LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Amid a banner year for the University of Louisville's athletics program, some players and parents were seeking out the administration, angry about a coach whose tactics they say crossed the line.
In interviews with The Courier-Journal
, six current or former U of L women's lacrosse players from the past two seasons, and a group of parents, described coach Kellie Young as an abusive taskmaster who directed the program amid a culture of fear.
Among the players' allegations against Young — including some that would violate the university's Code of Conduct for employees — players said that she:
• Made a player with a torn anterior cruciate ligament do 250 push-ups as punishment in an airport terminal.
• Kicked a player off the team during a road trip, leaving her behind at the stadium when the team bus returned to the hotel.
• Told two teammates to sign a contract saying they would no longer speak to each other.
• Called players a series of vulgar names and used similarly vulgar terms to refer to their parents.
In an interview, Young, 42, disputed the accuracy of most claims and referred to behavior issues of some of the players who spoke to The Courier-Journal. Two current co-captains, made available by the university, said in interviews that they supported Young's coaching methods, and that the atmosphere, while intense, was nothing they couldn't handle.
Said Young: "I tell my leaders, 'It's acting. I'm just trying to get a reaction out of you. If you're going to be mad at me, great ... if that means you're gonna play harder.' "
Young, who is entering her seventh season as coach, was supervised by former assistant athletic director Julie Hermann, whose hiring as Rutgers University's athletic director last May was nearly derailed by allegations of abuse she faced from her tenure as the University of Tennessee women's volleyball coach.
Some U of L players and their parents said they complained to Hermann about Young as early as 2012 but saw no change, even though Hermann led them to believe Young would be disciplined or fired, they said.
In a portion of an April 25, 2013, email from Hermann to a parent, obtained by The Courier-Journal
, Hermann replied to that parent's complaints about Young by acknowledging prior issues with the coach.
"Please be assured that this is not new information to us and therefore has been part of the ongoing dialogue along with a mass of other information we have acquired and are working on," Hermann wrote. "[The team has] two competitions this weekend and then we will make a determination on how the program goes forward."
Athletic director Tom Jurich said in an interview Friday he did not know what "mass of information" Hermann referred to in the email. He said that he and Hermann spoke often and that she had told him about meetings with parents.
When asked what was done to look into parents' concerns this spring, Jurich replied, "You need to talk to Julie about that."
Hermann, through a Rutgers spokesman, declined to comment.
On May 15, Hermann accepted the Rutgers job, replacing Tim Pernetti, who resigned after criticism for his lack of action in the university's men's basketball abuse scandal.
Young's contract, with a base salary of $100,000, was renewed by U of L on June 30.
Young said U of L's administration had never voiced concerns about her behavior until last spring, when Jurich told her to stop cursing around the team. She said she also met with Hermann about parents' complaints but said she was not disciplined.
Jurich said Young told him she would "definitely" work on her language.
"And I think she has," he said. "I think she's done a good job. I haven't heard anything further about it."
U of L President James Ramsey declined an interview for this story but said in a statement: "I have discussed the matter involving the lacrosse team with Tom Jurich and have full confidence that he will handle it appropriately."Disturbing culture
Players upset with Young's actions, all of whom attended U of L during at least the 2012 and/or 2013 seasons, detailed a disturbing culture that emerged in the shadows of the university's thriving athletics program.
They characterized Young as a controlling and vindictive coach who exploited players' insecurities.
Young, the players said, often made them sit in silence for hours after losses, including on planes and buses. They said she instructed them to shun certain teammates, forbade them from speaking to players who had quit the program and mocked players who struggled with physical tasks.
Young disputed claims that she told players to shun teammates or mocked players but said she sometimes did demand silence, telling players "not to be giddy and happy-go-lucky" after losses — but not for hours.
Former midfielder Darby Dudley told The Courier-Journal that at an airport after a game in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2012, Young claimed an injured player had a bad attitude, so she made the player, the captains and other injured players she was with — including two with torn knee ligaments and one with a stress fracture — do push-ups in the terminal. Dudley, who had a torn ACL, said she was forced to do 250 push-ups.
Senior co-captain Monica Negron said that she also did "a good amount" of push-ups that day, but that only one injured player was in the group. "You do your punishment, and you get over it," she said.
Young said she routinely makes players do push-ups as punishment but said she wouldn't have them do 250.
At a youth clinic following a game in Georgia in March 2012, children were waiting for autographs when Young made the team run full-field sprints and hold a push-up position for several minutes as punishment for their behavior. Players allegedly trembled from exhaustion and vomited on the field while Young chastised them, as children watched.
Young said no players threw up and added that she felt the punishment was justified. "I don't stand for cattiness, I don't stand for people talking behind other students' backs," she said. "... There is absolutely a ladder of consequences."
