Sun. May 26th, 2024

Photo: A photo of Haleigh Karcher, via WCUPAGoldenRams.com.

In her senior year of high school, Haleigh Karcher suffered a near-fatal accident leaving her with a partially amputated left hand. Throughout her four years on the West Chester University softball team, she was repeatedly insulted regarding her disability, put on “pause” from the team for unclear reasons and developed disordered eating habits. “[The comments occurred] during my sophomore and junior years, but in my senior year it was at least once a week, some sort of insulting comment,” Karcher told The Quad when referencing the way that coach Lokey spoke to her.

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

Freshman Year: 2019-2020

Karcher’s freshman year at WCU was 2019-2020, so her first season got cut short due to COVID-19. 

Sophomore Year: 2020-2021

At the beginning of her sophomore season, Karcher wasn’t getting much playing time. She thought her talent should be landing her a starting position behind the plate, so she asked head coach Diane Lokey what she could do to improve.

“[Lokey] sat me down and said I can’t trust you because of your disability,” said Karcher. The catcher was devastated because she had not shown Lokey a reason not to have confidence in her. Lokey continued to tell Karcher that she didn’t trust she would be able to catch balls from the outfield, even though Karcher had done it consistently at practice. “Obviously I was crying because there’s literally nothing I can do,” Karcher told The Quad. “I haven’t given them a reason to not play me, but because of how I look I’m not playing.” 

Karcher was determined to prove herself worthy of a starting position. Halfway through the season, after continuing to work hard, she became the starting catcher. That season, she batted .310, had a .986 fielding percentage and received an NFCA All-Academic selection. 

Earlier in that same year, around Halloween, Karcher was absent from practice while the rest of the team participated in rolling pumpkins. A fellow teammate, present at the practice, privately disclosed to Karcher that Lokey told her “You have to roll it how Haleigh would, so you don’t get to use two hands.” Looking back at the incident now, Karcher thought, “I almost died and you’re going to make fun of me?”

Junior Year: 2021-2022

While the Golden Rams struggled the following season finishing just above .500, Karcher had an outstanding season. She finished the year with a .328 batting average, .976 fielding average and was named Second Team All-PSAC all while her mental health continued to deteriorate. 

Senior Year: 2022-2023

At practice one day, a softball got stuck above the batting cage — a common occurrence for sports like softball and baseball. Karcher grabbed her bat and tried to reach up and get it down herself. In front of the entire team, Lokey said that she needed someone with two hands to get the ball down. The Quad confirmed the account of this incident with multiple players who presided on the team at the time. 

One morning, Karcher arrived at the 7 o‘clock pitchers and catchers practice 15 minutes early. She quickly found out she was supposed to be at the hitter’s practice instead. “I got called stupid,” said Karcher. “And then she proceeded to ask me right after that, ‘well, can you even read?’” This incident was mentioned to The Quad in other interviews with former players, alongside Karcher’s. 

She shared that in an individual meeting, “[Lokey] said that I will be an unsuccessful nurse because of the way I act.” Today, as a new nurse, Karcher has successfully delivered almost 200 babies. 

Before the spring season started, Karcher got cleated at practice. Being a nursing student, she knew the severity of the injury and that she needed stitches. “She didn’t move off the bucket,” said Karcher. “[Lokey] never got the trainer. She never asked me how I was.” Karcher was out for about a month with the injury. “She made me walk on it, even though I wasn’t supposed to be putting pressure on it,” noted Karcher. “And it kept ripping open.” 

Shortly after, Karcher had an individual meeting with her coaches where she received shocking news. “[Lokey] said that I work too hard, I practice too much, I’m selfish and said it’s best for the team if I’m not back,” Karcher told The Quad. The technical term used was a “pause,” but Karcher felt that it was a synonym for suspension. She had to clear out her locker and was removed from team apps like Google Classroom. “I had no access to anything for weeks,” said Karcher. “We’ve had girls get in trouble with the law and we run. They’re not kicked off the team.” 

“[Lokey] tried to then say it was things with nursing,” said Karcher. She was told her “pause” had to do with her grades. “My grades are all A’s and B’s… My homework’s always done… My schoolwork has never been an issue for me.” 

