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No Harmony on This Court : Women's basketball: Some on the UC Riverside women's basketball team say the coach is overly abusive, but she says she is only doing her job.

October 30, 1993|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For some players who were awarded scholarships, Woelke has a policy of tying scholarship money to the amount of money a player can raise for the team in various fund-raising activities, such as Shoot-A-Thons. Woelke told players that fund raising was "part of their responsibility" and said the more money they raised, the more scholarship money they would receive.

According to players, Woelke didn't like her authority questioned during practice. One player, Vicki Evans, was accused by Woelke of talking too much during practices, and exhibiting other "attitude" problems.

Woelke called Evans into her office and presented her with a typed one-page contract for Evans to sign. In the contract, Evans acknowledged that she was "a problem player and always had been" and forbade her from talking during practice. If she didn't live up to the terms of the contract, Woelke said, it would cost Evans her scholarship.

Evans, a Dean's List student and one of the team captains, refused to sign the document. Evans' parents contacted school officials and Woelke and Evans reached an understanding.

But last season, Woelke kicked Evans off the team three days before the league playoffs began. Evans and other players say Woelke told the team that Evans quit. But Evans had made a tape recording of the conversation in which Woelke kicked her off the team and played it for some teammates.

Woelke acknowledges that she kicked Evans off the team, calling it coach's prerogative, but denies telling the team Evans had quit.

A similar situation arose last week with Monica Vargas. Woelke presented Vargas with a document that outlined what Woelke viewed as Vargas' violation of 12 team rules, including arriving late to practice and missing mandatory weightlifting workouts.

Woelke asked Vargas to sign the paper and Vargas refused. Woelke kicked Vargas, a starter, off the team. Two days later, Vargas was allowed back on the team on what Woelke calls a "third opportunity probation."

Woelke says Vargas' temperament has changed this season, turning the player into an "angry, hateful young lady." Woelke contends that Vargas' attitude is detrimental to the team and with the next infraction she will be kicked off the team for good.

WHOM TO BELIEVE?

Not all players have had bad experiences at Riverside.

"I've never had a problem," said Debbie Fischer, a senior. "My thought is, a lot of girls are young, they need to get over it."

Masi, Woelke and others have portrayed the complaining players as being too sensitive and not being able to handle the pressure of big-time college athletics. They are, school officials say, troublemakers and malcontents.

Woelke suggested to a reporter that the complaining players had caused trouble on their high school teams. However, high school and junior college coaches contacted by The Times reported no problems with the players Woelke identified.

"She recruited all of us and gave us scholarships," former player Kristen Okura said. "And now we are all bad players with a history of problems?"

To school officials, the complaints are unfounded. As Masi says, "It comes down to the coach's word against the players. I have to go with the coach."

Leo, the vice chancellor who oversees the sports programs, said the school has been concerned about the problems brought to his attention. However, he was unaware of some of the more serious charges until a Times reporter told him about them.

And then there is Rachel Rosario, an All-American at Riverside, who says she didn't have problems with Woelke, but watched as others did.

"I know a lot of things she said hurt a lot of people," Rosario said. "I felt that she didn't separate her personal feelings from the job. I've seen too many ballplayers come and go, and it's not a pretty sight. I know some players have talked to the authorities. Nothing ever happened. I just wish something could be done about it. Coach Woelke helped me. I appreciate that. But other people had an awful experience."

Jennifer Newsome is one such person. Her troubles have been such that her mother, Ann Newsome, has been moved this week to write a letter to the chancellor of UC Riverside.

Ann Newsome is seeking to remove a letter written by Masi from her daughter's school records. The letter is the athletic department's official explanation of and justification for Woelke dismissing Jennifer from the team and revoking her scholarship.

Masi's letter, which was based on information supplied by Woelke, alleges, among other things, that Jennifer Newsome is a violent and abusive person and has engaged in fights with her teammates and opponents.

Ann Newsome, a physician, said she has been concerned by the changes she has observed in her daughter since Jennifer has been part of the UC Riverside program and since the Newsome family has been working within the system to resolve the dispute.

She said the family will do whatever it takes to clear Jennifer's name, including legal action.

"The entire officialdom is behaving as if this is their dirty linen," Ann Newsome said. "If they had stopped the problem where it originated, it wouldn't have ballooned.

"There is something intrinsically wrong with the University of California system that it allows one individual to have this kind of control and power.

"I have no desire to ruin Coach Woelke's reputation or standing in the community. But these are young women. They don't have the kind of skills to deal with this. I know these young women, they have been in my home. I've seen what it's done. Jennifer will never be the same."

And so the question remains, here on the day that official practice begins for the Riverside women's basketball team, which side is telling the truth?

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