Former Shore Player Alleges Abuse By Holy Cross Coach [VIDEO]
The long time basketball Holy Cross coach accused of emotionally and physically abusing a player from Colts Neck in a lawsuit is taking a leave of absence.
Bill Gibbons announced today that in a statement that he was voluntarily stepping back from his duties while the suit is reviewed by the Worcester, Massachusetts college. The team's assistant coaches will fill-in.
The Worcester Telegram and Gazette reports Gibbons invited reporters to a meeting late Wednesday afternoon with alumni, staff, lawyers and other Holy Cross coaches. He changed his mind and had the media escorted out of the room and off the campus.
The lawsuit by 20-year-old Ashley Cooper says that at various times, Gibbons yanked and pulled her by the shirt collar, shook her by the shoulder and struck her on the back, leaving a red handprint. It paints Gibbons as so volatile that opposing players would remark, "Your coach is crazy," and the players as so demoralized that alumni basketball games are impossible because players won't return to the Jesuit school in Worcester to participate.
Cooper played for Rumson-Fair Haven and was named Most Valuable Player of the WOBM Christmas Classic in 2009.
The suit accuses Holy Cross of failing to turn over game tape that would show Gibbons striking Cooper and another player. It says the school has also refused to release results of an investigation into Gibbons' behavior.
"He has no place in collegiate coaching," Cooper's lawyer, Elizabeth Eilander told the newspaper. "At least I know the current players at Holy Cross will not be subjected to his abuse in the foreseeable future."
"Taking A Stand"
Cooper gave up a full scholarship and left the school amid fear of physical pain and retaliation for complaining about Gibbons, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York City.
Because of the abuse, "Cooper and other players suffered a loss of self-esteem and a loss of their love of the game of basketball," the suit said.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else ever again,” Cooper said in an exclusive interview with ABC News. “I want to stop it. I’m doing this for other people. I’m taking a stand for others, for every freshman that walks through the door.”
Cooper is seeking compensation for the costs of the college education she'll have to pay for after giving up her scholarship, as well as unspecified punitive damages, according to her attorney.
In a statement, the school said the "physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of our students is our highest priority at Holy Cross."
"The former student brought her concern to the College this summer, and we investigated at that time. The lawsuit received yesterday includes a series of new allegations and we will now bring in outside counsel to review those allegations."
28 Seasons At Holy Cross
Gibbons has 533 wins in 28 seasons as women's head basketball coach at Holy Cross and has led the team to 11 Patriot League championships.
Cooper played in 21 of Holy Cross's 32 games last season, averaging 4.7 points per game and hitting 40 percent of her 3-point shots. She has transferred to New York University but is not on the women's basketball team, Eilender said.
The lawsuit says Gibbons' behavior was worse than Rutger's men's basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired this spring after practice tape surfaced showed him berating and kicking players and throwing basketballs at them.
In the suit, Cooper says she's bringing legal action "not only on her own behalf but also on behalf of all women athletes who are abused by their coaches under the grossly offensive rationale that the abusive behavior is 'motivational.'"
Cooper was one of the top players in the Shore Conference Class of 2011, leading the Bulldogs in scoring in a season in which they reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game. She earned second-team All-Shore honors by the coaches.
As a junior at Rumson, she averaged 11 points per game and was selected as the WOBM Christmas Classic MVP for the tournament champion Bulldogs.
Scott Stump, Kevin Williams, Brad Burascano and the Associated Press contributed to this report