Karcher told The Quad she became hysterical after hearing that she had to take a “pause.” Her mother reached out to Lokey because Karcher was so upset and the situation seemed complicated. A few messages went back and forth until Lokey ultimately sent a resource. “She had sent my mom the suicide hotline number and never told her anything, ignored my mom’s call,” said Karcher. “So my mom thought I was literally going to kill myself.” 

Still getting emotional over the incident, she detailed having to explain to her mom that she was not going to harm herself. “I’m a coach now and I couldn’t imagine putting a parent through that,” reflected Karcher. “I couldn’t imagine finding out from a coach that my child was going to kill herself and I couldn’t get a hold of either the coach or my child because she declined my mom’s calls.” 

Karcher decided to get a lawyer to fight her “pause.” She and her mother wrote down two full pages of insults made by Lokey and gave them to her lawyer. “I said something to the AD and he was like, ‘well, it’s up to coach’ and he wouldn’t let me have my lawyer in the meetings,” said Karcher. “[My lawyer] went through the handbook. She went through everything and she was like, ‘there is no reason why she should be suspended.’” Karcher was completely disappointed by the reaction from Athletic Director Terry Beattie. “He didn’t even stick up for me,” noted Karcher. “I was just like, how can you act like that?” 

The Quad has received multiple reports of the athletic department being made aware of Lokey’s alleged hostile treatment, as described by the former student-athletes, in complaints. According to them, nothing ever changed and the complaints never seemed to go anywhere. 

The Quad asked AD Beattie 19 questions via email and he responded to each one. When asked if there have been any complaints about Lokey during her tenure, how many and if there have been investigations into Lokey’s alleged actions, Beattie responded “This is a personnel matter and personnel matters are not discussed or debated publicly.” In response to the question about student-athletes who make complaints, Beattie wrote “To my best recollection, if a student-athlete has reached out with a question or concern, I have responded to them.”

Karcher’s “pause” lasted much longer than she expected, keeping her off the field until there was only 2-3 weeks left in her senior season. As Karcher reflected on her time with the team, she noted that Lokey has an extremely high softball IQ and absolutely knows the game. There’s no question that her extreme knowledge of the game has allowed her to become the winningest coach in program history. 

Unfortunately, Karcher told The Quad, “I took more of the abuse than I did the teaching.” She also said that she was thankful that Lokey went to the NCAA to get her batting aid approved. “Yes, you accommodated for me to use my batting aid, but you beat me down as a person and that’s not okay,” stated Karcher. “Especially because I wasn’t born like this so it makes it really hard.” 

She noted that from her sophomore to senior year, she lost 50 pounds and that she picked up disordered eating habits. Karcher highlighted the importance of having a positive attitude towards food when “coaching young women who are eating on their own for the first time.” 

Madison Sisz, Karcher’s teammate in 2021, told The Quad about a time she felt judged for her eating choices. She remembers similar situations on multiple occasions, but described one incident in detail in her interview. When COVID restrictions were in place, the team was no longer able to eat on the bus and ate outside instead. One day, the team stopped at a Sheetz and the players sat on the curb and ate their food while Lokey walked up and down and observed them. “She would make comments about what people were eating and question why people were eating,” said Sisz. 

Sisz further explained that Lokey’s coaching style isn’t “tough love.” She said her high school and travel coaches were hard on her, but they always supported her. “When it came to coach Lokey, her lack of patience, lack of support… it wasn’t love.” Looking back, Sisz feels that Lokey prioritized wins over individual players. “I think she selfishly wanted a trophy.” Since leaving the team, Sisz has become an advocate for student-athletes who move on from their sport

Almost one year post-graduation, Karcher has found ways to move past her experience as a Ram and find happiness. “I am taking all of the trauma from my softball experience and making it my reason to be the most compassionate and faithful labor nurse while moms are in their most vulnerable moments of their lives,” shared Karcher. 

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.

One thought on ““I almost died and you’re going to make fun of me?”: Haleigh Karcher Reflects on Her Four Years With the WCU Softball Team”
  1. This is so upsetting as an alumni of WCU, graduating in H&PE. I have also taught and coached for many years in a Delaware County public school. How can this coach be supported by the Athletic Dept. and still have her job? Someone above this department should be investigating her and get her out. She is discriminating against a player with a disability, besides not treating her players with human decency. What is she teaching them? Is this what you want representing your university? You should be losing any monetary support if you allow this to continue.

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