Former players and their parents are coming to the defense of the suspended athletic director at Fike High School, who coaches the girls’ soccer team.
Wilson County Schools suspended Toni Varacchi earlier this week following a complaint by the family of a ninth-grade goalkeeper.
Kelly Barnes said her daughter, Parker, suffered arm and shoulder injuries during a practice in late March. Barnes considers what took place to be a hazing incident.
Parents of goalkeepers from past Demons and Lady Demons teams said their students participated in a similar drill without any problems.
“I attended many many practices, all of the games, and I never once saw anything that concerned me in the least bit,” Kelly Proctor said.
“From what I understand, they were doing a drill that my daughter’s done many times as a goalie. There are a lot of different names for it. I think Coach V calls it ‘Steal The Bacon’.”
Proctor said drills like this made his daughter, EJ, the professional player that she is today.
The Utah Royals of the National Women’s Soccer League drafted EJ in January following her graduation from Duke University, where she was the starting goalkeeper for the past several seasons.
EJ Proctor joined her father in writing letters to Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills. The 21-year-old first met Varacchi during a middle school practice.
In her letter, she wrote that Varacchi isn’t just any high school coach:
She is an incredible human and has been my safe place more times than I care to admit, and she does this without ever needing recognition. She cares deeply for each of her players, and I can promise you that is not something you find often in the world of athletics.
Not to mention, she is a damn good soccer coach and it would be a shame to lose her.
CBS 17 obtained copies of letters written by several other parents, including some whose children also played goalkeeper on Fike High School teams. A common theme in the notes involved player safety, and discussion of the same “Steal The Bacon” drill. One parent said his child became a better goalkeeper because of the exercise.
Kelly Proctor said it involves two teams of two going head to head, each with a goalkeeper and a field player. Depending on which team has possession, the corresponding goalkeeper goes on offense and attempts to interfere with their counterpart’s ability to defend the goal.
“It’s a drill that simulates what occurs on the field. There’s some physical contact that occurs in soccer, bumping off the ball, especially from a goalie’s position. People often try to screen the goalie, body up on her, try to prevent her from getting to the ball. It’s a drill that simulates that kind of contact in the situation,” Proctor said.
Kelly Barnes said the situation got out of hand and led to her daughter Parker’s injuries.
“They were instructed to rough each other up, but the other goalie asked if she could pick her up and throw her down and the answer from the coach was ‘yes’,” Barnes said.
“The coach also told Parker she knew that she was at a disadvantage, that she was out-sized. Then as it proceeded for roughly 20 minutes Parker was just continuously picked up off the ground and thrown on the ground to ensure that her team could not score.”
An ensuing complaint led to Varacchi’s suspension. Barnes contends that her freshman daughter was the victim of a hazing exercise.
“Hazing and bullying are not acceptable and when you make a decision as a coach to direct an activity that is doing just that then you no longer get to be called coach,” she said.
Proctor said he does not consider anything about the drill to be hazing. He said Varacchi would be upset if anyone, whether a player or a coach, were to haze someone else.
Parents said the coach is a mentor to all of her students.
“Varacchi not only prepared my daughter to walk on the pitch but to walk across the stage (at graduation) and for the rest of her life,” he said.
The Proctor family is headed to Salt Lake City this weekend for the Utah Royals’ home opener for the 2018 season.
The team plays the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, which is also EJ Proctor’s 22nd birthday.
Coach Varacchi has not responded to requests for comment.