A longtime girls volleyball coach in central New York is being accused of a series of behavioral allegations that include bullying players.
Mary Jo Cerqua, the head volleyball coach at Baldwinsville (N.Y.), has won more than 500 matches, 20 sectional championships and a pair of state titles in her 28 years in charge of the program. As Syracuse.com reports, though, several players in the program recently filed complaints against Cerqua under the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, designed to protect students from bullying in all facets of school life.
On Monday night at a Baldwinsville school board meeting, Syracuse.com reports that two former members of the team and a third player who had been cut from the team, along with several parents, accused the coach of bullying players over the past several years.
Meanwhile, other parents in attendance defended Cerqua’s program. As Syracuse.com reports, Cerqua was either lauded or roasted in the meeting.
Syracuse.com reports that Cerqua was accused at the meeting of behavior that included:
- Players were frequently belittled and yelled at in practices and after matches— especially losses;
- A player was made to sit alone on a bus ride home from matches because coaches were unhappy with her;
- Team captains and other players were reduced to tears after a regional championship loss to Shenendehowa last fall in the state playoffs;
- One varsity-level player quit the team after several weeks of preseason practice last fall because coaches were too mean;
- A player was shamed about her weight after asking to have a larger jersey.
“The program consistently creates an environment for our team in which we are always being belittled,” said Baldwinsville senior varsity player Kristen Liu, per Syracuse.com. Liu claimed she was scolded after a playoff loss last year at Cicero-North Syracuse for not crying.
Syracuse.com reports that senior Dana Prokop told board members that players were forced to go straight to the team bus and not allowed to speak with parents or relatives attending the regional playoff match.
Cazenovia (N.Y.) girls volleyball coach Brian Ellithorpe, meanwhile, credited the coach with shaping his success.
“We’ve won seven sectional titles, three regional titles, and I’ve been to the state final four. None of that would have happened if it hadn’t been for the Baldwinsville volleyball program,” said Ellithorpe, who has coached in the Bees’ summer program, per Syracuse.com. “Everything I learned about the game started here.
“People in the area have the utmost respect for Baldwinsville volleyball,” he added. “She’s done more for the CNY volleyball community than anyone around.”
Syracuse.com reports that Baldwinsville schools superintendent Matt McDonald said he is still in the process of investigating the complaints.