WSOC foot on ball

In a short announcement on the Tritons’ website titled, “Fotopoulos Steps Down as Women's Soccer Head Coach” made at 11:22 a.m. on Aug. 8, Assistant Director of Athletics Amanda Green reported the resignation of Danielle Fotopoulos from her position after 12 years with the Tritons, “effective immediately.”

The reason for Fotopoulos’ abrupt departure is not clear but complaints from players paint a picture of an unhappy team. Several players stepped forward to share their experiences after the announcement of Fotopoulous’ departure.

Administrators declined to comment on the specifics of the coaching change because of personnel issues. Fotopoulos declined to respond to any student claims against her.  

Fotopoulos’ Career

Fotopoulos began her career in summer 2010 as head coach for the Eckerd College women’s soccer team. Her credentials were record-breaking in goals scored for the NCAA Division I team, the University of Florida, that led them to win the 1998 championship. The following year, she played as a forward for the U.S. national team during the 1999 FIFA World Cup.

After co-head coaching women’s soccer with her husband for two seasons at Louisiana State University in 2003-04, she was the assistant coach for her alma mater’s women’s team before officially coaching the Tritons. In her Eckerd career, she brought the team to the Sunshine State Conference twice.

By 2019, Fotopoulos had 56 wins and recruited 11 first-years to the team. Now in what was supposed to be their senior year, only five of those 11 remain on the roster.

‘Mindless machines’

Senior Serena Lewis came to Eckerd in 2019 from Orlando where she played soccer for Derrick Smith, who had begun assistant coaching for the Tritons a year prior. She had been playing the sport for most of her life.

“[Fotopoulous] wanted mindless machines. She wanted empty running machines that can do whatever she wanted, whatever she needed, regardless of whatever situation they were in,” Lewis said. “She wanted people who would do what she asked despite any other aspect that you have going on in your life.”

In Autumn Term 2019, Olivia Bever began her first year at Eckerd with the rest of the student athletes who arrived early. Coming in with a history of medical records, she was not allowed to participate with the team until it was assured that she was healthy enough to begin. 

“My entire life, since I was really little, I wanted to play college soccer. That's why I put up with all the bullshit because this [was] a goal. Technically, I accomplished it but I didn't feel like I accomplished it. Not the way I wanted to,” Bever, former forward and winger, said.

During week two of training, she was allowed to officially begin her college soccer career. The first practice held an intersquad scrimmage where Bever wasn’t put in until the end of the game – the first time Fotopoulos had witnessed Bever on her turf.

“If you're not immediately useful for her, she doesn't care. She's already written you off. She's not going to pay attention to you; sometimes she won't even talk to you,” Bever said.

Soon after, Bever suffered an injury that she felt was overlooked by being sent to the school’s athletic trainer daily, which according to her, turned out to be unhelpful. Bever continued to explain what a standard practice looked like for an injured player: off to the side on a yellow bike taking laps, no matter the injury.

Seniors Serena Lewis and Victoria Grant also mentioned spending practices on a yellow bike, for similar reasons to Bever. Rather than being able to rest their injuries, they say they were wearing out their pain on a bicycle around the field. 

When asked about injured athletes on the team, Fotopoulos said, “if they were injured, we had our trainer there and they would go to the trainer and be with the trainer and if they were injured, I would follow the instruction of the trainer and doctors.”

Fotopoulos continued to say that injured students were not able to play until cleared by Eckerd’s athletic trainer. 

Question of equal treatment

At the start of the 2021 season, Fotopoulos instituted a new way to conduct practices, according to some players. 

“She divided everybody into the ‘fit players’ and the ‘unfit players,’ and that's how she referred to you,” Bever said. “[Fotopoulos would say], ‘fit players get on the field for scrimmage’ and stuff like that. So she was creating divisions within the team.”

When asked about the team environment, Fotopoulos responded saying that the team was full of women bonding together. She said the team definitely had a family environment.

“Danielle was trying to create divisions within the team so that we wouldn't be a unified force to go to Tom Ryan about her,” Bever said.

Tom Ryan has been the director of Athletics since 2017 and has been affiliated with Eckerd College for 39 years. He had no comment on the hiring of Fotopoulos because he was coaching men’s basketball at the time.

“I do not oversee each coach's practice. Each coach has an extensive background in the sport they coach and has the autonomy to coach their team within the rules and regulations laid out by their governing body, our conference and the College,” Ryan said in an email. “I periodically attend practices and games throughout the year to observe and support our programs.”

