PALM HARBOR — Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, whose program last month had a men's lacrosse player accused of killing a women's lacrosse player, told coaches at the Black Coaches & Administrators convention Thursday that they need to open communication with their players to stay in tune with problems off the field.
"Any time a (program) experiences the death of a young person, it will shake you to the core," he said at the gathering at Innisbrook Resort. "We had an information void that kept us from being able to know what was going on with a student. We found out a lot of things after a very, very big tragedy."
George Huguely, a 22-year-old senior, is charged with first-degree murder in the May 3 death of Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old senior and his former girlfriend.
Littlepage spoke of the importance of creating situations where athletes are comfortable bringing problems to light with coaches and other support staff.
"One thing we have to be able to do is figure out how we can develop a type of relationship where a teammate doesn't feel they're being disloyal by speaking up, either confronting a situation with a teammate or (talking) discreetly to an adult in a helping position," he said.
He didn't reference either lacrosse player by name but said, "There were a lot of things happening that never did get to an academic adviser, a trainer, a coach, an assistant coach or dean of students that might have given us the opportunity to get our arms around an individual in distress and help that person.
"When we are able to put our hands on these kids that are having problems, the rate of success in terms of us being able to turn a young person's academic career, athletic career, in some cases their life around, is unbelievably successful."
Littlepage spoke at a panel discussion about overcoming adversity that also included former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy and Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith.
BETTER TURNOUT: The Black Coaches & Administrators' membership is about 5,500. About 250 are attending the annual convention, an increase from last year.
Association executive director Floyd Keith said it is difficult to find a time of year that doesn't conflict with the football or basketball calendars, but he would like to see a stronger turnout.
"We should be able to bring in folks in that 700-800 number, and I think that's not being conservative," he said.
The group has lost two sources of revenue and as a result cut about $271,000 from its annual expenses in the past year, including three full-time staffers.
"We did what we had to do," he told coaches. "The last three years, we were operating at a loss. This year, for the first time in four years, we're in the black."