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March 21, 2024
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Players Petition to Remove Girls Soccer Coach

The head coach of Conifer girls soccer will remain on despite efforts from over half the team to remove her, resulting in 17 players quitting the program

Girls soccer at Conifer has seen a major overhaul of players from last year to this season, as over half of the players, excluding seniors, left the program. 17 players left on both Varsity and JV while seven stayed and five seniors graduated.

Players left after almost a year of communication with administrators and coaches about team conditions and leadership. To prevent their leaving, a change was made to switch the roles of the two coaches, however, early in the season the decision was made to reverse the change due to low player enrollment.

“Optimistically, perhaps naively, my thought would be that this would be a moment where everybody develops together, works past the difficult piece and Amy, someone who has been coaching at Conifer for 10 years, would not be eliminated from the program,” athletic director Brad Horner said.

The complaints against the current head coach Amy Civiello, who has been at Conifer for 10 years, were raised during the 2023 girls soccer season. 11 families signed a petition, which included signatures from 18 of the players, against Civiello. The petition cited body shaming, a culture of negativity, a lack of communication, and an unapproachable culture in the leadership structure, and asked for the resignation of Civiello.

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“I think the goal of any particular soccer program or any sports program is to make sure that we are developing really good communication strategies. I think some of that in this case was challenged,” Civiello said.

Complaints lodged against Civiello also included a letter from the Thurman family, whose daughters, Kate and Jude, played under Civiello before they graduated. In their letter, they cited several instances of inappropriate behavior and poor communication coming from Civiello as well as poor coaching practices.

“I don’t dislike Amy,” Wendy Thurman, mother of Jude and Kate Thurman, said in the letter. “I know she does not mean to hurt the girls or anyone else for that matter. She’s not someone I would be friends with, and she probably wouldn’t want to be friends with me. She is simply not a good tactical coach and makes poor decisions as a coach that affect teen girls in an adverse way. She is not meant to be a coach – it’s not her gift.”

The players signed the petition after weeks of emails and communications back and forth with both coaches, then-athletic director Eric Kragel, and principal Gregory Manier about the concerns that players had with the program.

“It’s tough to have a season that isn’t as successful but I would say, because of the relationships we built our first two years playing, it made it worth it until we ran into these issues with our coach,” junior Serena Pless said. Pless was one of the players that left the program this spring.

This group action eventually resulted in an investigation conducted by Conifer’s previous Athletic Director Eric Kragel, who interviewed the players on both the JV and Varsity teams. At the end of this process, it was decided that Civiello would remain on as head coach of the girls’ soccer program.

“There were a couple of meetings and we were all interviewed by Kragle and they said they were going to hear us out and work on coaching things. Then at the end, they told us they weren’t going to make any changes,” junior Ellie Chase, one of the 17 who left the program, said.

This process of petitioning the school continued into the fall semester and Horner continued to meet with the girls soccer players about their concerns. There was also a meeting between coaches and players that was held just before winter break to address these concerns. However, as frustration grew among the players and their parents, they proposed an ultimatum to both principal Gregory Manier and athletic director Brad Horner: either Civiello was removed or they wouldn’t be returning to play for the program.

“I felt like we put our heart and soul into this whole operation and we should have been treated better”

— Ellie Chase

“I’d like to see a massive change in leadership because I think at this point the program is so tainted,” junior Amelia Hobgood, another player who left the program this season, said.

This communication was sent via email and included the names of several starting Varsity players who would not be returning to the program. This email followed the meeting between players and coaches that occurred before winter break and stated that over 14 players would not be returning for the 2024 season.

“What became clear is that there needed to be some type of restorative dynamic to exist. If Amy was going to be the coach thenthose girls were not going to play,” Horner said.

More meetings were held, both with the coaches and the players, and eventually, it was decided that Civiello would step down as head coach for one year and be replaced by JV coach Jason Wooldridge. This move was made as a compromise to encourage the striking players to return to play for the season. However, the switch would only be an “interim” solution and Amy would still be working as the JV coach for the season before she was reinstated the following year.

“This was literally the eve of registration and they were making changes and telling us that we needed to sign up,” Chase said. “The fact that she’d just be coming back next year means that we didn’t really make any changes.”

These changes were announced just before spring sports registration and, despite the switch, 17 players decided not to return to girls’ soccer. Several parents and students noted a lack of communication coming from the administration about these changes, documented in one email from a parent, who requested not to be named, to principal Gregory Manier that lays out multiple instances of ignored emails and “disjointed communication” that went back to January of this year.

“Parents were essentially stating that this process was happening too late and they still had reservations,” Horner said.

Last year there were two teams and 32 players, this year there is only a Varsity roster and a total of 21 players, 11 of whom are freshmen. Due to the poor showing at tryouts, the decision was made to reverse the change in coaching and reinstate Civiello as the head coach. While there were not enough girls to maintain two teams, enough freshmen attended tryouts to sustain the program. Currently over half of the team are underclassmen. Of the seven players who stayed, three of them became captains of the Varsity team for the 2024 season.

“Last year the dynamic was off, it was very cliquey and it was not working, so a lot of the girls quit. Now we have a ton of freshmen who just want to be there,” senior Savannah Schrueder, a team captain and also one of the seven returning players, said. “We have had some tough seasons but despite all that we have been able to overcome that and still find family in our team.”

Now the program is focused on moving forward with such a young roster, focusing on team and culture building.

“It’s on us to make sure that people feel like if they have concerns those concerns can be addressed before they turn into what developed in the program last year,” Horner said.

They are also focused on developing the skills that might be lacking in some of their younger, less experienced players. Last year the team did not win any of their games during their season, holding a record of 0-13-1. So far the 2024 team holds a record of 2-4-1, winning games against Woodland Park and Kennedy.

“I don’t think we really changed very much in terms of what is happening on the culture side of things. I think we are trying to be more directly communicative and more intentional about the events and activities that we are doing,” Civiello said.

Some of the players who chose to leave the program, including Hobgood and Chase, have decided to continue their athletic careers through track and field.

“I’m done, to be honest. This whole process has just tainted my perception of Conifer soccer,” Chase said.

Others have turned to different athletic pursuits, such as senior Brooke Roller and junior Sierra Nordwald, who are playing rugby this season. Many of the 17 who left also play for club soccer teams in the fall but have decided to end their time playing for their high school team, at least for this season.

This story was originally published on CHS Today on April 12, 2024.