Bever said the division continued off the field. Living in a dorm with a majority of players on the same team became an issue once Fotopoulos would allegedly share concerns towards the “fit” for living with and being friends with those who were categorized as not.

Lewis, however, saw a different intention behind the ‘fit and unfit’ method.

“The fit and unfit was a disguise,” Lewis said. The separation between fit and unfit players didn’t start until the beginning of the 2021 season. Lewis learned more in one-on-one with Fotopoulos; 

“Danielle told me, ‘I made this system for you.’ In a meeting, it was a one-on-one meeting with her. I think because she felt like if I was fitter, then I will be able to produce more for her on the field,” Lewis said. 

“You can look at the field and all the black players are in pinnies,” Lewis said. 

According to her, the field was visibly segregated as a majority of the players of color or anyone who voiced their opinions on social matters wore pinny shirts and were running laps around the field for an entire practice, or standing in place on the sidelines – uncoached and ignored. Meanwhile, the other players participated in drills and scrimmages while receiving soccer coaching from Fotopoulos. 

This was not the first time women’s soccer athletes of color felt discriminated against. Victoria Grant was a member of the Athletic Diversity Action Committee (ADAC), formed in 2020 to show Tritons’ support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. The club designed T-shirts intended to be worn before every game. 

One player on the team consistently wore “Blue Lives Matter” shirts as opposed to the BLM attire the team committed to wearing. Once the conflict of viewpoints arose, Fotopoulos allegedly stated that the BLM shirts were no longer to be worn before games so as to protect everyone’s opinion. With this decision, Grant felt the opposite of protection.

“It broke my spirit. I thought I had an ally in Danielle. And when I spoke up about it, we became completely disposable,” Grant said.

The year prior to this occurrence, in Grant’s first year, she witnessed similar patterns between speaking up and getting minutes on the field shaved off.

“That racist energy…like, ‘I'm going to silence you if you speak up, if you talk about it, then you're going to be heavily punished,’” Grant said regarding Fotopoulos’ actions.

Dismissing

The last time Lewis saw Fotopoulos was the day after Lewis became aware of her dismissal – the term used when kicking a player off the team. When Lewis went to talk with Fotopoulos and members of the athletic department for more clarification on her dismissal, she had a panic attack induced by asthma. According to Lewis, members of the athletic department watched as Fotopoulos continued to yell and berate Lewis and nobody stopped to react to Lewis’ asthma until they eventually put her on a golf cart to EC-ERT. 

“They put me on that cart, drove me to EC-ERT, dropped me off, [I] didn't hear a word from them at all whatsoever. Nothing. That is the last time that I heard from any of the athletics. The last time,” Lewis said. “Me having a panic attack and then dropping me off like nothing happened. Three years of my work, my talent, of my blood and sweat and tears on that field. Radio silence.” 

Grant, Lewis’s roommate at the time, received a call from Fotopoulos while she was in the middle of class. She sent Grant a text message telling her to “meet Serena at the clinic,” sending Grant into a worried state.

The last time Grant interacted with Fotopoulos was over the summer, weeks before Fotopoulos’ stepping down, on a video chat regarding Grant’s future on the team. She had been temporarily dismissed, as understood by her and the athletic department. She had come to terms with the fact that she no longer wanted to be coached under the “power” of Fotopoulos, yet needed to know as soon as possible if she was still on the roster in order to transfer and continue playing. According to Grant, both her and the athletic department were under the impression that Grant was still a part of the team as she proved her eligibility.

“[Fotopoulos said] ‘I actually never intended for you to be on the team. You’re permanently dismissed’ and she tried telling me that's what she said. I was like, ‘that's not what you said,’” Grant said, “I'm not gonna argue with you Danielle. I said goodbye. That was the last interaction that I had with her.”

When asked about her practices, Fotopoulos described them as, “Player focused player development, doing what's best for the team and making sure that they were the best student athletes they could be.”

Grant, who is no longer on the team, said, “My financial life was tied up in this lady and she just played with it. She just played with me for like a whole half semester. She literally abused her power so bad with that. You don't know if you're gonna wake up this morning and like to have to leave school and there's your scholarships gone. It's like she had our lives in her hands and she dangled it over us every five seconds.”

