Sun. May 26th, 2024

Photo: Pictured is the front page of The Quad‘s print edition of last week, published April 22, 2024. Featured is the article “‘It was mental warfare’: Former WCU Softball Player Recall a Hostile Team Culture.”

 

*Brianna “Bri” Garber was the former all-time hits leader for PSAC and WCU softball until April 23, 2024. Additionally, her father, Todd Garber, is a volunteer Assistant Coach for the current team.

 

For context, my name is Bri Garber and I graduated from West Chester University in 2021 after playing five years on the Division II softball team. I organized this letter on behalf of numerous current and former players. Please note due to the word limit only snippets of quotes provided from players over the five-year time frame referenced in the article were able to be used.

This article is a response to the article written by Rebecca Arnold titled “‘It was mental warfare’: Former WCU Softball Players Recall a Hostile Team Culture.” Those and I quoted throughout this article did not feel the previous article was an appropriate representation of West Chester Softball’s culture. The only players interviewed were former players who seem to have all quit or been suspended from the team. Their personal experiences are not to be discredited and I hope anyone who feels they would benefit from mental health help receives what they need. This article reflects the experiences of some current and former players who feel as though the previous article did not accurately reflect the team culture of the program set forth by Coach Lokey.

To clarify one incorrect statement made in the referenced article, Coach did not classify us as cheetahs, rabbits and meat eaters based on our weight. The terms were used for base running purposes with cheetahs being the fastest players (previously referred to as ‘very fast’), rabbits being the next fastest players (previously referred to as ‘fast’) and meat eaters being the least fast players who traditionally are power hitters. An example of how these would be used in practice is saying, “Cheetahs should look to take an extra base in this situation.” I am shocked and saddened to hear some former players had a misconception that these phrases were based on weight.

While I feel there were numerous statements in the referenced article that were misleading and taken out of important context, I believe discussing some of what Coach Lokey does to implement a hardworking and encouraging culture is important context to have.

Through the transition of high school to college, mental health issues are not uncommon especially in those balancing academics and athletics. Within the first few weeks, Coach Lokey provides mental health resources to her players. Coach always encourages everyone to take advantage of these free resources, especially those that are specific for student athletes. We had frequent meetings with Dr. Daltry, a licensed psychologist who is partnered with the athletics department. This was a safe and confidential space where athlete’s concerns, frustrations and struggles could be heard. She also made herself available via email, phone, and in-person meetings for those that wanted to meet individually. The importance of these meetings was emphasized as Coach gave hours of our weekly allotted practice time throughout the year for meetings like this. Coach Lokey is the only coach I’m aware of that consistently dedicates NCAA hours towards meetings like this.

“Coach has recently, over my past five years, implemented a weekly mental training session that equips us with tools on how to handle hard situations and helps to improve our mental game.” – Kate Rittenbaugh

“At our most recent mental training session, we did what is called a “teammate spotlight.” Each player sat in the front of the room, and they got to hear from their teammates everything that we love about them, what we appreciate about them, and to just thank them. We thought it was equally as important for the coaches to get their moment too. When Coach Lokey was up, she was flooded with positive, loving, and caring comments from her players, so much to a point where she started to tear up.” – Madison Melvin

“The coaches goal is to keep a positive and uplifting culture. We do many community service and team bonding events to achieve this. They are advocates for our mental health.” – Hailey Melvin

Coach also dedicated practice time towards developing a positive team culture through “UBUNTU” meetings, meaning “I am because we are.” This was led by a graduate student who created team bonding activities to develop stronger communication and trust between teammates.

“To create a positive team culture, we do Friday funs in the fall with team-building activities that involve everyone. For example, this year we went bowling, went to a rodeo, and had team dinners. We also do an activity called “get to know your teammates,” where you take the time to get to know each player on the team and write down what you did with them whether it was to go get something to eat or go for a walk. It’s the little things that count and with all these activities we do, it creates a family which is one of the reasons why our team is so close.” -Grace Aguilar

Another thing Coach implemented to develop a positive team culture is “Do Good Month” where in one month each member of the team is challenged to do something positive for others on their jersey number day of the month. This could be by making a donation, writing a letter to a professor or dropping off donuts at Campus Safety.

Coach also encouraged us to write encouRAMagements to each other, volunteer for the Salvation Army, and participate in events like Rams Let’s Walk. To celebrate World

Mental Health Day, Coach brought us rocks to paint encouraging messages on, then scattered them all over campus.

“Our team culture is what makes us special. Coach pushes each of us to be competitors and to be our best and that is the greatest thing a coach can do” – Current Player 1

 

Quotes referencing the challenges of being a student athlete:

“Being a college athlete is so glamorized through social media platforms, but the truth is, it is hard work. It is challenging and competitive but that is college athletics. Coach Lokey teaches us to embrace the challenge and to support one another while competing. West Chester Softball is the definition of blue collar- grit, hard work, and selflessness.” – Kate Rittenbaugh

“One of the most difficult things to do is to be a student-athlete. You are expected to go to class all day, go to practice, and find the time to do homework. Coach Lokey understands the struggles of being a student-athlete and provides her players with resources to help us along the way.” – Grace Aguilar

“Being a student-athlete is not easy, there are many hard days, but I have had a very positive experience with Coach and the program as a whole…Coach and this program have helped create a long line of strong women. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be coached by her.” – Current Player 2

 

Other testaments from current and former players:

“[Coach] is constantly striving for us to not only be the best athletes we can be, but also to be genuinely good, kind-hearted women. She constantly instills in us values of teamwork, collaboration, and inclusion.” – Current Player 3

“Coach has challenged me in ways I was never challenged before. Because of that, I left the program mentally stronger and better equipped to be successful in life after softball.” – Courtney Stump

“[Coach] has encouraged us to be the best we can be, to believe in ourselves, and know we can do anything we put our minds to… I’m proud to be a part of this team and play for Coach Lokey.” – Current Player 4

“I decided to come back to West Chester and play my fifth year on the softball team. To me, that was the easiest decision to make; not only for my love of the sport, but for my love of the program. When I came here as a freshman, I was a quiet, shy, and insecure girl. Leaving this program, I am now an outgoing, confident, and strong woman. There is no other person to thank but Coach Lokey. Coach Lokey has taught me to be comfortable doing things that are uncomfortable, to do the right things even when no one is watching, and most importantly, preaching that softball isn’t who we are, it’s what we do.” – Madison Melvin

“I hope that in the rise of the importance of a student-athlete’s mental health, a coach’s mental health is not forgotten.” – Kate Rittenbaugh

“Student athlete mental health is one of the biggest talks around college sports right now. While it is extremely important, the mental health of coaches are just as important.” – Madison Melvin

 


Bri Garber is an alumna of West Chester University. 

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