Mississippi Valley State softball players are speaking out about allegations of coaches engaging in a consistent culture of verbal abuse with players.
Former MVSU catcher Lacy Wilburn, who quit the team following her junior season, told HBCU Sports on Friday that her “main concern is the emotional and verbal treatment that current players are getting.”
Wilburn, who last played in 2019, detailed a pattern of behavior by assistant coach Brittany Tillery and head coach Lee Smith that left some players depressed and one publicly admitting contemplating suicide.
“She (Tillery) is not anything a coach should be,” said Wilburn. … “The things she says to you because she’s attacking you as a person, stick with you for years.”
Wilburn cited multiple examples of abuse.
She said Tillery would often chide her about her physique as a weight loss motivation tool.
But the comments, she explained, were more demeaning than nurturing.
“It was, ‘You don’t look good in your uniform. ‘Don’t you want to look better?’ Your build is bad,'” said Wilburn, who told a Jackson, Mississippi television reporter that she developed depression and turned to alcohol to cope. “It was never about the sport.”
Allyssa Montes, who also was part of the Devilettes from 2017 to 2019, crafted a lengthy social media post writing that coaches “broke me mentally and ran my body to the ground” during her collegiate career at MVSU.
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“It was almost as if coaches wanted to constantly embarrass me in front of my teammates, calling me out about my personal life,” Montes wrote. … “I had suicidal thoughts and I’ll never get over the fact that they caused all this distress.”
Montes also claimed that she was forced to play despite being ill, was told by Tillery that she was “too mentally unstable” to live on her own after attempting to secure off-campus housing and alleged coaches excessively ran players to exhaustion as punishment.
Montes, who was the team’s ace pitcher during her time, said the harsh treatment she received from Lee, in particular, was unexpected because she never complained or was disrespectful toward the coaching staff.
“I told my roommate to tell my parents that if I killed myself it would because of Coach Lee,” she told HBCU Sports. “I had it the worst.”
During the period in which the alleged verbal abuse took place, several players, including Wilburn, contacted the university’s president.
Players were told in response that an investigation would be made into the allegations.
An athletic department spokesperson has yet to respond to a request for comment from HBCU Sports.
The aggrieved athletes say they’re coming forward, not out of spite, but because they do not want other athletes to be treated similarly.
“I hope people are stronger than I was at that time to be able to stand up for myself,” said Wilburn, who wants Tillery and Smith removed from the program. “It’s not just Valley softball. There are a ton of other athletes at Valley saying the same thing about their sport, too.”