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Lacrosse Group: Suit About Personal Conflicts

NEW CANAAN, Conn. — The board of the New Canaan Lacrosse Association says a lawsuit filed by former coach Claudia Harris is not about discrimination and bullying but about Harris herself and personality conflicts.

The lacrosse association released a statement Wednesday morning, again claiming that Harris’ suit is without merit. According to the organization, the lawsuit, filed in Stamford Superior Court, is less about fairness than it is about Harris’ own desires.

“This case is about a parent – and coach – who insisted on coaching a specific team despite escalating personal conflicts between her and her assistant coaches over playing time, a dispute which began to spill out onto the field and impact children,” the lacrosse association said in the statement, released by Jim Zebora of the Dilenschneider Group.

In her suit, Harris and her husband, Roger, accused the lacrosse association of engaging in discriminatory behavior by offering more practice time and merchandise to boys and  clinics for high school-aged boys that were not available to girls in the same age group.

Claudia Harris also claimed that another coach, who was not named, had an agenda of reducing playing time for some girls in favor of his daughter and her friends. Harris said that when she approached the board with her concerns in summer 2010, she was ignored and told to leave her position quietly or she would be taken off the association's board.

The lacrosse association said four of the five coaches on the team Harris coached were replaced and that Harris was never fired. “The board never terminated Dr. Sickinger (Harris). To the contrary, we offered her the opportunity to coach any other team. The board of directors determined that it was not interested in contending with an ongoing personality conflict and voted to remove her from the board.”

The lacrosse association said the issues raised by Harris in her suit are important, but insists that’s not what the suit is about. “For Dr. Sickinger (Harris) to use these issues as a platform for her personal gain is to trivialize them and all those who fight legitimately to address these problems in youth sports.”

The lacrosse association said Harris’ suit “is tragic, not only because it is without a foundation in law, but because it is damaging to a program run by parents and other volunteers for the benefit of children in our community.”

The lacrosse association said it is still willing to meet with a mediator to settle the lawsuit to avert a lengthy legal proceeding.

Update: Claudia Harris responded to Wednesday’s statement from the lacrosse association saying that it had not been authorized by the association's new board of directors. She also claims the Wednesday statement was filled with “falsehoods and inaccuracies.”

“Our main problem is that this is exactly the type of shoot the messenger tactic we’ve seen from the beginning,” Harris said late Wednesday. “For 16 months, we’ve been fighting this type of intransigence.”

Harris also criticized the statement that her lawsuit was based on a personal conflict. “Any statement about unchecked bullying being labeled as personal conflict is inappropriate,” she said.

Harris also added that she found it baffling that the group discussed working out a settlement when she had been trying to do that before. "We await any good faith overture from their attorneys," she said.

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