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.”

*For transparency, we have edited this statement for clarity and correct grammar usage according to AP style and our in-house style guidelines, as is our standard editorial practice. 

 

For starters: my name is Megan Rupert, and I played during the 2009/2010 seasons… I quit after my sophomore year because honestly, I had no choice — being a part of the team under [Lokey] was detrimental to my mental health. During my last meeting (which I will detail more later on), I went into it knowing that my mental health needed to be my top priority, and while I certainly was not ready to say bye to the game that I love, I had to advocate for [myself] because nobody else was. The largest part of me was hoping, wishing and wanting nothing more than to walk into that room and have [Lokey] actually want me to stay. I experienced the complete opposite: as I sat there devastated and sobbing, she just gave me the blankest, straight-faced stare.

During the start of my freshman year, I felt like [Lokey] and I had a good relationship. It was definitely obvious who her “favorites” and least favorites of the team were. I felt extremely lucky and grateful that I seemed to be on her good side, so I rode that wave. I had a lot of playing time during fall ball, and when the season came, I seemed to be first or second off the bench to pinch run and get an at-bat here and there. I was very happy with that role at the time, and [Lokey] assured me [that], if I kept things up, it would lead to more playing time in the future. By the end of the year, I could see the defeat and sadness on the faces of the girls who were less favorable — while I still felt lucky to be a favorite, I started to feel really bad for those who weren’t. Sure enough, come the end of the season, they all decided to quit in search of a happier college experience. This year, I quickly made best friends with one of the girls who quit that year, and despite her leaving the team, she and I still remained best friends and did everything together.

Entering into my sophomore year, the toxic and manipulative culture grew following the exit of a senior whom [Lokey] REALLY liked. I am not sure what I did specifically, or what changed all of a sudden, but I was not a favorite anymore which was apparent quite early. It started with [Lokey] pulling me into a meeting and [telling] me that I needed to be more selective of who I hang out with outside of softball (referring to my best friend). She speculated that she was a bad influence on me. I was not skipping a beat with softball or school, so it’s not like my grades dropped or I was ever late, or did anything that required such speculation. If it wasn’t for my best friend that year, I don’t know where I would be. She was there for me every single day when I came home from practice inconsolable and crying. She was the one who supported and encouraged me, she made me dinners and filled my water bottles just to help me get through the days. To have [Lokey] request that I not hang out with my best friend during this time was absolutely ridiculous to me, and there was no way I could exist without her. 

I was pulled into a meeting where [Lokey] commented that my appearance changed from freshman year, and that I needed to be in better shape, which could lead to playing time. Nothing I did ever led to playing time. Eventually the meetings got more insulting and started to really mess with my head. I was pulled into a meeting where she told me that it was obvious my head was not in the game, that I wasn’t present when I was at practice, that it was clear I wished to be somewhere else. None of this was true. In fact, when I was at softball, it was the only part of my life that I was all in for. It was the only time of the day that I put the million other thoughts in my head aside and just did softball. Softball had been my outlet since I was 10 years old, so to hear her repeatedly tell me that it was obvious that my head was elsewhere really broke me down. I simply did not know how to prove to her otherwise. It seemed like no matter how hard I worked, how many fitness tests I crushed when she wanted me to fail, how attentive I tried to be, she never changed the way she felt about me. 

Alongside my [own] stories, I played with several girls who were getting very similar treatment. In 2010, the year I quit, we had just made it to PSAC playoffs for the first time ever in program history; there were seven or eight of us that quit. I know three or four of those girls were going on to be seniors. Doesn’t it seem crazy for that many girls to quit in one year, especially the ones so close to their final year? I recall us all doing end-of-the-year reviews administered by the university. I’m not sure where those reviews go and who reads them, but I would like to point out and call out all of the adults and administration who ha[ve] a responsibility to protect their student athletes who completely failed me, my teammates and those who would go on to play for [Lokey] for the next 14 years. Specifically, the now athletic director, then assistant Terry Beattie, who worked very closely with [Lokey] and all of us as a program. Next, I have a few examples of some specific incidents.

I came out to most of my teammates my freshman year, but it was something I was still trying to discover and be comfortable with. When I started my sophomore year, I guess you could say I was out, loud and proud! I started to wear a lot of bracelets that were colorful, rainbow, supportive, inclusive. I was simply just expressing myself, feeling comfortable in my own skin for the first time ever, and just enjoying learning and growing into a young adult on my own. My bracelets may seem silly, but I LOVED them and everyone knew I did. They all had stories and some of my teammates even gifted or made some of them for me. I remember during team pictures that year, [Lokey] pulled me aside and told me that I was going to have to remove my bracelets for the photos, knowing damn well that half of them were super glued on. I was in near tears when she told me to just forget it and go back to the group. Meanwhile, in the photo we took that year, we all had our arms/hands behind our backs so my wrists were never going to be seen in the first place. 

