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Coach accused of favoritism

Former players and coaches say USF women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters creates a hostile environment.

By ROGER MILLS, ANTONYA ENGLISH and DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000


TAMPA -- Several former players and a former assistant coach are accusing University of South Florida women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters of discrimination based on race and sexual orientation, and of creating a racially divisive environment.

Three black players and one black assistant coach contacted by the St. Petersburg Times said Winters generally showed favoritism toward white players; rarely allowed black and white players to room together on the road even though some black players complained about it; only allowed black players to be hosts for black recruits; and used race and racial stereotypes in describing opposing players.

One former black USF player, Charmain Leslie, said she once heard Winters say she "wasn't going to have any gay players on her team."

As a result, the Bulls program has been a cauldron of racial tension the last few seasons, according to former players Dione Smith, Avia Lee and Leslie, and former assistant coach Tara Gibson.

"Make sure my name is in there in big, bold letters. Avia Lee said Jerry Ann Winters is a racist," Lee said. "Quote me word for word. Don't leave out a letter or nothing."

Smith, who was dismissed from the team by Winters in May, has retained Tampa attorney Jonathan L. Alpert, who said a racial discrimination lawsuit against Winters and/or USF likely will be filed today followed by a news conference.

Lee, whose scholarship wasn't renewed by Winters after one season, said she is pursuing her case through various civil rights organizations.

In an interview with the Times on Wednesday, Winters denied the allegations, saying Smith, Lee, Leslie and Gibson are merely disgruntled former members of the program.

Winters, 51, addressed the accusations for about 10 minutes in her office, then declined to comment further, saying she needed to confer with her attorney and USF athletic director Paul Griffin.

"I don't want to get myself or this university into any trouble," said Winters, who is entering her fifth season with the Bulls, "but I will assure you there is another side of this story."

When contacted by the Times on Wednesday, former assistant coaches Staci Elias and Stephanie Canada, who are white, declined comment on the allegations against Winters.

"I want to coach in college again, so I really don't want to get into any of that," said Elias, now the Wharton High volleyball coach.

Winters acknowledged there has been racial tension within the program in recent years but indicated the climate has improved since last season.

"In discussions that I had with all the players last year, all of their complaints, at least (the ones that) were honest with me and brought to my attention, were playing-time related," Winters said.

Griffin confirmed that athletic department officials conducted a "review" last year of allegations of racial discriminations within the women's team but wouldn't reveal the outcome or say if any actions were taken as a result.

He added the matter has been passed to the university's Equal Opportunity Affairs department, which is continuing the review.

"The review is ongoing," Griffin said. "It would be inappropriate for me to comment ... "

Smith and Lee said they were among four players who complained to Hiram Green, assistant athletic director for basketball operations, last season about what they considered unfair treatment by Winters. They claimed she scolded black players for making mistakes in practice and games but went easier on white players who made similar errors.

They said Green instructed them to put their complaints in writing and submit them to him. Three of the four said they did, but said they haven't heard anything about their complaint from athletic department officials since.

Gibson, an assistant in the 1999-2000 season, supported those claims.

"There were incidents where she focused on the black kids when the rest of the team was also in the wrong," Gibson said, "but the black kids received the backlash and took the majority of the heat when it should have been everybody."

Lee, Leslie and Smith said many things Winters said and did contained elements of race. They said black players were asked to host only black players on recruiting visits. And Winters almost always separated players by race when handing out hotel room assignments on road trips.

"There was no mixing," Lee said. "I asked Coach Elias about it and she said that's the way Coach Winters wants it."

Said Smith: "I pointed out to her that it's not good chemistry for the team (to be divided) ... She just said it's because of a comfort zone."

Lee and Smith said Winters used race and stereotypes during practice in describing opposing players. Lee and Smith said that made them feel uncomfortable.

"Coach would describe the opponents as, "She's a slow white girl so you should be able to hold her, Shannon (Layne).' Or she would say, "She's a big black girl, Charmain, but I think you can handle her,' " Smith said in the written complaint she said she submitted to Green.

Added Lee: "Everything always had a racial preference. All the time."

Gibson added that there clearly was animosity between the black players and Winters, and that she and then-assistant coach Wanda Guyton, who is black, often were kept out of the loop when it came to coaching matters.

"I could definitely sense that between the black players and coach Winters there was tension," said Gibson, who is an assistant coach at Daytona Beach Community College. "The black players weren't disrespectful; they were receptive to her coaching. (But) you just knew something had happened. You could feel it.

