Sun. May 26th, 2024

Image: WCU’s softball field. Photo via wcupagoldenrams.com.jpeg

 

CORRECTION: This article was updated on Apr. 29, 2024 to provide further clarification around players being separated by their specific weight classes numerically.

CORRECTION STATEMENT: The original version of this article stated that “meat-eaters” weigh over 160 pounds, “cheetahs” are 120-160 pounds and “rabbits” weigh under 120. Since then, The Quad has learned that those specific numbers were not used in creating the groups and were estimated by a player who witnessed the groups firsthand. However, multiple former players have shared that they felt the groupings were based on weight and felt shamed by being classified as a “meat-eater.”

 

The 2024 WCU softball team is 27–18 headed into the home stretch of the season. The Rams are led by head coach Diane Lokey, who is looking for some more hardware in her 22nd season with WCU. In her time with the university, she has accomplished an impressive record of 683–403 making her the winningest coach in program history. She is a two-time PSAC Champion and brought the Rams to the DII National Championships four times. Lokey has been named PSAC Eastern Division Coach of the Year six times. Although Lokey has been unbelievably successful in the record books, former players told The Quad about a hostile team culture implemented by Lokey. Some topics that came up with the players, most of whom wish to remain anonymous, were issues of body image, mental health and the treatment of injuries. 

The Quad spoke with six former WCU softball players, all of whom played for Lokey over the last five years. The Quad reached out to Lokey for a comment via email. She declined to be interviewed for the story, saying “University coaches do not make it a practice to discuss former athletes.” Anonymous players will be referred to as Player 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. 

This is part one of a series about the hostile softball team culture at West Chester University and alleged abuse at the hands of head coach Diane Lokey.

“Do you want to be a starter or do you want to eat a snack?”

“She called us meat-eaters, cheetahs and rabbits depending on our weight,” stated 2023 graduate and star catcher, Haleigh Karcher. 

Several players confirmed that the team was separated at practice into groups, leaving them self-conscious of their body type. “I just felt like it was demeaning,” said Player 1.

Karcher expressed how it felt to be judged for trying to eat a snack between games. She played behind the plate for 14 innings straight, with a 20-minute break halfway through, on game days. Naturally, she worked up an appetite by playing. Karcher told The Quad that Lokey asked her if she wanted to be a starter or if she wanted to eat a snack while the catcher was trying to fuel up for the next game. “[Lokey] would judge what you were eating and size you up if your clothes were just a little too tight,” said Karcher. “She tells you it doesn’t look right.” Karcher shared details of a teammate who quit the team after developing an eating disorder. 

Fitness tests are found in every sport, but there were consequences when a WCU softball player did not pass the cardio-intensive workouts. Multiple players explained to The Quad that before the fitness tests, the players all had to wear blue shirts to practice. You were permitted to wear the team practice shirt once you passed the tests, but if not, you continued to wear blue. “I was the only one in a blue shirt the entire fall,” said Player 2. She believes the goal of the blue shirt was to single her out, although she continuously gave 100% effort to complete the tests and join her teammates in wearing the team practice shirt. 

“The abuse is finally done”

“I wanted to quit before I lost my love for softball,” stated Player 1. 

Unfortunately, some players were unable to hold onto their love for the game during their time as a Ram. Karcher, who now coaches softball, explained that it was difficult to find her way back to the diamond. She shared that Lokey ruined softball for her, and there has not been a day where she hasn’t thought about her terrible experiences.

She told The Quad that when she was done playing softball, the only reason she cried was because “the abuse is finally done.” The catcher said that by her senior year, she could have a game-winning hit and still would not be happy. If you looked at pictures of her from her sophomore and senior years you’d see that “they’re not even the same person,” reflected Karcher. “In my senior year, I lost all of my love for the game.” 

Despite being on the roster and attending practices, games and meetings, Player 1 felt invisible to the coaching staff. “I didn’t exist,” she told The Quad. “At practice, I felt like I didn’t exist. I was so depleted. I felt like whatever I did was never good enough.” Her mental health was so poor that in between games on double-header days, she frequently found herself crying in the Port-a-Potties near the tennis courts. After the second game, she would drive to North campus, pull over on a side street and cry again where nobody she knew could see her. 

