Nearly 60 former Holy Cross women’s basketball players, assistant coaches and team managers have attached their signatures to a letter of support for coach Bill Gibbons.
Holy Cross women’s basketball coach Bill Gibbons, left, makes a presentation to former men’s basketball coach George Blaney, right, during a retirement party for Blaney at the Worcester Country Club on Thursday. Blaney coached the Crusaders for 22 years (1972-1994) before ending his career as a longtime assistant at the University of Connecticut. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)
In a lawsuit brought by a former player earlier this week, Gibbons was accused of verbally and physically abusing his players at games and practices. On Wednesday, Gibbons stepped aside from his coaching duties while the college reviews the claims.
“These allegations are far from the Coach Gibbons that we know,” the letter said.
Gibbons’ assistants have assumed all coaching duties while he is on administrative leave with pay.
In the 21-page lawsuit filed in New York, Ashley Cooper, who was a backup guard at Holy Cross the last two years, claims Gibbons struck her on the back of the neck on more than one occasion. Cooper accused Gibbons of shaking her by the shoulders, yanking her by her shirt collar, and squeezing the back of her neck in anger on several occasions. The suit alleges Gibbons struck another player on the back during a Patriot League Tournament game against Lehigh in March 2013.
“If there is any truth to these allegations, then we trust the College of the Holy Cross will take appropriate action,” the letter said. “However, Ashley Cooper is not the voice of the more than one hundred women that have played for Coach Gibbons in his nearly 30-year tenure.”
The letter was distributed to various media outlets.
As a show of support, about 8-10 former players attended a meeting Gibbons held at the Hart Center Wednesday afternoon with members of this year’s team, Holy Cross administrators, coaches of other Holy Cross teams, and HC legal counsel.
According to Jeanette (Paukert) Wehrenberg, who played for the Crusaders from 1998-2002 and was at Wednesday’s meeting, signatures continued to be added to the letter Thursday night.
Gibbons took over the HC women’s program in 1985 and has won 533 games in his 28 seasons as coach.
“He was, and still is, a father figure for those of us without fathers, and a sounding board for some of us with critical life decisions,” the letter said. “His family took each and every one of us in and made us feel at home. Above all, he was a leader who always taught us to do right and — more importantly — to be ‘men and women for others’ in the Jesuit tradition.”
Cooper claimed Holy Cross does not have an alumnae game because players are demoralized by the time they complete the basketball program.
The letter disputes that claim, saying, “The sheer number (of signatures) does not indicate that we are ‘demoralized’ and absent alumnae.”
By Jennifer Toland, TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF. Contact Jennifer Toland at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JenTandG.