On Feb. 2, 2021, at 1:02 pm, Bever received an email from Fotopoulos who had CC’d the athletic director and other members of the women’s soccer staff to say, “your whole health is a concern. I believe you need to truly think about a different role on the team.” Fotopoulos offered Bever a chance to come to practice and collect balls.

After not responding to Fotopoulos’ calls and texts, Bever finally sent a concluding text message.

“I said, ‘listen Coach, I'm sorry, I haven't responded to your calls. I really needed to process what just happened. I needed to take some time and get myself together,’” Bever said. “ ‘I have no idea whether or not I'm on this team or not in your eyes, but I just need to let you know that I am no longer on this team in my eyes, nor do I want to be. You have never once supported me being on this team and I'm not putting myself through that anymore.’”

After the message was sent, Fotopoulos called twice and replied telling Bever to call her, but she never did.

“That was the end,” Bever said, “I'm done.” 

(5) comments

Wthisup

Danielle should sue you for slander. My child played for her, and as you seem to want to indicate, would have been in the ‘unfit’ category for her first 2 years. My child worked hard to improve and it was recognized and more playing time came. Shame on you.

carazimmerman

Coming from someone who was also a part of the 2019 team with Serena and Victoria, I can say all these accusations and claims against Fotopoulos are 100% truthful. Danielle made my mental health decline rapidly very quickly. She mentally abused me and my roommate Kaliya, who was also in the 2019 recruitment class. We both left before second semester of our Freshman year could even start. Coach Danielle legitimately forced me to head a soccer ball during practice even though I repeatedly told her they were way too pumped up and were hard as rocks. This resulted in me getting a concussion, and being out for the rest of the season. When I tried voicing my feelings and struggles to coach Danielle during our 1 on 1 meetings, I was told I should just stick it out and give it more time. More time for her to keep mentally abusing me. During games, Fotopoulos would constantly tell our team that we were doing horrible and were a disappointment. After those games, she would do a complete 180 and tell us we did a fantastic job. Needless to say, Danielle broke my spirit down to the point where I fell out of love for soccer and immediately had to quit. I tried so incredibly hard to keep myself focused and in the game and keep myself from quitting but ultimately, I fell into a depression and my own family was concerned for me which resulted in me leaving before Spring season. My own upperclassman teammates even told me to just stick it out because "this is just how she is". I thank coach Danielle for giving me the opportunity to play at the collegiate level, but what I don't thank her for was the complete and utter dismissal of my mental health and causing me to feel unseen and unheard.

carazimmerman

Coming from someone who was also a part of the 2019 team with Serena and Victoria, I can say all these accusations and claims against Fotopoulos are 100% truthful. Danielle made my mental health go from 100 to 0 real quick. She mentally abused me and my roommate Kaliya who was also in the 2019 recruitment class. We both left before second semester could even start. Coach Danielle legitimately forced me to head a soccer ball during practice even though I repeatedly told her they were way too pumped up and were hard as rocks. This resulted in me getting a concussion, and being out the rest of the season. When I tried voicing my feelings and struggles to coach Danielle during our 1 on 1 meetings, I was told I should just stick it out and give it more time. More time for her to just keep mentally abusing me. During games, Fotopoulos would constantly tell our team during our half time huddle that we were doing horrible and we were a disappointment. After those games, she would do a complete 180 and tell us we did a fantastic job. Needless to say, Danielle broke my spirit down to the point where I fell out of love for soccer and immediately had to quit. I tried so incredibly hard to keep myself in the game and keep myself from quitting but ultimately, I fell into a depression and my own family was concerned for me which resulted in me leaving before Spring season. My own upperclassman teammates even told me to just stick it out because “this is just how she is”. I thank coach Danielle for giving me the chance to play at the collegiate level, but what I don’t thank her for was the complete and utter dismissal of my mental health and causing me to feel unseen and unheard.

Jaybirdin813

[angry]Welcome to college soccer where everything is not fair. You actually have to earn your playing time and your spot on the team. Just because you were recruited doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a spot. Bullies always claim to be the victim once they get caught as two of these girls are on record of bullying other students on campus more than once. The Truth is the BLM shirts were worn during warm ups the whole season. The whole team was told that they will no longer be wearing the BLM shirts next season. Also, the player that worn the back the blue shirt did so in support of her brother who is a current and proud police officer. Like I said in a previous comment, to sides to every story. Unfortunately you didn’t seem to get that in this article.

Jaybirdin813

Two sides to every story. Sounds like a couple of these girls forgot what really happened. Unfortunately, the majority know the real truth.

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