By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — All Jade Staggs ever wanted to do was play golf for Oklahoma. Growing up less than 15 miles from the campus, it was her dream school.
However, when Staggs finally got her chance, she said her dream had a nightmare ending that included being forced off the Sooners by coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell, who Staggs claims bullied her for the past two years.
“The university is committed to protecting the privacy of all students and is unable to disclose or discuss confidential student information,” an OU Athletics spokesperson said. “We are able to confirm, however, that Jade Staggs is no longer participating in the Women’s Golf program.”
“I wanted to be here more than anybody,” Staggs said. “I wanted to do nothing but help the team. I worked pretty hard over the spring and summer to help the team, and I think it showed. In the end, it didn’t matter. She didn’t want me in the lineup.”
Staggs, a 2010 Westmoore High graduate, earned a scholarship to Oklahoma State out of high school. After her freshman year, she was homesick and decided to leave OSU and walk on at Oklahoma, which was always her dream school.
As a sophomore, Staggs tied for last on the team with a 78.67 scoring average. Even though she and Drouin had their run-ins throughout the year. Staggs said she seemingly showed enough improvement to earn a full scholarship from the Sooners.
As a junior, Staggs’ play on the links improved. Her average score dropped to 74.67, fourth best on the team. According to Staggs, Drouin’s rule was the top five golfers will be on the postseason roster.
Yet, two days before the final regular-season event, Staggs said, she was told by Drouin that she was being removed from her normal spot and would not be on the postseason roster, despite her scores.
“Coach Drouin then told me she was taking me out of the lineup for the remainder of the year,” Staggs said. “I asked her why and she told me that there were some things that I do that she doesn’t like. When I asked for an example she went on to say that she had no doubt I wanted to play for the University of Oklahoma but that I did not want to play for her. She also said that she felt I didn’t respect her enough.”
According to Staggs, the meeting grew contentious as Drouin informed her she felt Staggs was affecting team chemistry because no one wanted to room with her while on the road.
“I told coach Drouin that I felt the way she was handling this was wrong,” Staggs said. “She became very upset and said she was done dealing with me and told me she didn’t care if I stayed or left but that she was finished with me. I asked her if I stayed for my senior year with the team would I have a fair chance to play? She responded with ‘I don’t know, but I would be looking at other options if I were you.’”
Staggs said she and her parents, set up a meeting with OU Executive Associate Athletic director Larry Naifeh, who is an attorney, and Drouin. Naifeh’s areas of responsibility for the athletics department include contracts and other legal issues. He also is the AD in charge of the golf program.
According to Staggs, she and her family met with Naifeh the next day, but Drouin was not present.
“I told Larry my side of the story and asked him to help me solve the problem with coach Drouin and that I was willing to work it out because I wanted to be here and I wanted to play for a national title during my career,” Staggs said. “Larry told me that he wanted me to decide if I wanted to stay or leave, and that during this time I was not to be around the team at practice or workouts until I had made a decision.
A few days later Larry called me in once again with my dad and told me it was probably best that I part ways with the team. I accepted his decision and he told me they would continue to pay for my school if I would be willing to sign an agreement.”
The Voluntary Release of Financial Aid agreement Staggs was given stated that if Staggs left the team but stayed in school, Oklahoma would continue to pay for her tuition and other financial needs.
But stipulations in the contract included that Staggs gave up all rights to sue the school and each family member will not disparage or make public statements against the university or discuss the agreement with anyone.
Staggs said a family lawyer told her it would not be in her best interest to sign the agreement because it did not protect her and only protected the school.
“The main problem I had with it was that Coach Drouin’s name was not even on the contract to sign and never mentioned her name, either,” Staggs said. “I felt with the dispute being between her and I that she should be included in this agreement.”
Staggs said she was never going to sign the original agreement. Her reasons became clear after an audio recording surfaced in which a conversation about Staggs is taking place. The female voice on the recording has been identified by Staggs as Drouin.
In the recording, Drouin is upset about a message a member of the men’s golf team posted on Twitter about Staggs. Drouin asked him “why would he put that (bleep) on the Internet?” Drouin goes on to say that “(Staggs) quit the team. I didn’t kick her off. She didn’t want to be here anymore.”
The unidentified male player said, “Yea, Jade told me she quit the team and I understand why she quit the team. I was trying to be supportive of her. I wasn’t trying to say anything bad about it. I was just asking why, since she was playing so good.”
Drouin responded with “Well, what’s done is done. But you’re a (bleeping) (bleep) for doing it. You know they know it and at the end of the day, coach (Ryan) Hybl is going to hear about it and you’re going to be in (bleeping) trouble.”
Upon hearing the recording, Staggs said she felt Drouin had already violated the proposed agreement by lying and saying she quit the team. Two days later, Staggs met with Naifeh and declined the contract.
According to Staggs, Naifeh offered a second agreement for her to sign, which stated she would voluntarily release her right to financial aid.
“I agreed and he got the new contract to me a couple days later,” Staggs said. “I again turned down the contract because it was basically the same one as before but said that I would not continue to receive financial aid. It still came with the stipulations of not being able to tell my story to the media, giving up my right to sue the school, and still giving them the right to take legal action against me and my family if anything negative was said about coach Drouin or the program by anyone one of my family members.”
Staggs’ father informed Naifeh that they felt some violations were at hand and they wanted to pursue them with the NCAA. According to Staggs, Naifeh assured them there weren’t any. At that time, Mr. Staggs told Naifeh they were aware of the audio recording.
“A couple of days after this phone call took place, Larry called my dad, once again asking my dad to email him the copy he had of the audio because he had lost it and needed it to deal with the situation internally,” Staggs said. “In return, I would continue to have my financial aid without the signing of any contracts.”
Drouin and Naifeh were offered an opportunity to comment on the allegations made in this story. Neither chose to respond.
Despite everything that has happened, Staggs hasn’t given up on her goal of playing professional golf. She will just have to take a different route. While she finishes her final year of school, she will work, practice and enter as many events as she can afford. That includes playing in a U.S. Open Qualifier next week in Houston.
Even though Staggs said she has been told by Naifeh that Oklahoma will pay for her final year at school, the experience has left her angry. She believes she was pushed into a corner and no one at her school had her back.
“I don’t want other athletes to be afraid to stand up or speak out,” Staggs said, “because it’s their career. It’s everything they have worked for since they were little. I think you should be able to tell your story and be able to stand up for yourself. There is just no one in place for a student athlete to turn to when something like this happens. There should be somebody in place to where they can be protected.
“So often, you have all these people there to protect the university and coaches. But when a situation like this happens, who do I turn to? Who is going to protect me?”
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