“It was terrible,” said Player 1. “I was like, I just can’t do this. I can’t live like this anymore.” Player 1 felt like the coaching staff gave up on her as a player. “I felt like they didn’t care for who I was,” Player 1 told The Quad. “They didn’t care for my growth. They didn’t care for me [as a person].” 

Player 2 suffered an injury and completed all of her rehab, working hard to get back to perfect health. She told The Quad that she did all she could to get back on the field, but suffered a similar feeling of invisibility to Player 1. “It was mental warfare,” said Player 2. “When it comes to not being acknowledged, it was like I was a literal ghost.” She experienced panic attacks and cried frequently at practice because she didn’t know what she was doing to deserve such treatment. When Player 2 asked coaches what she could do to improve, she was repeatedly given vague answers relating to getting in better shape. When she finally built up the courage to leave the team, she broke down crying and told her coaches she could no longer mentally take being on the team. “They just sat there and stared at me,” said Player 2. “From this experience, I’ve learned to never let anyone take away your dignity or diminish your worth.” 

Player 3 told The Quad about the everyday anxiety of being on the team. She discussed that unspoken rules force players to walk on eggshells, desperately trying to avoid disappointing coaches. “Every time you wake up you think: is my shirt tucked, am I wearing the right shorts, are my shoes tied,” said Player 3. “I’m sure you know that when you consistently think about those things, you’re going to make a mistake.” From experience, she did what she could to avoid the consequences of making a small mistake. 

One morning, Player 3 woke up with an illness and was extremely upset. “I was crying, not because I was in pain, I was crying because of the fear and anxiety I had knowing that if I told her I couldn’t go to practice… I was going to be dead to her.” Her mom picked her up from campus and took her home where she could recover peacefully. Player 3 texted Lokey describing the situation and telling her she would not be able to make it to practice that day. Lokey responded that Player 3 had to attend practice. She did not make it to practice and missed 1–2 weeks with the team to focus on her health. When she returned, she rarely saw the field again. Player 3 noted, “Even my parents said she’s punishing you, who cares, you don’t want to play for someone like that anyway.”

Player 4 was not on the team for long, but she immediately noticed the competitive environment. “Despite it being a team sport, it felt extremely competitive,” noted Player 4. “Not in a push each other way more in a be on the coach’s good side or somehow get her to like you way.” 

WCU softball players are required to meet as a team with Dr. Daltry, a university psychologist. She works with the team “around improving communication, navigating conflict, and team building,” according to Daltry in response to emailed questions. “I meet with teams when coaches request or if athletes reach out and request.” Dr. Daltry acts as the connection between WCU athletics and the University Counseling Center. “I can be a point of contact for coaches, athletic trainers, administrators, and athletes. I provide programming and workshops, help promote mental health, work with coaches, teams, and athletes, and also provide counseling services to athletes (or help connect athletes to counseling services),” she said. While the resources are available and meetings are required, players have still struggled mentally. Multiple players expressed finding it difficult to be vulnerable with Dr. Daltry since they meet as a group instead of individually. While Dr. Daltry doesn’t view the mandatory meetings as therapy, the players do. 

“Shady” and “Selfish”

A few players told The Quad that they received unfair treatment after suffering an injury. Player 5 injured her elbow and attended rehab with WCU athletic trainers. Her elbow was not improving, so she decided to get additional help from a top orthopedic practice in the area. There, she discovered she had been misdiagnosed by WCU athletic trainers, so Player 5 attended rehab outside of school to get back on the field as soon as possible. The doctors advised her to continue playing as long as it was manageable. Player 5 soon discovered Lokey’s feelings about getting outside help, telling The Quad that she was called “shady” and “selfish” by Lokey regarding seeking outside treatment for her injury. Shortly after, Player 5 decided to leave the team. She quickly received an email telling her to sign over her aid rights that same afternoon. 

Part two of this series will be published online in The Quad next week. The Quad will share Haleigh Karcher’s experience on the team including insults relating to her disability and a suspension she does not believe she deserved. 

