Athletes accuse Mt. Olive track coach of harassment - WNCT

Athletes accuse Mt. Olive track coach of harassment

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Amber Thompson said she received harassing text messages from her former track coach, Matt Van Lierop. Amber Thompson said she received harassing text messages from her former track coach, Matt Van Lierop.
MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. -

An award-winning coach is facing accusations of harassment from some of his own athletes.

Matt Van Lierop is head track coach at Mount Olive College, where four of his former athletes told WNCN they felt very uncomfortable with how he treated members of the team. All four say they quit the team because of coach Lierop.

"I don't think he's fit to be a coach anywhere," Amber Thompson said.

She said she has loved running track since seventh grade. She was on the team at Mount Olive her freshman, sophomore and junior year, but said her coach drove her to quit this year.

"I'm kind of scared to be around him and dreaded going to practice just because I had to be around him," Thompson said.

She said her fear mostly came to how Van Lierop pinned girls against each other.

"For two years straight, there was bickering because of all this mess he put in everybody's head," she explained.

Thompson said the harassment continued off the field, through texting. She said often the texts would come after 9 p.m.

"He'd send me like 25 text messages within five minutes, just bashing my roommate," said Thompson. "Coach Matt asked the guys team which girls are sleeping with who and who they're going out with and when they're going out. Just really inappropriate things."

Thompson showed WNCN some of those texts.

"I texted him telling him my training wasn't going too well, that I had hurt my ankle and only ran the miles that day," Thompson said.

"He called me a retard."

She said Van Lierop then threatened her. "He told me he was going to have to kick my a**.

"I called him unprofessional, and he said, 'I don't know why I have to be professional.'"

WNCN tried to contact Van Lierop several times on the cell phone number the teammates provided, as well as on his desk phone. No one answered at either number.

WNCN also called and left messages for the athletic director that were unreturned.

Philip P. Kerstetter, the college president, issued a statement acknowledging the allegations.

"Although we are unable to report on personnel issues, it should be known that we are aware of the allegations," Kerstetter said. "Investigations have been made and addressed. We at Mount Olive College are committed to providing an environment that supports our students."

The school would not go into any further detail. But Thompson showed WNCN an email from Kerstetter that said he talked to the coach and they agreed on a set of commitments.

The commitments included promoting a positive atmosphere and interacting with the team in a fair, appropriate and respectful manner. The email also said it would be the assistant coaches who would be responsible for texting athletes if necessary, but only during reasonable hours.

Thompson said the school has had talks with her coach about this before.

"That never changed anything," Thompson said. "Things got worse."

She added, "Other girls are getting affected and they're afraid to step up. They're afraid to lose their scholarship and afraid of what's going to happen."

Thompson quit the team, but according to email correspondence, worked out a deal with the college. She said the president allocated other college funds equivalent to her athletic scholarship. The president said it's important for her to get receive a degree and this should remove her concerns.

Thompson said she has filed charges against Van Lierop and has a court date in September.

On Friday, Kerstetter released another statement saying, "The College maintains its position that it is unable to discuss personnel issues.  We have made every effort to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations brought to our attention, and appropriate actions have been taken to ensure that the students' concerns have been addressed.  We remain committed to providing a quality educational environment for our students."

We also talked to several of coach Van Lierop's current track team members who had nothing but good things to say about him.

 

"All of the experiences were all inspirational, motivational, you know, teaching us about college and adversity and obstacles you face, so he's a great guy from my point of view," said former athlete Kason Cheeks.

"Ever since I've known him he was a cool guy, he stayed on top of things, making sure I go to classes,' said track team member Danny Horne.

 

According to N.C. General Statues against cyberstalking, it is unlawful for a person to: "Use in electronic mail or electronic communication any words or language threatening to inflict bodily harm to any person..."

Jonathan Rodriguez

Born in California but growing up in South Carolina, Jonathan Rodriguez joined WNCN in June 2013 as a digital journalist. More>>

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