RICHMOND, Ky. (LEX 18) — Eastern Kentucky University has opened an investigation into its women's softball program after former player Kaitlyn Young came forward with misconduct allegations against her old coach Jane Worthington.
"She was extremely mentally and verbally abusive, manipulative, and degraded us day after day, and just made me lose all my love for softball," Young told LEX 18.
She first shared her story on Twitter on July 4, 2022. Now, multiple other former players have come forward with similar complaints. LEX18 spoke with four of them and Young on Saturday.
Young was recently cut from the team after two years and said she now has severe anxiety. Her experience playing for Worthington impacted how she looks at herself as a player and human.
Former player Lauren Mitchell agreed. She said when she opens her refrigerator door, she doesn't see junk food anymore but it's not because she wanted to be healthy. Two weeks before the beginning of her freshman season, she claims Coach Worthington had given her an ultimatum: lose 12 to 15 pounds or don't play. It changed Mitchell's relationship with food and her body.
"Now it's just a mental block that I'm never going to be comfortable in my own skin," Mitchell said, explaining her experience wasn't alone on the team.
While training, Mitchell also had to be taken to the hospital because she was dehydrated. Trainers feared it could be a heart attack.
Mitchell blamed the lack of breaks during practice. "We should have gotten way more water breaks than we got."
Another former player, Nikki Bruce, said there was no culture of "grab water when you need it during practice." She said Coach Worthington often told players they weren't trying hard or cared enough.
"I ended up passing out during a lot of workouts simply because I was pushing myself past my body's physical breaking point,” Bruce said, “so I wasn’t seen by Coach as someone who gave up.”
Players described Coach Worthington as someone who played “mind games” on them, such as silent treatment or belittlement.
"She did a lot more pushing, a lot more breaking down than building up and supporting afterward," Bruce said.
Once during a team meeting, Bruce remembers Coach Worthington asked players to recognize the extra efforts of another team member. One player said she looked up to Bruce and thought she had given it her all in their recent game.
"I was so incredibly proud that someone thought of me at that moment," Bruce said.
But Bruce explained that one second later, the coach responded, "I'm not talking about just one game; I’m talking about all time."
Bruce was devastated, saying she'd never gone from being proud to be broken down so quickly. It made her second guess herself and her passion for the game.
"Some people may say that that's just, you know, that's tough coaching, or that's trying to, I don't know, get the best out of your athlete, but in that particular situation, it didn't feel like coaching," Bruce said. "It felt like there was a specific story that she was trying to have us believe."
Coach Worthington has coached EKU's team since its creation in 1993. She was named Coach of the Year in 2002, 2004, and 2018. She has a 770-688 record.
The allegations against her also include how she treated players after losses.
Young said Coach Worthington didn’t feed them between games and did not keep the snack bins filled. She described eating sandwiches with single pieces of turkey between the bread while the coaches ate at sit-down restaurants.
"Once we started losing, it just felt like we were being punished in the way of not being fed," Young said.
Another former player, Kristin Perry Wiatrowski, said dinner would be a five-minute gas station stop after some road losses.
"I believe at that point she just stopped caring about us as human beings," Young said.
LEX 18 spoke with a former player who said Coach Worthington had too much pride in taking players to a gas station to eat.
Dee Horswill, who played for Coach Worthington between 2007 and 2010, pushed back against the allegations, calling them completely at odds with her own experience on the team.
"She would never abuse them mentally, physically, verbally," Horswill said. "She's always been a protective person, all 87 pounds, four-foot-nine of her, you know. She's one of the best coaches I've ever had, and I can't believe anyone would have anything bad to say about her."
Horswill described Coach Worthington as caring and recalled her coach's response when she learned Horswill was pregnant.
"She said, 'It's gonna be okay; we’re gonna figure this out,'" Horswill said. "I was ostracized by some of my best friends and teammates, some of those making allegations against her, and she stuck by me. She made me feel a part of the team."
Coach Worthington made Horswill promise that she would finish her degree even if it wasn't at EKU. She had to leave due to pregnancy complications but did finish her degree. When she did, she called Coach Worthington back.
"And I just remember her saying, ‘I knew you would, and I'm so proud of you,’” Horwsill said. “I think that was the pivotal moment that I knew she loved me; I knew she cared about me.”
However, these allegations are not the first time concerns were brought to the attention of EKU officials, said Wiatrowski, who played for Coach Worthington from 2009 to 2013.
She said they approached the athletic director multiple times when she was a player. At one point, she even delivered a letter written by another teammate. The athletic director said he'd open an investigation and review, but Wiatrowski doesn't remember anything coming of it.
"You know, it just made no sense how a coach could continue to stay in that place," Wiatrowski said. "All of these accusations come up, and nothing happens."
EKU Vice President and Director of Athletics Matt Roan released a statement commenting on the severity of the allegations but refused to comment on the investigation as it is ongoing and a "personnel matter."
Eastern Kentucky University Vice President and Director of Athletics Matt Roan released the following statement:
“On July 5th, Eastern Kentucky University opened an investigation regarding allegations of misconduct within our EKU Softball program. I appreciate that those involved, as well as our media outlets, desire a swift resolution. These are serious allegations, and serious allegations require a thorough examination of the facts. EKU is committed to doing so in an expeditious manner without compromising the accuracy of the investigation. We remain unable to comment at this time due to the fact that this is both an ongoing investigation and a personnel matter.”