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Player, ex-coach dispute report

Both say they defended suspended USF coach Jerry Ann Winters.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000

TAMPA -- The internal report that led to the suspension of University of South Florida women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters came under scrutiny Tuesday by a current player and former assistant coach.

Aiya Shepard, a sophomore guard, and former assistant Ron Gathright said many of their statements in the university's Equal Opportunity Affairs office report were incorrect or taken out of context. They also said pertinent information that supported Winters was omitted.

The office's investigation concluded that Winters dismissed former point guard Dione Smith from the team in April in retaliation for Smith's participation in a 1999 internal review of the program. The review found a recurring theme of racism in the program.

Winters, suspended with pay last week, vigorously disputed the report of the office's findings and plans to appeal. She did not attend Tuesday's news conference, held in the office of her attorney, John Goldsmith, at the request of Gathright and Shepard.

Shepard and Gathright sharply criticized the report, conducted by Equal Opportunity Affairs coordinator Camille Blake, and disputed many of the issues current players Shannon Layne and Lindsey Smith did last week. They also disputed allegations against Winters in six federal racial discrimination lawsuits filed by former players.

"The report quotes me as making several statements that I did not make," Shepard said, reading a statement. "In fact, a majority of the statements that the report says I made involve things that were not even discussed in my conversation with the EOA investigator, Camille Blake."

Shepard, who is black, said the only topic she discussed with Blake was an incident on the team bus involving Smith that Winters said led to Smith's dismissal. But the report contains comments from Shepard pertaining to Winters' treatment of Smith and the tone of their relationship.

Gathright, who is white, spent nine seasons as an assistant under Winters. He said Blake omitted statements he gave detailing Smith's "disrespectful and belligerent attitude toward the coaching staff and the other players."

He also said he "strongly felt" Blake tried to put words in his mouth.

"Whenever I said anything, (Blake) would attempt to turn the statement around and ask me questions that put coach Winters in a bad light," said Gathright, who drove from his home in Dallas to attend the news conference.

Blake declined to comment, citing Winters' pending appeal. University officials said Tuesday the report stands for now.

"Our position is that we are waiting on a possible appeal from (Winters)," university spokesman Harry Battson said. "She can present whatever information she wants for that appeal, and it will be considered by the appeals officer."

Gathright, who resigned in March and runs a basketball academy for Basketball Congress International, also said Winters did not dismiss Smith purely in retaliation.

"Although Dione Smith's disrespect was infrequent in her freshman year, it became very common in her sophomore and junior years," Gathright said. "This disrespect would manifest itself in ways ranging from Dione Smith openly rolling her eyes at me or coach Winters during a game or practice; to simply refusing to respond to the coaching staff when she was directly addressed; to being openly belligerent and talking back during practice and at games. In practice, Dione Smith had a shouting match with one of the coaching staff."

The Equal Opportunity Affairs office report states that Shepard said Smith never challenged Winters or was disrespectful to her; that Winters got on Smith about little things and never addressed her; and that Winters would relay instructions for Smith in practice through other coaches.

The report also states that Winters wrote in a September 2000 rebuttal that she had not experienced problems with Smith before the bus incident.

Smith declined to comment through her attorney, Jonathan L. Alpert. Alpert said he welcomed Shepard and Gathright coming forward.

"I am pleased because when you clear away the smoke and mirrors, they are validating what we are saying," Alpert said. In the university's 1999 internal investigation, former assistant athletic director Hiram Green found a recurring "theme and undertone of racism in the women's basketball office by Jerry Ann Winters and Ron Gathright." The report stated that two former white assistant coaches "made reference to Gathright's loose use of" the n-word.

Gathright, 31, and Shepard, 19, also blasted allegations contained in the six lawsuits against Winters. Former players Smith, Patrice Coleman, Avia Lee, Tanya Gary, LaTonya Greer and Tamekia Williams allege Winters gave preferential treatment to white players, separated players by race in housing assignments on road trips and during meals, and held black players to a more rigorous standard than whites.

"Any allegation that African-Americans were treated differently than whites or others on the women's basketball team is absolutely ridiculous," Shepard said.

Said Gathright: "Nobody was treated any differently based on the color of their skin."

Shepard was not a member of the team during the 1999 internal investigation and was a teammate of only one player who has filed a lawsuit, Smith said.

Goldsmith, Winters' attorney, said "a number of players" have called him to say they did not make statements attributed to them in the Equal Opportunity Affairs office report. Goldsmith said he did not know if any of those players are black or if any would come forward.

"We certainly believe that once all of the evidence comes out and when people's actual statements are presented as opposed to summaries, it's going to be clear that there is no basis to claim retaliation," Goldsmith said. -- Times staff writer Darrell Fry contributed to this report.

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