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The school planned to have counselors on hand to provide support and referrals for anyone after what was expected to be an emotional night.

Francis didn’t tell her mother what happened until she was in her 30s, about 15 years ago. Her mom, she said, was “shocked and angry” about what happened in Germantown, N.Y., where Francis was born, raised and abused.

Francis, who has won 184 Division I games over 10 seasons, took the team to the 2002 NCAA tournament — only to resign after the season because of ulcerative colitis she later attributed to stress from the abuse she tried to forget. Francis was rehired for the 2005-06 season and led the Golden Grizzlies back to the NCAA tournament.

“Reflecting back, I do believe the fact that I didn’t deal with my abuse affected my health and led to my health- and stress-related resignation,” Francis said. “During that time away from coaching, I bawled for the first time in my life with therapists and became a Christian.”

With professional help and her strong faith, Francis walks and talks with a powerful conviction — confident and comfortable — about her past and her hopes.

“I was in total denial until maybe my 30s, and that’s another example of why I want to talk about this,” she said. “I know that people are so embarrassed, and they think, ‘Oh, I’m just going to forget about it. It was in the past. Move on. Buck up. Suck it up.’ But there are so many things. It can affect your health. It just affects your confidence.

“And since I have just let it go, I am happier and healthier than I have ever been. I am totally free.”


Associated Press writers Mike Householder in Detroit and Jeff Karoub in Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report.