A bizarre girls' basketball drama played out in a Los Angeles suburb over the past week, as La Mirada (Calif.) High players abruptly quit only to return once their coach was fired following bullying accusations.
Here's how it went down, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
On Thursday, several Lady Matadores began posting on Twitter that they had quit during practice.
10 seniors and 2 under classmen officially quit the basketball team today. #finallyfree
— The Homie Gela (@SC_theBAMF) February 7, 2014
Honestly, if practically the whole team left, it's not about the players being disrespectful/irresponsible. Think. About. It. It says a lot.
— Joyce Lee (@hambrejoyce) February 8, 2014
We really don't care if you guys support our decision or just think we're disrespectful and don't wanna work hard for success.
— Madison (@madison_paige44) February 8, 2014
Folding my uniforms... Yeah it finally hit me this is real.
— Mariah Nunez (@mariahbnunez) February 9, 2014
As many as 13 of the team's 15 players reportedly quit the team, and the Press-Telegram jumped on the story. One father claimed his daughter was "physically scared" of what multiple parents described as the coach's uncontrollable temper and his desire to control the players outside of basketball.
A local news website tracked down two mothers soon after the practice, and they anonymously discussed their daughters' concerns at length in an audio file shared on La Mirada Blog.
Meanwhile, Gowens denied all accusations of bullying to the Press-Telegram and La Mirada athletic director Kim Brooks told the paper on Friday, "I support coach Gowens 100 percent. He's doing a heck of a job. We are on the same page. I support his efforts to rebuild the La Mirada girls' basketball program."
The Lady Matadores forfeited their game on Friday night and Gowens remained on as head coach through the weekend. However, many players and their parents reportedly brought their concerns to the school administration on Tuesday, and that afternoon Gowens was fired, according to the report.
Not wanting to spoil rival Norwalk (Calif.) John Glenn High's Senior Night and Eagles coach Linda Parra's final game before retiring, the La Mirada girls reportedly returned to the court hours later under the guidance of dean Ollie Lynch -- and they somehow pulled off a 53-48 road victory in Gowens' absence.
As an aside, this was the second proverbial stomach-punch loss Glenn suffered to La Mirada, as Matadores senior center Madison Magill made national headlines last month after sinking the game-winning free throws against their conference rival with a dislocated shoulder.
Likewise, a Press-Telegram feature on Gowens from last month seems strange in retrospect. A 6-foot-7 former Indiana Pacers training camp invitee, Gowens reportedly received two messages from God two years apart in the late 1990s that respectively told him to abandon his professional international basketball career and "leave behind his apartment, his car and all his possessions."
According to the feature, he then spent four years living on the streets of Los Angeles, ultimately resurfacing as an ordained minister in 2007 and head coach of L.A.'s Angelou High last season. He transitioned to La Mirada over the summer and stressed a desire to improve his new players' eating habits and mental focus in addition to implementing a strict training program.
"There is a lot more hope this year," La Mirada senior Kaitlyn Schroeder told the Press-Telegram exactly one month ago. "We have connected more and instead of looking down upon ourselves because others look down on us, we've come together as a team." How quickly circumstances change.