I usually wore my hair in a ponytail, but once in a while I wore a bun. One day, I guess [Lokey] just felt like picking on me, because it was always something, and if it wasn’t me, she’d find someone else to harass and humiliate at practice. We were working on a defensive drill up the middle that was a very simple drill and didn’t need much explanation. When she shouted out, “Rupert, you’re in the middle group right!” I simply shook my head up and down in acknowledgement and replied with, “Yep!” When the drill ended, she sent the entire team to the other side of the gym to hit while she requested for me to stay with her, which is nerve-wracking and gives you instant anxiety you start to wonder… “OMG what did I do wrong?! What am I in trouble for now? Am I going to be punished?” Not to mention, she calls you out in front of the entire team, which is embarrassing. She kept me aside that day to tell me that the way that I bobbed my head up and down was disrespectful, and that when I replied to her, “It should be yes or no, not yep.” Which had never been a rule. I truly meant nothing malicious by the way I responded to her that day. I think that’s when I thought to myself… “Wow, she is really just picking on me for no reason, because that was absolutely unnecessary.” But of course, it gave me anxiety and upset me for the rest of practice. I couldn’t bust out of the locker room fast enough to get to my best friend so I could cry into her arms. I started to feel so isolated. My anxiety was at an all time high, I was full of fear, and I began to accept that my future was just going to be a failure. Coincidentally, as my happiness slipped, [Lokey’s] treatments toward me progressed. She certainly was just trying to push me out, along with my six other teammates she didn’t like that year.

There was a time she yelled at me in front of the team for “not listening to her and purposefully not following directions” once — when she told me to go to third, but I stayed at second where I was as a base runner, because I simply did not hear her with my helmet on, and it was a very windy day. After she yelled at me, I did all I could do, which was to correct my mistake and run to third. When I got there, she pulled me off third immediately and took me behind the dugout and told me, yet again, that my head was not in the game, and I need[ed] to stop doing things in spite of her. When I desperately tried to plead my case and say that I didn’t hear her, [that] I didn’t mean anything by it, that I was sorry, she shook her head in disagreement and told me to get back to third.

Once, I decided I wanted to try to wear some sunglasses. Truthfully, my friends got a job at Sports Authority, and I was going to get a sweet discount; I thought it would be cool to rock some Under Armour sunglasses. Not sure why, [but] she hated them. I recall her pulling me aside and telling me that I only got them because I want to “hide and not look at her.” I could not believe how incredibly petty and untrue that comment was. 

She also accused me of not cheering along with the rest of the team. Which also was very untrue. We had no choice but to all be cheering every pitch of the game, that was always a big rule. I was never the type of player to not follow the rules. I wanted to please my coaches, be a role model and have a successful team, so, even when things were bad, I still remained a team player.

With two other teammates of mine, one of which was a favorite starting pitcher, we went for piercings one weekend. They both got their nose done, and I decided for a lip ring. Well, let me tell you, after that lip ring, I felt like she downright hated me. I wore it to practice for maybe two or three days when she pulled me aside and told me that I was not allowed to wear it to practice, games, clinics, picnics, family events, etc. She told me that, if I was wearing WCU softball clothing, that thing better not be in my lip. I told her, you know, “It has to heal, can I please wear it through the healing period, then I can replace it with something clear for practice,” and whatnot. She said no, absolutely not. So, I got brave, and I said to her, “Coach, I went with two other teammates, and they also got piercings, but you aren’t asking them to take theirs out. So, you like the look of their nose rings, so they can keep them, but you don’t like the look of my lip ring, so I have to take it out?” She looked me dead in the eyes and said “Correct.” I really liked it and was determined to keep it — because it was my body and my self expression, and I wasn’t sure why someone was constantly trying to take that away from me. I took the lip ring out for ALL of her requirements, but I put a clear stud in and would replace the ring when I was “off the clock” from softball. Which, truthfully, [it] never felt like you were 100% off the clock. All of my teammates even joked around about how much she hated me after the lip ring. 

I was very close with one of the girls on the team; she was a freshman. [Lokey] liked her and wanted to keep her around, and she was beyond convinced [that] I was some horrible person, a terrible influence, and I knew she couldn’t wait for me to quit, so she definitely did not like her hanging around me. I recall one night this girl c[ame] to me upset because she had a meeting with [Lokey] in which she requested that she separate herself from me because I am a bad influence. She was upset, I was upset. Yet again, [Lokey] was in some way trying to control who spent time with me. To put my friend in that situation was so hurtful and inappropriate. Ironically enough, after I did quit, all those girls eventually did stop talking and hanging out with me. That was a very hard, hurtful and tough time of my life to get through. Not only saying goodbye to the sport, but to all the girls too.

When it came to the fitness tests, I was lucky to be a faster one on the team. That didn’t mean it wasn’t painful to watch the same girls fail the same tests over and over again. Were we allowed to cheer for them in support? Sure. But the moment we would try to run with her or them, we weren’t allowed; we had to stay to the side and just watch and cheer. I remember a running drill we did in the gym right before fall break, and I know [Lokey] thought I was going to fail miserably. She was sure I was partying too much with my best friend, and that I was so out of shape that I was going to fail the test miserably, and it would give her ammo. I actually ran a personal record that day, and I remember the look on her face when she saw my time. She was disgusted. Even though I just ran my best time and came in second overall. I got no “good job” or “congrats” from her. She was always wanting to know what we were eating and tried to control what snacks we had as much as possible. She would make comments to girls about their unhealthy snacks if they didn’t eat what she considered to be healthy. When traveling, she would judge us for food choices we would pick at the fast food options she would give us… Then she told us we could pack if it was healthier, so we started to pack, then she accused us of packing because we wanted to save our per-diem money for things we shouldn’t, like beer. You simply couldn’t win with her. 

