Discord in dugout amid success on field
BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Clarkston High School softball celebrated a successful season last spring, winning the MHSAA Division 1 Regional trophy.
But the cost is too high, said Bella Roselli, former softball player and 2019 Clarkston graduate calling out Clarkston High School softball head coach Don Peters for inappropriate, harsh coaching.
“I hope he gets fired. I honestly do. I’ve been trying since freshman year,” Roselli said in an interview on Aug. 6. “He does not need to be around young women who are trying to push themselves into the next level of softball and are just trying to have fun in high school.”
Four parents approached The Clarkston News anonymously with similar allegations this past spring. Two other parents came out in support of Peters. Melissa Skvarce, whose daughter Abby was on the team for four years, 2013- 2016, and daughter Anna was also on varsity for four years, 2016-2019, wanted to speak on the record to say Varsity Softball is run respectfully and safely.
“A good program teaches respect of the game in a safe environment, to both the players and the parents, and I believe Clarkston Softball strives to do just that,” Skvarce said, Aug. 11. “The lessons they imparted on the girls stressed the fact that it is a team sport, and not about individual players.”
When contacted for comment, the school district released a statement on May 28, “Clarkston Community Schools does not discuss personnel matters.”
A letter provided on July 17 through the Freedom of Information Act shows Peters was reprimanded and disciplined in May for “unprofessional behavior.”
In the letter to Peters from Clarkston Athletic Director Jeff Kosin, dated May 21, Kosin states, “On Saturday, May 18, 2019, you displayed unprofessional behavior when addressing one of the players on the softball team. It was reported that you were yelling at the student in a very aggressive and inappropriate manner in the dugout. This level of communication is outside of acceptable coach-to-student communication. This letter will serve as a written reprimand for the inappropriate behavior you displayed. This discipline is intended to be progressive in nature, however, continued inappropriate or unprofessional conduct will result in additional discipline up to and including termination.”
Peters signed off on the document the same day, May 21, and the coaching staff, which also includes assistant coaches Mike McCollum, Katie Smith, Tara Perry and Joe Moore, were not present for a week of practices in May.
Roselli, who played for the Wolves her freshman and sophomore years, 2016-2017, said the discipline stemmed from a game in Ann Arbor when someone in the stands gave a player advice on her swing.
“Peters heard this and screamed in her face in front of everyone,” said Roselli. “’If you want to play on this team, you don’t listen to what they say.’ He then brought all the girls together and just screamed at them, completely traumatizing these girls and that is what ended up getting him and the coaching staff suspended, after all the complaints of course.”
Clarkston Board of Education President Kelli Horst was asked on Aug. 7 for comment on the discipline.
“Per Board of Education policies, any concerns or allegations related to employee conduct are referred to district administration,” Horst said. “As such, the Board of Education does not comment on individual personnel matters.”
Peters, who has been coaching 39 years overall, including 29 at Clarkston between softball and football, responded to the allegations with a statement on Aug. 8.
“I have a philosophy that I use all the time,” he said. “My focus is, and always has been, growing and developing our players, both as athletes and as citizens, fostering a competitive atmosphere, and helping them bring home a winning season. I always put the athletes first.”
The article “Longtime coach resigns,” published in Sherman Publications’ The Citizen in November 2004, also describes concerns with Peters’ coaching style.
“Since October 2003, several Brandon parents have submitted letters to the Brandon Board of Education describing incidents of ‘tyrannical behavior, including kicking water bottles, incidental spitting in players’ faces and derogatory comments,” according to the article.
Brandon school officials supported Peters throughout the allegations, according to the article, quoting the School Board president at the time, Beth Nuccio, “Peters has served as teacher, counselor, mentor, and at times a parent to over 200 student-athletes. Coach Peters is a man of integrity, who truly cares about our kids.”
Peters resigned his position as Brandon High School varsity softball coach and was hired by Clarkston Community Schools.
Skvarce also had a positive experience with Peters and CHS Varsity Softball.
“The coaching staff on Clarkston is continuously doing research for new drills to teach the players,” Skvarce said. “They are very organized with practices and make the most of the time they have with their players.”
Team captains act as proxies for the other players and share their opinions on decisions coaches consider that affect the team, she said.
Several former Clarkston varsity players have come back to help coach over the years, Skvarce said.
“It’s pretty special to have those young women come and give back to the program that helped them on their own journeys,” she said. “My daughter Abby is fortunate to be a member of the softball team at the University of Michigan.”
Coach Peters was always extremely supportive whenever we requested any help with regard to recruiting activities for college, Skvarce said.
“One example is when Abby went to the University of Tennessee for a camp, he called the legendary softball coaches there to ask that they take a look at her, which they did, which then led to invited visits to the campus afterwards,” she said.
Roselli is attending Northwood University on scholarship in the fall and will play for the Timberwolves next season. She said she always had aspirations to play college softball, but almost didn’t after health issues and leaving CHS to be homeschooled her sophomore year, citing bullying as the main factor.
“I was one of the two starting freshmen, and (Peters) seemed to very much like me,” she said. “I hit home runs, so he liked me. And then sophomore year, I got homeschooled for school reasons, and he was very disappointed that I could no longer play for him. He had no contact with me over that time. I showed up to one of the games and he didn’t even look at me. I said hello to the girls. Even my freshman year, he was always a little rough with some of the girls, would use vulgarities, which I don’t believe you should use with young ladies.”
She was cut from the varsity team her junior year and declined to play her senior year.
“I decided I did not want to play for that man after hearing other stories,” he said. “I had gotten an offer from Northwood University to play Division II, so there was no need for high school softball.”
In counselling sessions, Peters has been one of the main topics, Roselli said.
“He (Peters) just berated you, he went for the neck, is what I’ll call it,” she said. “He didn’t go for your softball skills. He went for a vulnerability, which other girls will say as well. He would go for stuff that was a little too personal. He came up with nicknames for everyone. Mine was ‘Razor,’ because he said I’m sharp and I will cut someone for a position.”
She has heard parents make accusations, and he would say, “No, I did not do that. No, did not do that,” Roselli said.
If no further action is taken on Peters, he’ll “keep lying to parents and players,” she said.
“That’s pretty much the easiest thing he can do. Saying you’re going to get playing time here, but doesn’t get playing time, or he has a parent issue with the parent and will punish the girl instead of the parent,” she said. “I just didn’t want to play softball anymore. I’ve played since I was 5 years old. I just was about ready to quit. I was debating whether to trying out senior year, but I knew that he would embarrass me in front of everyone and I didn’t want to go through that embarrassment at all.”