'They are afraid of Jerry': Deep dive into past of gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard


Central Michigan University Gymnastics Head Coach Jerry Reighard watches a gymnast compete during exposition during the CMU vs. Illinois State University meet Jan. 11 at McGuirk Arena. 

Nine Mid-American Conference regular season titles, 16 victories in the MAC Championships and nine MAC Coach of the Year awards.

Since 1984, Jerry Reighard has separated himself from other coaches in the conference and across the country, as he developed Central Michigan University gymnastics into a nationally-recognized program.

That success has sometimes come at a cost for the women who compete for the Chippewas. His tactics may have cost him his future at CMU.

The 35-year coach was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation on Feb. 20, in which he was suspected of telling a member of his team to lie to medical staff about an injury to continue competing.

Reighard's contract, which has him receiving $145,349 this year, is set to expire on April 30, 2019. A February suspension email to Reighard instructed him to cease all contact with current or former student-athletes, staff, volunteers, students and faculty. He also was told to have no contact with current or potential recruits or the media.  

Upon receiving Reighard's personnel file through a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request, which cost Central Michigan Life $404, it became clear he had broken rules dating back to the early stages of his career.

1997 - Student-Athlete Complaint

"I have been told I do not try my hardest because I do not urinate or vomit," a gymnast wrote in a letter dated on Oct. 17.

This specific student-athlete came to Reighard's program for a chance to compete at the highest level. However, she was faced with "horror, disgust and disbelief day after day."

After she thought about the situation for seven weeks, the gymnast decided to quit the team.

"I have never refused to perform anything nor been disrespectful to any of the coaches," she wrote, "but in return have only been mentally and physically abused. I was told that I do not really love gymnastics because, if I did, I would have made the mile in under seven minutes by now.

"I have been told they do not need me on the team."

The gymnast also wrote that she was not given medical treatment for her back after complaining about the injury on multiple occasions. After discussing matters with Reighard and then senior associate athletic director Marcie Weston, the student-athlete was allowed back into the gym, but she was forced to explain herself to all team members and run before and after practice.

"I do not believe in mind games, and I do not believe in deceiving people," she wrote. "Also, I do not believe that abusing or threatening someone produces character or championship.

"The only thing Central Michigan has filled me with is regrets. Now gymnastics, which was once my life, has become my past."

This gymnast left Reighard with one final message: "I hold coach Jerry Reighard totally responsible for stripping me of my college career."

1998 - Parent Complaint

In a Feb. 17 letter, the parents of a gymnast reached out to Reighard and associate head coach Christine MacDonald to express their displeasure of the coaching habits.

The student-athlete asked her parents not to send the letter, but the guardians made the judgment call to do so. On Feb. 9, 16 days before making contact, their daughter quit the gymnastics team.

Her parents said they believed Reighard and MacDonald wanted their daughter to quit the team from the beginning of the 1998 season.

"The two of you have ridiculed, threatened and verbally abused (the gymnast) for the past 1 1/2 years," the parents wrote.

Those parents said they decided to keep their distance and stay silent because their daughter wanted to remain a part of the team. Once she quit, they took action.

"What a disappointment you two people have been," the parents said. "As coaches who should be molding, building and helping young adults mature, however, you do everything you can to bring them down."

The letter explained the assumption that Reighard and MacDonald treated the student-athlete as a reject, unlike her fellow members of the team. This specific student-athlete competed on an injured ankle the prior season, her parents said. Once Reighard and MacDonald found out, the parents said the two coaches pulled her from the MAC Championships event.

"You lied to her all week telling her she should keep working hard, that she was going to be your bar champion," the parents said. "Even when you made your decision, in the middle of the week, that she wasn't going to compete, you didn't have the decency to talk with her about it.

"Jerry, you showed her what you truly felt about her and that was NOTHING."

In a separate letter to former athletic director Herb Deromedi, the parents said their daughter went to the team doctor to discuss the ankle injury. She "completely severed one of the ligaments to her ankle," while two others were torn. The student-athlete had reconstructive surgery.

"She was only 4 to 5 months post surgery, and Jerry and Christine were on her to do more than she should," the parents wrote to Deromedi. 

The two said their daughter was asked to drop 10 pounds, run the mile and do a bar and vault routine - all within two weeks. This was something they felt was impossible for someone just returning from injury.

"We realize that nothing will happen or change within the program because Jerry has a winning program," the parents told Deromedi. "We certainly will NOT be supportive to Jerry and Christine and a program that ridicules and abuses these girls.

"They sweet talk the girls into joining Central's team and then treat them like dirt, sometimes less than dirt."

Reighard, on March 3, made his response to the parents. Along with defending himself on all counts, he said the parents don't understand what it's like to be in their daughters' shoes.

"You don't know how it feels - I do," Reighard said. "I competed at this level and I respect (the student-athlete) for her decision (to quit the team)."

In a following April 17 response letter, Weston told the parents, "Jerry, Christine and I have reviewed the issues you enumerated in your February 1998 letter in every effort to handle future situations in the most productive manner."

The parents sent a two-page letter back to Weston on May 7, which included that the student-athletes on Reighard's team were scared.

"They are afraid of Jerry," the parents said. "Why is it so hard for everyone else to see this?"

