On April 1, the North Carolina women’s basketball program endured a seismic shock when the University announced that Hall of Fame head coach Sylvia Hatchell and three of her assistants – Andrew Calder, Sylvia Crawley, and Bett Shelby – were placed on paid administrative leave and put under investigation over allegations of racist remarks and forcing players to play through injuries.
Eighteen days later on April 19, Hatchell — who coached the Tar Heels for 33 years and won a national championship in 1994 — had resigned from her position.
The Washington Post was the first to break the news of the specifics of the investigation. According to The Post, parents of players alleged that Hatchell ripped into her players after a losing effort, saying they would be "hanged from trees with nooses" in their next game if their performance did not improve. It was also reported that Hatchell had her players participate in a "war chant" to "honor" the Native American ancestry of an assistant coach.
The Washington Post received the information through interviews with seven people, including six parents of players.
Parents also took their concerns to the University, saying that three separate players felt pressured by Hatchell to play through injuries.
Soon after news broke of the investigation, Hatchell released a statement regarding the impending investigation into the matter, conducted by Charlotte-based firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein.
"I’ve had the privilege of coaching more than 200 young women during my 44 years in basketball," Hatchell said in the statement. "My goal has always been to help them become the very best people they can be, on the basketball court and in life. I love each and every one of the players I’ve coached and would do anything to encourage and support them. They are like family to me. I love them all. Of course, I will cooperate fully in this review. I look forward to a prompt conclusion of this matter and the continuation of our very successful women’s basketball program."
According to a statement from the UNC athletics department, the Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein was tasked with assessing the culture of the women’s basketball program and the experiences of the student-athletes.
On April 19, the results of the firm's findings were revealed. According to a release from the athletics department, the investigation found three overarching themes stemming from 28 interviews of current players and women's basketball personnel that were causes for concern.
First, "Hatchell made comments that were racially insensitive, and when confronted by players and staff did not respond in a timely or appropriate manner."
Secondly, it reported, "players and medical staff expressed frustration with perceived and undue influence from Hatchell regarding medical issues and pressure to play.”
Lastly, the report found "a breakdown of connectivity between the players and Hatchell."
The full review of the program was not made public, as the University chose to withhold the information on grounds that the report concerned a personnel matter. Instead, excerpts of the report were released by athletic director Bubba Cunningham.
“The University commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our University and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”
Less than two weeks later, on April 30, Cunningham tapped Princeton's Courtney Banghart to become the next head coach for the UNC women’s basketball program. In the span of a month, the Sylvia Hatchell era at UNC came to an end.
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