold her back,” she said. T he f ormer player said teammates immediately went to Couture, but she added nothing was ultimately done
about the f ight. “We called coach right af ter it happened, she said she’d take care of it, and nothing came of it,” the f ormer Butler player said. “Basically, she didn’t address it, there was no punishment.” Despite good intentions, Ostrom said, the staf f did not have a handle on the team when she was there. “T hey tried to control it as best as they could, but there were people breaking rules that the coaches overlooked, so other people would (break rules too),” she said. Ostrom said the tension created by this lack of control carried over f rom the coaches to the players. “For me, there was a lot of pitting teammates against each other,” Ostrom said. “T hey called it accountability, but it wasn’t accountability f or everyone. It was accountability f or some.” A f ourth f ormer player, who wished to remain anonymous, said she f eels there is still no control exhibited by the coaching staf f . “T he head coach doesn’t have any team control at all,” she said. “We basically have some players running our coaches.” Wrencher said she went to Couture numerous times about her concerns while she was with the program, but added she saw no change. “I had plenty of conversations with coach Couture about how I f elt,” Wrencher said. “I told her time and time again that I wish I could have more than 12 seconds a game, (but) I’m not concerned with playing time. “I was concerned with what was happening of f the court, that people are yelling and screaming at each other in the locker room about a simple game.” T he reportedly negative team atmosphere lent itself to a lack of passion in games, Wrencher said. “We weren’t excited to play basketball,” she said. “You want to be excited because you are playing f or your f riends and you are representing your team, but who you’re representing is also the coaches and each other. “I played f or my team, but it was hard because I couldn’t play f or myself . I never enjoyed myself .” One anonymous source said she and other teammates dreaded the game they once loved. “Going to the gym was dreadf ul,” she said. “When all of us are Division I athletes and we worked our butts of f to get to this point, the gym used to be an escape f rom everything. T he coaches ruined it f or us.” Wrencher compared the program to imprisonment. “When I f irst came in and my parents lef t, it f elt like I was in a jail,” she said. “If I stayed here, I would be beside myself .” Former team members say they approached Athletic Director Barry Collier at various times to address the issue. “My senior year, the team decided to take it to the administration,” an anonymous source said. “We wrote down some things that we thought needed to be talked about. Af terwards, he talked to the coaches about it, but nothing was done.” Collier released the f ollowing statement through Sports Inf ormation Director Jim McGrath regarding allegations of misconduct and lack of reaction to them.
“We appreciate the ef f orts of the student-athletes and wish them well. We do receive f eedback f rom all of our athletes and we f ollow-up appropriately. We will not comment on any personnel matter.” One player who lef t the program bef ore one of the times the team reportedly went to Collier expressed concern that the issues have not been handled in an apt manner. “I was pretty shocked nothing was done about it,” she said. Despite the reported turmoil occurring inside the locker room, one f ormer student-athlete said the players were f orced to maintain a positive image. “It was our job to sell the program and really pump it up,” she said. “Some of us really struggled to do that.” Wrencher said Couture once told her players that, if they could convince a recruit to join the team, they would get practice of f the next day. Wrencher said she f elt f orced to comply with the coach’s request despite not wanting to promote the program. “I had to kneel down to the queens of basketball,” she said. Wrencher said that, as a recruit, she would ask players what their f avorite aspect of the program was. She recalled f inding it strange that no one mentioned basketball itself . “T hey always said academics,” she said. “T hey always said they liked the academics and the student lif e as opposed to the team that they were on, that they practiced with f or three hours a day.” Wrencher eventually f ound herself on the other side of the f ence. Despite having to promote the program, she couldn’t tell the whole truth. “I couldn’t tell them how bad it is to be athlete f or Butler women’s basketball,” she said. Now that she is on the outside looking in, she said she continues to see the lack of transparency being relayed to recruits and players. “Looking in, I f eel like it’s a lie,” Wrencher said. “I f eel like what they’re projecting to other people is a lie.” One anonymous source said she hopes something can be done in order to improve the situation f or f uture program members. “T he program is a complete mess,” she said. “I just hope that there’s a change in the f uture, so that no one else has to go through it. Everything happens f or a reason, but I just hope there’s a change made that stops all of this.” Four f ormer Butler women’s basketball players who transf erred f rom the program—Howard, Feldhaus, Katie Brewer and Hannah Douglas—declined to comment.
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