MSU coach denies she ordered assistant to hit player

By Tony Paul and Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

One day after police completed their investigation into the conduct of Michigan State's softball coach, current and former players and coaches rushed to the defense of Jacquie Joseph.

Joseph also made her first comments on the allegations of senior Alyssa McBride, calling them "categorically untrue."

McBride told The News in an exclusive story Friday that Joseph ordered assistant Jessica Bograkos to intentionally hit her with pitches during batting practice late this season.

"I have devoted by past 22 years as MSU head softball coach to guiding and mentoring student-athletes in the type of ideals, values and skills necessary to achieve success on the field, in their careers, and throughout their lives," Joseph said in a statement released by her attorneys. "During this time, I have never said or done anything to harm any of the student-athletes who have been entrusted to me. In fact, I have done everything in my power to increase public respect for this great university, and to increase the well-justified pride of Spartan Nation.

"The allegations against me are categorically untrue. I have cooperated fully with investigators for the Michigan State Police and MSU Police Department — and will cooperate with the university's investigators, as well — in hopes of resolving this situation and restoring my reputation as quickly as possible."

Joseph's attorneys at White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini said she will not be talking to the media until further notice.

The situation at Michigan State began when a team member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, overheard a conversation between Joseph and Bograkos on a bus ride to Central Michigan for a game April 29. The team member said they clearly heard Joseph say to Bograkos, "You can hit her."

McBride, one day earlier, had made derogatory remarks about her time at Michigan State to a reporter. Although there's no indication they were published, Joseph confronted the outfielder from Mattawan about the comments earlier that day.

The team member told the same story to police for the official report, which has not been made public.

McBride was hit in the wrist by an up-and-in pitch by Bograkos during batting practice April 29, and again before the season finale May 3 at Michigan State. That pitch hit McBride in the left arm, leaving deep bruising and swelling.

"(I'm) aware and concerned," said Mitch Lyons, vice chairperson for the Board of Trustees. "Investigations are ongoing as stated by MSU."

Lyons, a former Spartans football player, called the allegations "disturbing."

Michigan State officials have begun an investigation by an outside attorney, and said Friday that Joseph's status hasn't changed, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Ingham County Prosecutor's Office said it has received the police report, compiled by the Michigan State Police and MSU Police, regarding the alleged incident May 3. The Isabella County Prosecutor's Office was expected to receive the police report Friday, but did not confirm it had been filed. That report was to detail events of April 29 in Mount Pleasant.

Athletic director Mark Hollis declined comment for a second day in a row, and James Heos, the Lansing-based attorney representing Bograkos, did not return messages.

On Friday, five current members of the Michigan State softball team took to Twitter to voice their support for Joseph.

And McKenzie Long, a freshman infielder, sent an email to support Joseph.

"Coach J has made me a better person. She is the definition of integrity and teaches her athletes to play at the highest class," Long wrote. "The coaching staff cares not only about your development as a player, but as a person as a whole."

Long disputed McBride's account of what happened at Central Michigan, saying Bograkos was only pitching up and in to get the players prepared for the game.

Long said Central Michigan's pitcher that day, Rachael Knapp, had a reputation of pitching left-handed hitters "with rise balls inside."

"Coach B was giving us the opportunity to be successful against the pitcher we were about to face," wrote Long, who, like McBride, is a left-handed hitter. "By no means was the hit-by-pitch intentional."

Several others couldn't believe the allegations, either.

Demita Beard, a Spartans outfielder from 1998-2001, said she was stunned.

"My initial reaction was anger," said Beard, of Eastpointe. "Definitely, it's true you can get hit with a ball in practice. It happens. Softball is a game, it happens. Even the best pitchers ... Jennie Finch has hit players before.

"But the integrity of the coach and the coaching staff — I also played with Jessica Bograkos — it was something that was taught to me during my time there. I definitely think the allegations are false."

Beard still keeps in touch with Joseph, and they get together when she visits the Lansing area.

She began her career as a walk-on, and remembers a day when she was working out at Jenison Field House on campus and Joseph swung by.

"She said, 'Hey, D, if I tell you I'll pay for the rest of your school, will you stop working hard?'" Beard said. "I said, 'Absolutely not,' and she said, 'OK, consider it done.' She stuck to her words and gave me that five-year scholarship to play for a Big Ten school. I came from a family with no money, my Mom couldn't afford tuition.

"I can't tell you enough how I feel about her, not only for her coaching but also for the invaluable life experiences that she gave us."

Joseph, 45, has a solid reputation among fellow coaches, many of whom rushed to show their support.

Margo Jonker, the longtime coach at Central Michigan who coached Joseph in college and had her on staff for a year before she moved to Bowling Green, said her reaction to the story was: "Are you kidding me?"

"Jacquie loves fast-pitch softball, and loves the game," Jonker said. "I've known her for a long time and felt that, ethically, she's very concerned about doing things ethically and proper. This does not fit at all."

Jonker also called getting hit in batting practice "part of the game." She added, "We wish it wasn't."

Gayle Blevins, the longtime softball coach at Iowa who retired five years ago, agreed. Blevins, for instance, said she always had trouble throwing to left-handed hitters.

"I have known Jacquie Joseph a long, long time, and I know who she is (as) a person," Blevins said. "Questioning her integrity and character, that just really disappoints me."

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins also tweeted her support for Joseph. She told a News reporter she wasn't ready to talk.

Joseph, in her statement, said she has received hundreds of calls and emails, but can't answer them all until after the legal process is through.

"So at this time," she said, "I would just like to express my heartfelt appreciation for all the support."

Joseph's attorneys said she never before has been subject to even minor discipline.

They also questioned how a friend of McBride's stepfather could lead the MSP probe.;