One former player said she was kicked off the team with three games remaining last year when Young found out she was considering transferring at season's end. Kelsey Garraty, currently a senior defender on the team, said that in a meeting soon after, Young told the team the player was a coward.
Young acknowledged that the player was quickly removed from the team. "This was not something she was thinking about," Young said. "She had made her decision to go. We said, 'We wish you all the best but we're gonna finish our season.' ... She kept her scholarship. She kept her academic support."
Patrick Campbell, whose daughter Brooke played for U of L from 2009 to 2012, said Young's approach went way beyond discipline. "It turns into abuse and humiliation," he said.
Players said that by their count more than 20 Cardinals have either quit or been kicked off the team over the past three seasons. They said the fear of Young's wrath and worries about loss of scholarships kept women from leaving in even greater numbers.
Young acknowledged that there was extensive turnover following her first season, in 2007, but she characterized the number of exits in recent years — a figure she did not specify — as normal.
In separate interviews at the team training facility, overseen by a member of the U of L athletics staff, Cardinals co-captains Negron and Hillary Bushway said the feelings of the frustrated players and parents interviewed for this story don't reflect the thoughts of the majority of the team.
They said that Young is tough but fair and that the atmosphere around the team this year is comfortable.
"There's been a lot of positivity this fall," Bushway said. "We're in such a great place, better than we have ever since I've been here these past four years."Player left behind
Players told The Courier-Journal that they found one incident last spring especially upsetting.
At halftime of a game at Syracuse on April 12, according to players, Young lambasted Garraty for a perceived lack of respect and continued the tirade after the loss, ultimately kicking her off the team.
Garraty found her father, Steve, who had driven to Syracuse from his home in Pennsylvania, at a postgame tailgate gathering and told him what had happened. She then walked toward the team bus, but it was gone.
Young said in an interview that leaving Garraty behind was a mistake. "I left her with her father," Young said, "and I should have brought her with the team and then sent her home with her father."
Steve Garraty scoffed at Young'sassertion that she left Kelsey with him.
"You'd expect, if that was actually true, someone would come up and let me know or give me some idea," he said. "Nothing was said to me. How do I get her back to Kentucky? I'm in upstate New [lacrosse], and she has class Monday morning."
Garraty ultimately drove his daughter to Connecticut, where the team was to play its next match. Kelsey apologized to Young and was allowed to rejoin the team.
"I told Kelsey to bite the bullet, to wait until the season's over, and we'd address the situation," Steve Garraty said. "She knew the next two weeks were going to be [lacrosse], and they were."
University of Notre Dame psychology professor F. Clark Power, co-director of the school's coaching education program, said Young's alleged treatment of players goes beyond what is considered the tough love many college athletes face.
"All of these actions seem to me to be pretty blatantly unethical, and I would think that would be of great concern to any department of athletics," Power said after being told of the allegations. "I'm having trouble imagining, if I were to come to the defense of this behavior, how I could possibly defend it."
U of L's code of conduct calls on university employees to "be respectful, fair and civil, and to "promote conflict resolution." The policy also calls on employees to "act ethically and with integrity" and to "avoid all forms of harassment."
Some schools, including Indiana and Georgetown universities, have codes of conduct designed specifically for coaches; U of L does not. Last Tuesday, two weeks after concerns were raised about conduct and inappropriate language, Georgetown placed women's basketball coach Keith Brown on administrative leave.
There are guidelines in place for U of L players, however. In the student-athlete handbook, players are held accountable if their actions: "intimidate, humiliate, or demean persons or groups, or ... undermine their security or self-esteem."
The Courier-Journal filed an open records request in May to acquire Young's emails from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and Hermann's emails from the same years. U of L, citing privacy laws, declined to release certain emails, including any between Young and student-athletes, or any in which a student-athlete was discussed.
The university as of this week had not provided Hermann's emails.'This is my team!'
Before coming to U of L, Kellie Young was a standout lacrosse player at Mount Holyoke College and later worked as an assistant at Amherst, Sweet Briar and Georgetown. She was named James Madison's head coach in 2003 and led the Dukes to three NCAA Tournament appearances.
Former JMU player Lisa Staedt Ojea said playing for Young was "an incredibly tough experience, but one that many of my teammates, especially in my class, would not have traded." Staedt Ojea, who was Young's assistant coach at U of L from 2006-10, said the atmosphere at Louisville did not seem out of the ordinary.
Young said the start of her career at Louisville was difficult. She thought some players were unprepared for the rigors of Division I athletics and she made players run "almost every day" for skipping classes. She also reduced scholarships for disciplinary reasons —something she had never done before.
