Ex-Grizzly roars back at Oakland coach

By Scott Wolchek

Beckie Francis was intolerant of Jenna Bachrouche’s weight and religion, the former OU women’s basketball player said in an interview Wednesday, at her home in Kalamazoo. Bachrouche, who began telling her story earlier last month to local media organizations, told The Oakland Post she felt her Muslim faith was an issue with Francis, a Christian.

“The unwritten motto on the team was ‘You gotta pray to play,’ Bachrouche said. “I remember one of my teammates telling me that.”

She said Francis was constantly pressuring members of the team to practice and embrace Christianity.

“There were times when I just felt insecure about myself and my religion. Because it was just one after the other,” Bachrouche said.

 

Under pressure

Bachrouche was on the roster for two years, but due to an injury, she didn’t spend much time with Francis for her first year. The second year is when Francis’ subtle hints at religion, began to pile up.

“Before the season started, we had a film session,” Bachrouche said. “We watched her testimony session in church. I felt completely uncomfortable.”

The former player said that the worst insult came during a trip to Las Vegas.

A restaurant manager came up to the coaches and she (Francis,) said ‘Hi, we’re the Oakland University basketball team. We’re a Christian basketball team.’

 

Speaking out

Oakland University, a public educational institution, is prohibited by constitutional law from establishing a religion or coercing students into one.

Bachrouche said she tried to address her concerns, but the situation was a bit tricky, due to the fact that Francis’ spouse was OU President, Gary Russi.

“She’s married to the president. What am I going to do? A freshman, a sophomore basketball player,” Bachrouche said.

It’s unknown whether Russi knew about his wife’s intolerance, but Bachrouche said Russi himself was at a mandatory Christmas party that Bachrouche had to attend and a teammate was forced to read the Christmas Story from the Bible.

“If he communicates with his spouse, he’d have to know what was going on,” Bachrouche said.

Bachrouche said she addressed her concerns to the other players, her family members and assistant coaches. Eventually, she ended up contacting OU athletics director, Tracy Huth.

“He just apologized,” Bachrouche said. “He said, ‘Anything I can do to help you find another place.’”

 

New start, new team

Bachrouche now plays for Western Michigan University. She said being able to talk about the situation is a weight lifted off her shoulders.

“I hope this brings to light the things that she did, whether this is the reason she got fired or not.”

 

OU investigates

Following Bachrouche’s interactions with local news media this week, the university issued this statement:

“At the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, a women’s basketball student athlete requested a transfer release from Oakland University. OU granted her release and also supported her request for a waiver so that she could play immediately at another NCAA institution.  At that time, she raised issues of non-secular conduct and behavior on the part of the women’s basketball head coach.  The Athletics Department, under the auspices and at the direction of the general counsel, immediately commenced an internal review that resulted in appropriate corrective action being taken.

Oakland University does not comment on specific details related to students, personnel matters or internal reviews.”

 

Following this statement director of media relations, Ted Montgomery, couldn’t be reached for further comment.

 

Happy ending

Bachrouche is happy with her new team, but says she is most relieved that the intolerance is over.

“It wasn’t really ever about the minutes,” she said. “It was about how she made me feel because I was more stressed out than I’d ever been in my life.”