If you are a current or former player of Lokey’s, or someone with knowledge of these situations and the WCU softball team culture, and you would like to add another perspective to this story, please reach out to The Quad at wcuquad@gmail.com.

 


Rebecca Arnold is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism.

9 thoughts on ““It was mental warfare”: Former WCU Softball Players Recall a Hostile Team Culture”
  1. This lady needs to be fired. Asap. Makes me sick to my stomach to read this. There should be justification in any of her actions. This is outlandish behavior as a coach.

  2. As an alumni, this is beyond disheartening to learn of this, since I have have family that have been the victim of this brutality by the coach. My niece left the team and the college last year because of the horrible treatment she received. The college needs to put an end to this atmosphere of bullying and intimidation immediately.

  3. As a former WCU softball player, I was shocked to read this article on the culture of WCU Softball from Rebecca Arnold. The culture described in this article did not reflect my experience nor the experience of many of my teammates. Coach Lokey was a great mentor for me, and I had a very positive experience during my time on the team. It is unfortunate that those interviewed for this article did not have the same positive experience. However, it would have been prudent for the author of this article to reach out to more former and current players to acquire a more accurate representation of the WCU Softball culture. Most of which would likely describe their time on the team as positive.

    As a newspaper that strives for credibility, transparency, and trust (as stated on your website), I feel that this article missed the mark. I am saddened that this article was published without the perspective of those of us who enjoyed our time on the WCU Softball team.

  4. To clarify, we were NEVER called cheetahs, rabbits and meat eaters based on our weight. The descriptors were supposed to make it easier to say “cheetahs and rabbits should run in this situation” since their speed would allow them to be safe instead of listing a dozen names each time. Weight had absolutely nothing to do with it.

    I mean no disrespect and do not wish to discredit my former teammates feelings and experiences but this “article” is incredibly misleading, one sided, and includes inaccuracies. I hope all those who wrote in are able to get the mental health support they need.

    I and many others feel West Chester Softball was a positive experience and Coach Lokey is a caring and supportive coach.

  5. I am a WCU grad and was very ticked off at the behavior at my University when I scanned through article. After reading again I figured out it was West Chester University WCU not
    Western Carolina University WCU.
    Relieved!
    Thanks😜

  6. Wow….. after reading this article has brought back many experiences. Letters have been written to the athletic director for YEARS and nothing changes. This just scratched the surface of situations wcu softball faced and not even the worst of what was faced. No college athlete should be put in these situations and unfortunately we were all there to witness it even if it didn’t happen to everyone. Some experienced this every year for four years some maybe one year and some not at all. Our loyalty and hard work was taken advantage of and it put us all in unfair situations. This was the culture between Coach Lokey and the players. Thankfully the group of girls were amazing and stuck together and they are the reason for all of wcu softball success.

  7. Wow….. after reading this article has brought back many experiences. Letters have been written to the athletic director for YEARS and nothing changes. This just scratched the surface of situations wcu softball faced and not even the worst of what was faced. No college athlete should be put in these situations and unfortunately we were all there to witness it even if it didn’t happen to everyone. Some experienced this every year for four years some maybe one year and some not at all. Our loyalty and hard work was taken advantage of and it put us all in unfair situations. This was the culture between Coach Lokey and players. Thankfully the group of girls were amazing and stuck together and they are the reason for all of wcu softball success.

  8. So pretty sure, no recordings, typed emails, text to confirm any of this.
    Have seen ganging up on a coach before. Reverse bulling.
    I find coach lokey to be an “outstanding ”
    Person. Have known her for over 15 years. If I had younger daughter still playing, I would love her to play for coach lokey.

  9. It’s always funny to hear about these issues after a player doesn’t get the playing time they want. College sports is hard, and it is hard to earn a starting spot. Coaches aren’t inherently trying to mess with your heads; point blank–not playing is hard, and the coach isn’t doing that on purpose. They are hired to WIN, and if they don’t win, they get fired.
    I do hope these ladies get the help they need, instead of dragging and blaming a successful coach through the mud.
    If this is what journalism is to West Chester University, that is the real crime. A lot of headline makers with no evidence behind it…sports has a long history of disgruntled bench players, willing to misconstrue the truth and drag down good coaches.

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