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UPDATE: College team to keep playing with smaller rosterTell North Platte what you think

College administrators offered to reinstate five softball players Monday who were suspended from the squad during the weekend, if they sit out a four-game suspension.

It was an olive branch from the administration, but they stopped short of suspending Head Coach Janelle Higgins and Assistant Coach Erica Lieber as several parents had requested.

The players reportedly turned down the offer and are leaving the team, several parents told the Bulletin.

The Lady Knights put just nine players on their home field Monday afternoon for a double header with Northeastern Junior College of Sterling, Colo. They split the games. NJC won the first, 6-3, to get their third win of the season. North Platte won the nightcap, 9-8.

The Lady Knights are 4-29 this season.

Dissension erupted on the team Saturday during a grueling stretch of 14 games in six days, while the team was playing in Columbus.

Several parents demanded a hearing with the administration on Monday morning.

The Lady Knights are enduring a long losing season. They won their third game of the season in Columbus, but they lost a total of five from Friday-Sunday. The team played better on Sunday, losing one game by just a run and scoring eight runs against the tournament champion Central Community College in a 13-8 loss. Central dominated the tourney, winning three games, while each of the other three teams finished 1-2 against conference opponents.

For game scores and statistics, see the Bulletin's sports page.

About nine parents met coaches and college vice-president Marcus Garstecki Monday morning in North Platte, along with nine girls who were either suspended or didn’t make the traveling team. After a 90-minute session, Garstecki told the parents he would meet with college president Ryan Purdy and athletic director Kevin O’Connor, who were out of town.

Garstecki returned with the decision Monday afternoon.

The nine players generally don't trust Higgins enough to return to the team, Homan said.

Homan 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. He compared the situation to the Rutgers basketball team.

Another parent who wasn’t in Columbus called the Bulletin Monday to express support for Coach Higgins. He said extra practice sessions have been warranted and some of the girls broke team rules.

He said his daughter initially had the choice to play at several colleges, but the family chose North Platte because of Higgins’ ability.

“I have a lot of respect for her as a college coach,” he said. “She is not acting outside her realm. She is a coach and that’s her job."

Higgins is in her third year as head coach at North Platte. She coached the team to a regional championship last season.

On the other hand, the concerned parents have asked police to investigate the confinement on the bus of four players Saturday. One parent, Jana Gettman of Denver, Colo. told the Bulletin that coaching has been substandard throughout the season.

The team started with more than 20 players and is now down to nine, Gettman noted.

Parent Gary Penaflor said his daughter was one of four players who were not allowed to travel with the team to Columbus. She wasn’t given explanation, he said, so she and another player drove to the tourney on their own to watch.

Higgins reportedly told the active players not to talk to the two girls, and told the players if they didn’t like it, they could go from the dugout to the bus. Four players, including Gettman’s and Homan’s daughters, ended up going to the bus.

Homan said the girls thought they were exercising an option the coach gave them. They were locked inside for a while and not allowed to play the rest of the tournament, or eat with the team on Sunday.

That confinement prompted parents to demand the meeting with Garstecki Monday morning and ask the police for a criminal investigation.

Homan said Garstecki told the parents and players they are receiving conflicting information and will continue to investigate.

Homan and other parents who talked to the Bulletin remain dissatisfied.

“We hoped the coach would be suspended with pay until it’s sorted out,” Homan said. “That would seem to be the right way to do it.”

“I’m upset with the way it’s been handled,” Penaflor said. “It’s been this way throughout the season.”

The team is scheduled to play another month, with district playoffs set May 8-9.

College officials did not respond to a request for comments and information.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/9/2013
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