We all kept a ball in our gloves with our number on it. If you ever lost your ball, left it laying around, etc., then we would have to do that many sprints. I guess she was trying to teach us to be responsible for a ball? Like we didn’t have enough stuff to remember with wearing the right clothes, “tucked in,” sneakers, “no flip flops,” “this outfit is acceptable to wear to events and this one isn’t,” softball homework — “do this,” “do that” constantly. I recall times where the coaching staff would find a ball, or be in on someone else finding someone’s ball, that they would make the player with the missing ball think it was left at another field, gone forever, etc. This person would be so upset for a day or two, then they would say, “Haha just kidding, here is the ball.” That seemed so cruel to me.

Once, [Lokey] made a comment about one of the girls’ hair because she had dyed it red. She always had something to say about hair changes, outfits, etc. Her comment was something along the lines like, “Oh, it is very red.” I did not mean this as a response to [Lokey]’s comment, I just wanted to add and tell my friend, “I think your hair looks beautiful red!” Apparently [Lokey] thought I was attacking her, and she turned and faced me and kind of stomped, and her tone was one that I never heard before — and she said, “Shut up, Rupert, I didn’t mean anything by what I said!” I didn’t say a word. In fact, all the girls that were standing around just stopped talking, and we were silent because it was so jarring the way she acted.

It was senior day, we were playing a game that we were most likely going to win even if we didn’t play our starters. There was a specific senior who played first base, and there was no reason why she shouldn’t have started on senior day. We were all so sure she would, the team actually had a sense of giddiness during warmups knowing we had some special seniors to send off, and [that] it was going to be a great day for them. When she read the starting lineup and did not say this senior’s name, I think every single girls’ face on the team dropped. I felt so upset; I was sick to my stomach. It felt like such a cruel and unnecessary thing to do.

I’m sure I could go on with stories, but let me end with my end. The season had ended, and I had a meeting set up with [Lokey] and the assistant coach. I tried to tell her that there was nothing in between me and softball, that it hurt me to think that she felt like I wasn’t in it. She still insisted I wasn’t in it. I brought up how her attitude changed a lot after the lip ring, even though I did what she asked. She replied with some bullshit story about how the New York Yankees tell their players they have to be clean shaven. By then the meeting spiraled so hard [that] I couldn’t believe she was comparing my situation as a D2 softball player, who was receiving no scholarship money, to the NYY professional baseball team. Everything I said, she disagreed with. I started crying, finally feeling so defeated, I knew I had to quit for my mental health, and she was just waiting for me to do it. In fact, I had wasted enough of her time. As I’m sitting there with my face in my hands, sobbing, she said to me, “Well, you can stay on the train… or you can get off of it.” Those words stung. Those words have also stuck with me 14 years later. They still haunt me. I stood up and motioned that I had to leave and said, “Okay then, I will go.” With her, she already had my magnet from my locker and a few other items of mine in a pile, and she handed them to me and only said “Here you go.” It was then I knew [that] she planned for me to leave: she had my things with her the whole time. My assistant coach sat silent like she wasn’t allowed to say anything, even though the look on her face seemed sad for me. 

You know, the weeks following, I thought I would feel free. I thought I would get over things and move on. I thought I would be happier. The entire thing weighed on me so heavily. I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong, what I could have done differently. Admittedly, my substance abuse grew immensely, and I became an even unhealthier version of myself that I thought was possible. I lost my sport, my life. I lost friends. I thought I was a failure, just like [Lokey] thought I was. So, maybe she was right. Maybe I deserved to be treated the way I was. Maybe this was all a normal experience for a college athlete to have. Maybe I just wasn’t made out for it. She was harsh, but she had to be, right? For 14 years, I have been replaying incidents and conversations in my head. I still talk about these experiences with my partner. I know that she does not scare me anymore. She does not have a hold on me anymore. And, thanks to you guys, I finally feel validated. What I went through was real, and it was not okay. I feel extremely sorry and sad for all the girls who received similar treatment after I left, knowing myself and my teammates did our best to get our stories out there, but our efforts went unnoticed and ignored.

 


Megan Rupert is an alumna of West Chester University.

One thought on “Former WCU Softball Player Megan Rupert’s Response to “‘It was mental warfare’: Former WCU Softball Player Recall a Hostile Team Culture””
  1. There is a lot to digest here. This article is very one sided. I’d be eager to hear the other side of the story. There are always two sides. It also appears that the author has overplayed the victim role too many times. I want my teammates to be competitors, not victims. It’s hard for me to sympathize.

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