Iowa City West High School’s girls tennis team started nearly from scratch at the beginning of the season, after eight of the nine eligible players from the 2021 state-tournament team opted not to return.
Reports from KCRG TV report that the former players blame coach Amie Villarini’s coaching style, which they claim was discouraging and bullying.
Jay Mascardo, a junior, told the TV station that seeing Villarini making teammates cry in front of everyone was “sickening,” and she felt afraid to stand up to her because she feared retaliation. Another who did try to stand up for her teammates said that she would be “punished” by being sat out during a meet or getting moved down in the lineup.
Another player, junior Ella DeYoung said that Villarini helped rub sunscreen on her leg without being asked. She said it wasn’t sexual, but still made her extremely uncomfortable and anxious for the rest of the season.
Players and families brought their concerns to athletic director Craig Huegel last June. A four-month investigation found that the coach’s actions were not over the line, and did not meet the district definition of bullying or harassment.
The players say that’s part of the problem, leading eight of them to opt out of playing this season.
The Gazette reported that Coach Villarini, in her season information sheet sent to the media in March, said, “Sadly, (eight) of the nine returning letterwinners have decided not to go out for tennis this year for their own personal reasons. Unfortunately, there are no returning starters this season.”
KCRG reached out to the Iowa City Community School District, who declined to provide specific details because it was a personnel matter; they did provide a statement saying that they are committed to ensuring the safety and wellness of students and staff.