|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
"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
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.