- Associated Press - Friday, October 18, 2013

WORCESTER, MASS. (AP) - Former Holy Cross women’s basketball players are coming forward to defend longtime coach Bill Gibbons following a lawsuit by a former player that accused him of physical and emotional abuse.

More than 50 former players, managers and coaches have signed a letter that refers to Gibbons as a “father figure” and someone they consulted when facing critical life decisions.

“Above all, he was a leader who always taught us to do right and _ more importantly _ to be `men and women for others’ in the Jesuit tradition,” the letter reads.

Gibbons, who’s coached at Holy Cross for 28 years, voluntarily went on paid administrative leave this week while the college looks into allegations by former player Ashley Cooper. The 20-year-old says Gibbons grabbed her, shook her and struck her at different times, including once during a game when he left a red hand print.

Cooper’s suit said players were so demoralized by Gibbons abusive tactics that the school can’t have an alumni game because players are unwilling to return to play in it.

The suit is seeking punitive damages and payment for Cooper’s education, alleging she was forced to give up a full scholarship due to fear of physical pain and retaliation for complaining about Gibbons.

But the letter from Gibbons‘ supporters says Cooper does not speak for all the women who played for him. “These allegations are far from the Coach Gibbons that we know,” it reads.

The letter says the number of signatures, which it notes includes only players who could be reached within 24 hours of news of the lawsuit, shows that alumni are not demoralized.

The letter also says Gibbons emphasized sportsmanship and taught his players to become “our best selves.”

“It does not matter that many of us never set foot on the court together _ the bond that brought us together as Holy Cross women’s basketball players transcends ages and the person who brought us together and guided us every step of the way was Bill Gibbons, a man that we will forever call `Coach,’” the letter reads.

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