CMU gymnastics coach accused of urging athletes to lie about injuries

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Central Michigan women's gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard.

Long-time Central Michigan University women's gymnastics head coach Jerry Reighard is on paid leave as the school investigations allegations he urged an athlete to "provide false information to medical staff" in order to participate in competition.

It's the latest instance of alleged suspect dealings pertaining to medical issues and training staff during Reighard's 25-year tenure at Central Michigan, according to his 1,353-page personnel file, obtained and reviewed by The Detroit News through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The investigation and administrative leave began Feb. 20, according to a letter from athletic director Michael Alford, and remains open as Reighard missed the final five meets of the season — including the team's second-place finish at the Mid-American Conference championships in DeKalb, Ill., last week.

Central Michigan is preparing to face Illinois in the NCAA Championships in Ann Arbor on April 4.

Associate head coach Christine MacDonald is serving as interim coach in the absence of Reighard, whose wife of 43 years, Nancy, who has been a volunteer coach, also is prohibited from team-related activities.

During his suspension, according to Alford's letter in which he outlines the claim of urging an athlete to provide false information to medical staff, Reighard is barred from interaction with athletes or staff, prohibited from contacting recruits, and can't use his university-issued credit card or have any conversations with the media as a university employee.

Alford wasn't immediately available for comment Thursday. He spoke briefly to The News last month, saying only the investigation was not in any way tied to the Larry Nassar scandal that has rocked the nation's gymnastics community, nor does it involve Title IX.

This is the latest instance in Reighard's career in which he has been accused of improperly handling medical issues. In a review of his annual performance evaluations, he consistently received high marks in every category, with a few exceptions. One area was financial; he often was cited for being over budget.

The other category that was considered below par on multiple occasions, including in 1996 and 2006, was his work with sports medical personnel, an area cited as needing improvement.

His personnel file also included multiple letters from parents and gymnasts. Some were positive; others were more disturbing. One from a parent in 1998 admonished Reighard and MacDonald for their handling of a gymnast's injuries.

"She called me in tears because her ankle was so swollen and hurt so much she hadn't slept in 3 nights," the parent, whose name and whose daughter's name were redacted, wrote in the letter.

The parent accused Reighard and MacDonald of verbally abusing the daughter, claiming they told her she was "babying herself and her ankle, not having heart to work through her injury."

"We have no respect for either one of you as coaches," the parent wrote.

The gymnast quit the team.

An athletic-department official responded to the parent, noting the concerns. That wasn't a satisfactory response for the parent, who wrote back that the coaches don't "get it."

There were letters of thanks in Reighard's file, too. One gymnast wrote of Reighard and MacDonald, in his 23rd year on staff, "Thank you both for changing my life."

On multiple other occasions, according to the personnel file, Reighard was accused of going around Central Michigan training staff and bringing in outside medical professionals, or recommending athletes visit outside medical professionals.

Central Michigan team physician Dr. Noshir Y. Amaria wrote a lengthy letter in 2018 to Reighard, voicing concerns about the alleged practice. In 2017, similar claims were made against Reighard.

In a 1999 performance review, Reighard was said to have been "better with this year's trainer."

Reighard, over the years, also has been cited numerous times for exceeding weekly practice time limits as outlined by the NCAA, including in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

The current investigation into Reighard's behavior is the second investigation he's been at the center of in the last two years. In the summer of 2017, of the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity investigated an allegation he violated the university's sexual-misconduct policy. In an August 2017 letter from Alford, Reighard was informed the OCRIE concluded he didn't violate the policy.

In the letter, Alford wrote, "I must impress upon you the seriousness of the incident by highlighting the fact that future instances of this nature will be addressed in a more formal and serious nature."

A July 2017 letter outlined the allegations; all witness statements were redacted, covering several pages. In other documents, it was suggested that it was something Reighard said that initiated the investigation.

Reighard's current contract, signed in the spring of 2018, runs through April 30, and pays him an annual salary of $145,349. When he landed the job in 1984, his first salary was $6,904.

He has had a highly-decorated career at the Mount Pleasant-based university, leading the team to 16 MAC championships, including in 2018. Central Michigan won five straight from 2010-14. Nine times he's been named MAC coach of the year and his overall record is 522-258-5.

Reighard is a Central Michigan alum, earning a bachelor's in industrial education and technology in 1974, and a master's in physical education in 1981. He was a Central Michigan graduate assistant coach in 1974, then went on to coach high-school teams in the 1970s and 1980s. As head coach at Ionia High School, he guided the boys team to state championships in 1983 and 1984.

A Westland native, Reighard is a nationally-rated judge and worked the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984