"I spent the first two years getting phone calls in the middle of the night for things that were happening, leaving my family to come in and manage on countless occasions," she said. "But you sit back as a coach and you swallow (the idea that) this is a part of building something."
Young, whose team went 11-6 last season, said she typically meets with each player four times per year. She also has a "wing-mate" system, in which players could voice issues to a teammate or even a coach.
Still, some players were reluctant. Darlene Eipp said she encouraged her daughter Erika, a midfielder who ultimately transferred after last season, to talk to Young about her concerns.
"She said, 'Are you kidding me, Mom? (Young) said if we speak up, if we have a mind of our own, that's considered being disrespectful,' " Eipp said.
According to players, Young erupted frequently. Dudley said Young approached her at her first practice and started swearing at her.
"She's screaming at me, "This is my team! Don't (expletive) up my team!' " Dudley said.
Dudley, who has family in East Lansing, Mich., said Young reprimanded her in March 2012 for wearing a Michigan State T-shirt on campus. Young said she had received a call from a U of L administrator saying Dudley should change the shirt.
"Anytime the administration asks you to have somebody to take off opponent gear, I'm going to do what I'm asked," Young said. "And just so you know, because it may not be what's shared with you, she came up here on her own volition and apologized."
However, in a voicemail acquired by The Courier-Journal, Young can be heard demanding that Dudley come to her office.
"Darby, change your clothes, don't bother coming to practice today. Do you know that I just got a phone call about you wearing a Michigan State shirt? You obviously have no idea how serious athletics is at the University of Louisville. I do not want to see your face today until after practice, but your butt better be up in my office with a Louisville shirt on your chest when practice ends."A contract not to speak
Two weeks before starting her freshman year at U of L in 2008, Brooke Campbell received an unsettling email from a future lacrosse teammate.
"It said, 'You shouldn't come here. Withdraw. Go somewhere else while you still have the chance,' " Campbell said. "... Then I get to Louisville, and the girls on the team were talking like, 'She's so horrible. Get ready.' "
Campbell said she first witnessed Young's temper after the Cardinals lost a fall-league game that year.
"She just lost it" 'I've been puking up green (expletive) all day; you guys are a bunch of princess pussies!' " Campbell recalled Young screaming at the team.
Young strongly denied using such language. But according to Campbell, the atmosphere became increasingly volatile over the next three seasons.
One night during Campbell's senior year Young showed up unannounced at her off-campus home and gave her and her roommates three seconds to open the door. Young said she went there to confront them about "three years of bad choices."
Also that year, Campbell said Young scheduled an unusually early workout the morning after Campbell's 22nd birthday party. Campbell said she and a teammate showed up hung over. They were both suspended for being unprepared for the workout, a punishment Campbell said they deserved. But Campbell said the repercussions were excessive.
Campbell said Young sought new housing for her so the two friends would stop living together, and she also drew up a contract stipulating that they would not speak to each other anymore. Campbell said she signed the contract, and the two friends did not speak for a month until the other player quit the team.
Young said she frequently asks players to sign contracts, including those that are designed for situations such as "whether they've been gossiping or whether they've been catty or whether they've been detrimental to their teammates." But she said that she did not recall a contract saying two players were not allowed to speak to each other.
Campbell said she was told to meet with Young's boss, Hermann, once a week to show that she was being more socially responsible. During one meeting in the spring 2012 semester, Campbell said, she detailed Young's behavior to Hermann.
"(Hermann) was like, 'Oh, my God,' " Campbell said. "She seemed so concerned. She said she didn't know it was that bad. And then after that week she never called to meet me again. I went to meet her a few times, and they always said, 'No, she's not here.' "
Steve Garraty said he and Kelsey also went to Hermann and spoke with her about the Syracuse incident for nearly two hours on April 26. He said Hermann was sympathetic and apologetic.
"She was saying, 'Things are going to be done. I've seen this before and things have been going on long enough,' " Steve Garraty said. "She was adamant that this was going to be handled and even asked Kelsey which assistant would be best to lead the program."
Steve Garraty said Hermann asked him to give her one week. He said he never heard from her again.
On May 15, Hermann accepted the Rutgers position. Several parents said that after allegations of abuse emerged regarding Hermann's past, they wondered if Hermann had been truthful and if her concern had been genuine.
Some also spoke with regret that they had let their daughters play for Young.
"There are issues at every program, but not this," said Darlene Eipp, whose son plays lacrosse for Harvard. "Your children shouldn't have to put up with this. ... We sent Erika to Louisville so (Young) would be motherly to these girls and look out for them. It was just the opposite. She wasn't there for them; she wanted to control them."Adam Himmelsbach writes for The Courier-Journal, a Gannett company.