COLUMBIA, S.C. (CBS Charlotte) – The University of South Carolina and its athletics program is at the heart of a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former top recruit, a suit that includes the university’s husband-and-wife women’s soccer coach duo.
Idana DeCecco, 21, filed a lawsuit in August against the school and five top officials, claiming that unwanted alleged sexual advances by the women’s soccer associate head coach in September 2008 led to her being ostracized from the team as well as being denied renewal of her scholarship. DeCecco has accused Jamie Smith, the husband of women’s soccer head coach and 2011 NSCAA/Mondo South Region Coach of the Year Shelley Smith, of “clearly suggesting that if she was interested in improving her position on the team, she could do so by being sexually involved with him” following an alleged private meeting between the two in the coaches’ locker room.
In September 2008, DeCecco was directed by Jamie Smith to meet with him in the coaches’ locker room, according to the lawsuit. Smith allegedly locked the door and told DeCecco to sit down, causing the freshman to become anxious. Sitting on a bench only a few feet away from DeCecco, he allegedly spoke to her about her performance on the team, saying he could help her get more playing time while stroking the loveseat cushion next to DeCecco’s leg.
As Jamie Smith was allegedly making more advances toward DeCecco, Shelley Smith, the team’s head coach and Jamie Smith’s wife, began knocking on the locked door, according to the lawsuit, yelling, “Who is in there?” and “Open the door!” Before DeCecco could open the door, “Jamie Smith ordered Miss DeCecco to sit down, be quiet, pay attention only to him and to ignore the knocking.”
“Coach Jamie Smith softened his voice, leaned even close to Miss DeCecco, and he began rubbing and stroking her thigh, which Miss DeCecco sensed as a more aggressive attempt to get closer to and sexually involved with her,” the lawsuit stated.
DeCecco would rush to unlock the door, only to be met by a verbal attack by Shelley Smith, asking DeCecco, “What the hell is going on here!?” Jamie Smith remained silent during his wife’s tirade against DeCecco. According to the lawsuit, DeCecco ran home in tears, her teammates witnessing the accusations made from their head coach toward DeCecco.
The alleged incident came after Smith texted DeCecco earlier in the month to meet with him an hour before practice in the team’s private viewing room, never giving an explanation for the meeting.
This was not the first time Jamie Smith had participated in alleged misconduct with other female soccer players. The associate women’s soccer coach was prohibited by the university from meeting privately with any female players, according to the lawsuit. But that wouldn’t stop Jamie Smith from continuing sex-focused talk in April 2009, according to the suit.
Soon after the incident, DeCecco was ignored by her coaches, Shelley Smith beginning to ostracize and retaliate against DeCecco, asking her demeaning questions such as, “How can you live with yourself?” and “Why are you on this team when you know that I won’t play you?” the suit stated. In October 2008, two unnamed captains at the direction of Shelley Smith accused DeCecco of homosexual behavior with another teammate, ordering them to no longer to socialize with one another, a false and malicious accusation designed to alienate DeCecco, according to the lawsuit.
“Coach Shelley Smith knew or should have known of the outrageous conduct of her husband and assistant coach, yet upon information and belief, did nothing to stop it,” the suit stated. “To the contrary, Coach Shelley Smith continued acts of retaliation against Mss DeCecco.”
DeCecco first spoke out against the actions of the Smiths in the spring of 2009, telling her academic adviser of specific incidents involving the Smiths. The lawsuit indicates that although the adviser admitted to DeCecco that other members of the women’s soccer team made similar complaints to the university about the Smiths, the university didn’t investigate or address DeCecco’s complaints.
In December 2009, the Smiths ordered DeCecco to meet with them in the office. She was informed her scholarship would not be renewed for the 2010-11 season, according to the suit. After a failed attempt to meet with South Carolina Athletics Director Eric Hyman, DeCecco appealed the revocation of her scholarship to the NCAA, despite a warning from Jamie Smith.
“Bad things will happen to you if you appeal [the revocation of your scholarship],” the lawsuit stated. “You are either with us or against us.” Her appeal was rejected in June 2010.
Shortly after the appeal was filed, Shelley Smith pulled DeCecco aside during a children’s summer camp in the summer of 2010, informing her that she could no longer work out, train, participate or attend games or team functions since she had appealed. DeCecco returned to her Alberta, Canada, home, transferring to play soccer for the University of Alberta.
In July 2010, DeCecco’s father, Craig DeCecco, met with South Carolina officials. Instead of investigating the conduct of the women’s soccer coaches, the officials tried to steer the conversation toward pacifying DeCecco. The former star recruit has continued to suffer from depression and panic attacks, as well as “uncontrollable crying,” meeting with doctors to try to care for them, the lawsuit stated.
USC officials named in the suit include the Smiths, Hyman, university president Harris Pastides, and deputy athletics director Marcy Girton. The State reports that university officials, through their legal team, deny that they had prior knowledge to the allegations or should have known of what has been accused of by DeCecco. The response added that the university engaged “in good-faith effort to comply” with federal laws, further adding that DeCecco’s on-the-field performance was “sub-par.”
“The university does not comment on pending litigation,” USC spokesperson Margaret Lamb said in an email to the State.