The North Platte Community College softball team is racked with dissent that could bring an early end to the season. Nine players have either been suspended or threatened with suspension in recent days, leaving the bare minimum of players on the squad.
Parents, coaches and college officials are set to meet early Monday morning to discuss issues that erupted Saturday and Sunday at a tournament in Columbus.
The team got its third win of the year Saturday, a rare bright spot in the long season. The Lady Knights knocked off the McCook Community College Indians, 9-6, at the Nebraska Community College Athletic Conference Tournament.
But the team also lost five more games during the weekend, bringing the season loss total to 28 games.
Dissension erupted Saturday, when four players were confined to the bus for the McCook game. They stayed on or near the bus Sunday, in protest of a policy by Head Coach Janelle Higgins.
Parents told the Bulletin that four players were suspended from the softball team before the trip to Columbus. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Later information indicates they were not suspended but were dropped from the traveling team.) However, two of the players made the trip on their own to watch the games.
Higgins told the active players Saturday they couldn’t talk to the two girls who were cut but came on their own. She said if any player disagreed, they could go to the bus, according to Paul Homan, the father of one of the players.
Four players went to the bus. At first they sat on the steps but a coach came over, told them to go inside and then locked the door, Homan said.
Homan said the girls had no water and didn’t know how long they would be kept there. He said it was the final straw for him in a season of extreme coaching tactics. He said trouble became apparent in late September, after a 20-inning practice game in McCook. The team returned to North Platte and practiced that night for two hours, from 10 p.m. to midnight, with sprinklers running on the field.
He said Higgins is verbally abusive and often makes the players run for long sessions.
Homan compared the situation to the Rutgers basketball team.
After about 10 minutes locked in the bus, Homan said his daughter figured out how to get out the driver’s door and talked to him. Homan confronted Higgins, and the door was unlocked. But the girls stayed on or near the bus for the rest of the games, including those on Sunday.
Another parent, John Beverage of Iowa, said things went badly at the tournament Sunday morning. A fifth player joined the protestors, and Higgins told the team that the players who protest would be dismissed after the tournament.
If they are, that would leave nine active players on the roster, Homan said, after nine players will have left in recent days from the active roster of 18.
Homan said the five protestors don’t want to quit playing but they object to Higgins’ tactics.
They were not allowed to eat with the team Sunday.
Higgins said a delegation of parents will meet with a college vice-president and the coach at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning.
“These are terrific young women and proven athletes,” he said. “I think they are being buffaloed. Anyone would wonder what in the world is going on.”
The Lady Knights are scheduled to play another month, with district playoffs set May 8-9. But if they get down to nine players, injuries or illnesses would threaten the viability of the remaining games.