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Thursday, March 17, 2011 04:10 pm

UIS incident involves coach, parent and athletic director

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Rodger Jehlicka
The University of Illinois Springfield’s campus police department is investigating allegations of harassment involving the school’s outgoing athletic director, a controversial coach and a former player’s parent, who is also well known to the U of I system for his activism.

All three – athletic director Rodger Jehlicka, women’s basketball coach Marne Fauser and parent Mark Thompson – are named in a campus police report detailing alleged confrontations that occurred in The Recreation and Athletic Center (TRAC) after a Feb. 17 game. Fauser sought an order of protection against Thompson for alleged stalking, but the  court refused, stating that the alleged evidence was not a basis for an order of protection.

UIS hired Fauser as the women’s basketball coach in 2009, following the forced resignation of the previous coach. At the end of her first season, Fauser chose not to renew the scholarships of six of her nine players, including Thompson’s daughter, Kelly. [See “Not ready for the big time,” Jan. 27, 2011.]

According to Fauser’s complaint, Mark Thompson repeatedly yelled “Coach can you win six games next year?” Fauser writes that she approached Jehlicka to inform him of the situation. She adds that Mark Thompson later spoke to her in the lobby and said, “I can’t wait until you are gone.” Fauser adds that she told Mark Thompson regarding revoking the scholarships that “I did what was in the best interest of the program and your daughter didn’t want to play.” Kelly Thompson appealed without success the loss of her scholarship and was later offered and accepted an alternative scholarship by university administrators. Now a junior at UIS, Kelly Thompson has since sought to play for other university teams.

Mark Thompson told Illinois Times that he was indeed heckling Fauser in the gym, but only lightly and not at length, and that the run-in in the lobby was merely a coincidence. Thompson adds that the incident in the gym ended after Jehlicka approached him and his wife, Penny, as well as UIS professor emerita Barbara Hayler, who was sitting with the Thompsons’ daughter. Hayler led a recent investigation into the athletics department and has been vocal about her ongoing concerns. According to both Mark Thompson and Hayler, Jehlicka called Penny Thompson “a drunk” and Hayler a “fat lady” with no future at the university and told both Mark Thompson and Hayler that they would “be sleeping for a very long time,” a phrase Hayler suspects refers to a wrestling move.

According to police, Mark Thompson also told the responding officer that the U of I system didn’t like him due to his conservative activism and efforts to have now-retired Chicago-campus professor Bill Ayers – the co-founder of the anti-war group Weather Underground, which was once connected to several bombings – denied emeritus status. Mark Thompson in 2009 was arrested for disrupting an Ayers speech held on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

In a Feb. 18 e-mail to Fauser and Jehlicka, vice chancellor for student affairs Tim Barnett apologizes for Thompson’s behavior and states that he, Barnett, “did not realize that he [Thompson] had been bothering you or that you had received e-mails from him.” Thompson says that he has never sent e-mails to Fauser and hasn’t to Jehlicka since the weeks after his daughter’s scholarship was revoked. He adds that the stalking accusation is a way to marginalize him and his concerns for the university’s future.

Just three days prior to the Feb. 17 episode, the university announced Jehlicka’s resignation as athletic director, effective Aug. 15, the last day of his contract. Jehlicka began his term with the university in Dec. 2005. During his term, Jehlicka oversaw the university’s move to National Collegiate Athletic Assocation (NCAA) Division II competition as well as controversies including the 2009 alleged sexual assault of a softball player by her coach. The day before the Feb. 17 incident, the university announced that it had agreed to investigate a complaint concerning alleged sex discrimination within the athletics department. Hayler was the complainant. [See “Civil rights office asks UIS to evaluate Title IX compliance,” by Holly Dillemuth, Feb. 24.]

Jehlicka did not respond to phone messages left by Illinois Times last week. Fauser declined to comment, stating: “I don’t think it’s something that needs to be played out in the media. It’s an ongoing investigation.” UIS’s police chief Don Mitchell provided no additional details but said that the investigation is continuing as the department attempts to interview any witnesses.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.  
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