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Ex-Lakewood assistant seeks charges against player

What began as an argument with a coach about the use of a batting cage could have further repercussions for a Lakewood High baseball player, who received a five-day suspension from school after the dispute.

Accusing school and county officials of leniency, former Lakewood assistant softball coach Jill Casey said she sought to press misdemeanor assault charges Tuesday against one of the school's top baseball players. She said the player's actions toward her in a Feb. 9 incident were "violent and threatening."

The altercation led to the resignation of Casey and head softball coach Kaylyn Bayly, and caused the walk-out of eight players, three of whom quit the team.

According to a report Casey sent to law enforcement and school officials, the player verbally accosted the coach after she asked him to leave the batting cage at the end of his practice so that the softball team could begin its session.

Casey said in her report the player, while in the batting cage, "lunged towards me in a manner which I felt was physically threatening."

Casey said in the report the player used a series of obscenities, ignored her request for him to leave the batting cage, then told Casey, "I will hit you over the head with the baseball bat."

"He lunged toward me but did not make contact," Casey said Wednesday. "He was hoping to intimidate me. He was putting on a show for all of his friends, and he made that clear.

The player, a minor, Wednesday denied that he threatened the coach. "I never threatened her in any way. I was provoked and yelled a couple of obscenities that I regret, but I never threatened her," he said.

"All I can comment on is what I witnessed," said Reed McMillan, Lakewood's first-year baseball coach. "As I approached the batting cage, the player was screaming. At that point, I got him and the other two players out of the cage. He continued to yell and I just took him away to defuse the situation.

"He was wrong but I didn't see any physical act of violence or any threatening behavior physically from him toward her," McMillan said.

Said Casey, who is a detention officer at the Pinellas County Jail: "I felt that the issue could have been handled in the school's system but obviously I was wrong. "My feeling is that there is so much violence in the schools, why do you have to wait for someone to get hurt before there is any action taken?"

Lt. Tom Gavin of the Youth Resources Services, the St. Petersburg Police Department division that handles juvenile cases, said a series of reports and statements must be reviewed before any legal action can be taken.

After reviewing reports and interviewing witnesses, school officials decided to suspend the player for five days and prohibit him from playing in a preseason tournament. He has now returned to the team.

"The principal (Walter Hall) was made aware of the incident and I felt that he acted appropriately," said Arlington Nunn, director of Pinellas County school operations. " Based on my knowledge of the facts, it appears (the suspension) was appropriate. What I question is the way (the softball coach) handled the whole incident."

One softball player said she thought her coaches overreacted. "To be honest with you I think the coaches overreacted way too much," said senior infielder Lee Cullen, who saw the incident. "I mean you can't keep beating a dead horse. I don't think it was just the player, but the fact that (the softball coaches) didn't get their way."

Hall, Lakewood athletic director Liz Collins and Bayly, the former head softball coach, could not be reached for comment.

"I wasn't there for the entire incident," new softball coach Rich Pokorny said. "There was a dispute over the time on the batting cage and there ended up being a heated exchange between the coach and player."

"I've known Kaylyn and Jill for awhile now and they don't seem like the type that would cause a lot of trouble."

Lakewood, with a squad that consists of eight freshmen, is 0-2 on the season with a 21-2 loss to Dunedin Feb. 24 and a 10-0 loss to Countryside on March 1. The Spartans canceled their first two games against Largo and Gibbs. Both will be rescheduled for a later date.

_ Staff writer Wayne McKnight and correspondent Bob Putnam contributed to this report.