Inside Sydnee Jacques’ room in University Village, the track & field team came together for its first team meeting of the year.
It was the second week of September, and the squad was more than a year removed from the resignation of Eric Mobley, the team’s former coach.
Everyone in attendance at the junior hurdler/jumper’s apartment, including 2015 alumna Michelle Davis Timothy, introduced themselves to the freshmen, with the goal of the upperclassmen and underclassmen forming a “big sister, little sister” relationship.
“If there was a freshman that had a problem, they can feel comfortable speaking to one person on the team,” Jacques said. “We don’t want to shut them out.”
Mobley and Kristen Foley, a former senior associate athletic director who oversaw the women’s programs, are being sued along with the university by former athlete Ebony Moore for $10 million in damages on claims of harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.
A 2014 investigation by The Temple News into the university’s men’s and women’s track & field teams found that Mobley, who coached men’s and women’s track & field until his resignation in June 2014, was accused of verbal abuse, intimidation and dereliction of his coaching duties.
“Two years ago, people were frustrated and sad,” senior jumper Imani Shell said. “The general together happiness wasn’t there. When we were together, it was more complaining, and we didn’t feel great about doing anything.”
Jacques wondered how she was going to fit in with the team.
“Freshman year was very difficult,” Jacques said. “I remember talking to my family about it. They couldn’t understand why I was so upset, and I can’t pinpoint what made me upset. I love Temple as a school, but my experience, I wish it was better.”
While Foley continued to oversee women’s basketball, crew, rowing and women’s volleyball, Senior Associate Athletic Director Joe Giunta replaced Foley as the department’s track & field administrator July 1, 2014. Giunta left Temple in May 2015 to become director of athletics at Dickinson College.
Foley left the university in July to become an assistant women’s basketball coach at Lafayette University under coach Theresa Grentz, who she played for at Rutgers University in the 1980s.
“[Foley] just went back to coaching,” Athletic Director Pat Kraft told The Temple News Oct. 14. “I think we were all surprised.”
Another administrator who is no longer with the program is former Senior Associate Athletic Director in charge of Compliance and Student-athlete Affairs Sherryta Freeman.
Associate Director in-charge of Compliance and Student-athlete Affairs Kristy Bannon Sromovsky replaced Freeman in July after she left the university to be the senior associate athletic director for student development at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s not 2014 anymore,” coach Elvis Forde said. “There is a new person at the helm, a new approach.”
This offseason, the Owls brought in seven recruits, three of whom will focus on track events while the other four will run cross country races and middle-distance track events.
“We got some good girls,” Jacques said. “Definitely some good assets to the team.”
Since becoming coach, Forde has used an “open door policy” at his office. Anyone on the team can stop by and talk to the second-year coach about the team, school or life.
“My experiences over the years have given me a level of maturity and understanding that I know the situation is going to be different,” Forde said. “It all comes down to handling each individual situation.”
Jacques said it was tough at first to trust Forde after everything that happened during her time under Mobley, but the wait has paid dividends, as she has found the passion for track & field that she lost as an underclassman.
“For me and talking to the other girls, they also can relate to me on that,” Jacques said. “I went from loving track to like, ‘Is this what I want to do?’ and coach Forde made me want to love it again.”
As the team prepares for its first indoor meet of the season Dec. 5 at the Fast Time Meet in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Shell said Forde has the program headed in the right direction.
“Coach Forde made it clear that he cared about us and wanted us to do well,” Shell said. “Having someone there who wants it for you makes you want it too. The caring changes a whole lot.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.