1999, 2000, 2002, 2004 - Breaking NCAA Practice Time Rules

In order to protect athletes' health and safety, the NCAA limits practice time to four hours per day, 20 hours per week. In the offseason following the 1999 campaign, Reighard was given a warning by former Compliance Coordinator Derek van der Merwe for requiring student-athletes to practice longer than the NCAA rule.

Eight months later, on Feb. 17, van der Merwe discussed the issue with the gymnastics coach once again because "numerous" student-athletes reported to the compliance office that Reighard exceeded the practice time limit.

In order to try to help correct his behavior, the compliance office required each of Reighard's team members to keep a playing and practice log for the following few weeks. 

"The health and safety of your student-athletes should never be in jeopardy," van der Merwe wrote in an email to Reighard.

In 2002, the situation occurred once again. It went to the point where van der Merwe sent a letter on April 12 to Weston expressing his concern. He wanted Weston to discuss the situation with Reighard during his evaluation.

A few of van der Merwe's requests were that mandatory practice times should be clearly stated, it is not permissible to require gym workouts and student-athletes should never be penalized for not attending voluntary sessions. He also made it clear that a gym workout meant gymnastics student-athletes using gymnastics equipment.

In 2004, the NCAA informed CMU that Reighard violated NCAA Bylaw, meaning he went over the four hours per day, 20 hours per week limit. During the week of Feb. 8-14, the team practiced for 24.5 hours. On Feb. 9 and Feb. 12, the Chippewas exceeded the four-hour limit. Reighard's penalty was to reduce practice time by 7.5 hours from Feb. 29 to March 4 and by 1.5 hours from March 7-13.

2007 - Performance Evaluation Update

Weston wrote up a performance evaluation of Reighard in 2007, which he exceeded expectations in oral and written communication skills, understanding of strategies and techniques and supervision of student-athletes in and out of the gym. However, he placed below expectations in working with sports medicine staff, abiding by NCAA rules and clearly communicating those regulations to his team.

2016 - Ross Praises Reighard

Reighard received yet another professor salary adjustment, which was approved by the CMU Board of Trustees on June 28.

Former CMU President George Ross emailed Reighard to express his gratitude, stating the professor salary adjustment is an important milestone only achieved by members of CMU's senior faculty.

"On behalf of the entire campus community, congratulations again," Ross wrote. "Thank you for your dedication to students, to your academic discipline and to helping make Central Michigan University a top institution of higher education. I look forward to your continued leadership."

2017 - Reighard Innocent in Sexual Misconduct Case

On June 6, 2017, the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity (OCRIE) opened an investigation of Reighard after it received allegations that he violated the university's sexual misconduct policy. 

However, 50 days later, on July 26, OCRIE issued a ruling that Reighard did not violate the policy.

"I must impress upon you the seriousness of the incident by highlighting the fact that future instances of this nature will be addressed in a more formal and serious matter," Alford wrote to Reighard in an August 2017 email following OCRIE's decision.

2017, 2018 - Gymnasts Overweight, Reighard Says

It was brought to the athletic department's attention on Oct. 11, 2017, that Reighard had a gymnast meet directly with a local physical therapist, Mark Stansberry of Mountain Town Physical Therapy, without the approval of the trained CMU sports medicine staff. He was told it was unacceptable to have direct contact with a third party sports therapist.

In an email sent to Associate Athletic Director for Sport Administration Rob Wyman, Assistant Athletic Director of Sport Medicine Brian Wiese said Reighard also had Stansberry enter the athletic facilities to complete "evaluations on the gymnasts" without consulting gymnastics athletic trainer Kristen Jackson. Wiese and Jackson then sat down with Reighard to explain he "cannot, at any time, discuss, facilitate or direct medical care of his student-athletes and doing so would not be tolerated."

On Dec. 13, just over two months later, Reighard had a meeting with Jackson and former assistant director of strength and conditioning Aaron McLatcher. He brought up his concerns about student-athletes being "overweight and demanding that Kristen and Aaron do something about it," also requesting additional conditioning.

Reighard was met with later that day, and it was explained to him that it's unacceptable to talk about student-athletes being overweight and inappropriate to punish his team members for his personal judgment of their weight.

In early October 2018, Wiese explained in an email that Reighard was once again discussing what his athletes should and should not do medically, discrediting the medical director's training and qualifications. According to an email, Reighard "had been giving student-athletes medical advice, recommending that they see a chiropractor" rather than Dr. Noshir Amaria, the CMU physician. The longtime coach also "criticized Dr. Amaria's abilities to a student-athlete," while standing right in front of Jackson.

"His direction is the desire of student-athletes to get chiropractic care, regardless of injury, condition or care plan driven by our medical team," Wiese wrote.

2019 - Support Page Made for Reighard

According to a Facebook support page made for Reighard, the coach has not heard from Alford or others in the athletic department since Feb. 20, the day he was put on administrative leave.

Reighard was unable to be with the Chippewas during the MAC regular season title. It also seems unlikely that he will attend the NCAA Championships in the first round against Illinois on April 4 in Ann Arbor. 

Right now, it's MacDonald's team to manage while those involved wait for an answer on Reighard's status.

Here are a few pages of Reighard's personnel file obtained by Central Michigan Life through the Freedom of Information Act: