Wednesday, October 4
Woman sues Duke over being cut from team



GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A former Duke University special teams star testified Tuesday that Heather Sue Mercer was the best placekicker on the team in the spring of 1995.

"She packed a powerful punch," Tijon Redmon said of his former teammate, who has sued the school in federal court claiming she was cut from the team as a placekicker because of her gender.

Duke's attorneys contend that Mercer's lack of leg strength was a key factor in the decision to cut her from the squad.

Mercer, who walked on as a kicker her freshman year in 1994, claims Duke violated the Title IX amendment that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs receiving federal funds.

Mercer sued the university three years ago and graduated in 1998. She now works for Charles Schwab & Co. in New York.

Her mother, Diana Mercer, testified that former Duke coach Fred Goldsmith told them during a meeting "the biggest mistake I ever made in my life was saying that you were on the team."

She said Goldsmith continued by saying that his own daughter was an excellent pitcher on the boy's Little League team when she was young, but she grew out of it.

Her daughter was depressed after Goldsmith's comments, but was determined to play and went to practice, but had to wear shorts and sneakers because she wasn't allowed in uniform.

"I told her these people are discriminating against you," Diana Mercer testified. "To me this was emotional abuse. These people are never going to give you a chance."

One of the first witnesses to testify Tuesday was Redmon, who played for Duke from 1991 through 1995, when he set the NCAA record for kickoff returns with 1,065 yards.

Redmon said he first noticed Mercer's kicking skills in 1995 when she was one of three kickers on the spring team.

"Of the three we had, she was the most accurate," Redmon testified. "In my mind, she was definitely the best kicker we had that spring.

"When she kicked it, you could hear a thud."

When it came time to choose sides for the Blue-White game, which marks the end of the spring practices, Mercer was the first kicker chosen. At the end of a close game, she came through for Redmon's Blue team with a game-winning 28-yard field goal.

The five-woman, three-man jury watched a videotape of Mercer's heroics, which ended with several Duke players lifting her up to celebrate the victory.

Under cross-examination by Duke attorney John Simpson, Redmon acknowledged that some of Duke's best placekickers did not participate in spring practice in 1995. Starting placekicker Tom Cochran was nursing a pulled groin muscle and another kicker also was not in camp.

"Was Heather Sue Mercer the best kicker for Duke in the 1995 season?" Simpson asked.

"No, Tom Cochran was the best kicker," Redmon said.

Earlier Tuesday, Mercer's high school coach said she contributed substantially to a team that won the state championship.

"For us, she was very good," Yorktown High School coach Ron Santavicca testified. "I'd say her range was 35 to 40 yards. Not too many high school kickers can do much better than that. But the key to Heather's success was her accuracy."

Santavicca coached Mercer in the early 1990s at Yorktown High School in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. She was the first-string kicker during the 1993 season, when she made 28 of 31 extra point attempts and four of seven field goals. The team was 11-1 that year and a state champion.

Simpson asked Santavicca about the high school team's one defeat in the 1993 season. "Isn't it true that you lost the game because Ms. Mercer missed a 30-yard field goal?" he asked Santavicca.

"No," the coach responded. "We lost because we stunk. She made one out of two that day."

Simpson also asked if it was true that Mercer did not handle kickoffs because she lacked the leg power. "I didn't need her to do that," Santavicca said. "She could have kicked off."

Mercer's attorneys are later expected to call former Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley to testify that she had the skills to succeed at the college level. Duke's witnesses include former football coach Fred Goldsmith, former North Carolina coach Bill Dooley and former N.C. State coach Mike O'Cain.

Mercer is seeking, among other things, damages for emotional distress, humiliation and periods of depression. Her lawyers have said that she wants to use any money she's awarded to establish a scholarship for female placekickers.









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