"Honestly, I felt isolated a lot as far as being part of the coaching team," Gibson continued. "I felt we were left out of a lot of the coaching decisions."

Lee said Winters didn't renew her scholarship after the 1998-99 season because of race, however Winters said it was because of Lee's poor attitude.

"I know she had a problem with me because I was black," said Lee, who played last season at Lynn University in South Florida and is hoping to return to USF this fall to complete her studies. "I'm a black female. I have short hair and I have tattoos everywhere and that's something she doesn't like. That put me in the hole even more."

In a letter addressed to Whom It May Concern, Winters said Smith was dismissed from the team because she showed an "outward and blatant disrespect for me" during a March 5 incident. While returning from the Conference USA Tournament in Louisville, Smith sang a song, making up words that Winters said questioned her job security.

Smith, however, denies saying anything about Winters' job security, and claims she was let go because she was outspoken about the racial tension. "If I was a white person, (the dismissal) probably would never have happened to me," said Smith, who is still on scholarship at USF.

Gibson echoed claims by Lee and Smith that Winters was reluctant to recruit black players, even though USF always has had a good mix of black and white players. According to the media guide for the 1998-99 season, Winters brought in five new players, four of them black. And for the 1999-2000 season, two of the team's four freshmen were black.

- Times researchers Kitty Bennett and John Martin contributed to this report.

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$STPT ID: +

Paper: Date: 8/24/00 +

Page: 12C Section: SPORTS+

Byline: JOANNE KORTH

Notes:

GAINESVILLE -- Having a hard time getting fired up for ninth-ranked Florida's first two games? Don't feel badly. So is Steve Spurrier

The Gators open the season Sept. 2 against Ball State, which has lost 17 straight. Sept. 9, it's Middle Tennessee State, which is in its second season as a Division I-A program.

"We should be playing Notre Dame or Penn State or somebody," Spurrier said. "But since there's not a playoff, we have to bring somebody in, give them a paycheck and send them home. I wish we didn't have to play those kinds of teams, but our schedule is tough enough with the SEC and FSU."

Florida takes flak every year for opening against inferior opponents, but the Gators make no apologies. Not only can they ill-afford an early season loss in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, they can't afford to go on the road. UF makes about $1-million per home game.

"We need to play six home games," said Spurrier, noting that Florida shares with Georgia revenue from their annual game in Jacksonville. "If we didn't bring in two schools that we don't have to go to their place, we'd only have five games. Financially, it's smart to bring in two smaller teams. That's the way we do it. I understand and agree with it, but I don't have to accept it."

Spurrier admitted there is little to be gained from playing overmatched opponents. As far as the Gators are concerned, the season technically starts Sept. 16 at Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee.

"You don't try to get too motivated for a team when you're heavily favored," Spurrier said. "These first two games we'll try to play everybody and play hard and play smart -- try to get in the habit of doing that."

HAPPY RETURNS: The men's basketball team returned Monday from a 12-day trip to Europe, where it went 3-1-1 in games against teams from France and Germany.

"My goal was to try to bring us closer together," coachBilly Donovan said. "We've had good chemistry the last couple years, but I wanted to make that better. We accomplished that. Any time you go into a foreign country where people don't speak English, the players have to rely on each other -- to order food, to get around and to communicate. I think that's good, and we had a real good time."

Junior guard Teddy Dupay, who had surgery at the end of last season to repair a rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder, led the Gators in scoring with a 21.6 average.

"Last year was tough for me," said Dupay, who played in pain. "I think it's a relief for me and for my teammates to see that I can produce again."

PICKED TO REPEAT: The soccer and volleyball teams were picked to repeat as SEC champions in voting by league coaches. The soccer team, ranked No. 10 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll, won the SEC East with a 9-0 regular-season record and beat Mississippi 3-0 in the SEC tournament final to claim its fourth straight title.

The volleyball team, ranked No. 9 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll, has won nine straight SEC championships and seven of the last eight SEC tournaments. It has not lost a regular-season SEC match in seven seasons.

FAST PITCHES: Karen Johns, who was hired in June to replace fired softball coach Larry Ray, signed her first two recruits: pitcherAmanda Moore of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and middle infielderJackie Marchetta, who played one season at Florida Southern and was selected as the Sunshine Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year.

Also, construction has begun on a $400,000 locker room facility at the Florida Softball Stadium. The 2,300 square-foot building, an addition to the existing clubhouse, will have a locker and shower area for 20 players, meeting and equipment rooms and a laundry facility.

- Contact Gators beat writer Joanne Korth at (800) 333-7505, ext. 7306, or by e-mail at Korth@sptimes.com.

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