Following an article about the state of Blue Demon basketball published in the Feb. 17 issue of The DePaulia, two former employees of the athletic department came forward to voice displeasure over how they were treated during their time at DePaul.
Andrew Chace, 23, and Samantha Peache, 25, both worked within the department between 2006 and 2012. Chace donned the hairy blue suit and became DIBS for two years, and Peache was a cheerleader, earning a captainship during her senior year.
Both were disillusioned enough with their treatment by the athletic department to seek out the DePaulia and discuss their experiences.
Chace, who now works for a financial services company in Boston and graduated from DePaul with a 3.45 GPA while double majoring in finance and marketing, was particularly perturbed by the bureaucratic nature of the department.
“The department always had this stressful, pessimistic attitude,” Chace said. “The incompetence led to many people seeming upset, led to a poor work ethic, and it was cyclical. It always seemed like there were a lot of things behind the scenes that we didn’t know about.”
Still, Chace said that being the mascot was unforgettable and very positive time in his life.
“Being DIBS was the best experience I had at DePaul,” Chace said. “The university was very welcome to me being DIBS and I can honestly say they enjoyed my presence. It was working with the athletic department and working with (athletic director) Jean (Lenti- Ponsetto)-that’s where my aggravations certainly arose multiple times.”
Chace said that while the experience of being DIBS was memorable, the treatment he received and the disorganization of the department made his and everyone else’s performance suffer.
“Instead of hiring experienced managers that could really position DePaul to compete with the popular professional sports in the area, she hires family and friends that are sadly incompetent,” he said. “I would like to think that while I worked there, all my colleagues and managers performed at their highest level. But the bureaucracy in place under Jean really held all of us from our maximum potential.”
Chace felt it would be improper to name names, but he said that while he was working he could point to multiple people who had jobs due to their affiliation with Ponsetto: a nephew, a college roommate, and brothers. Peache also confirmed that it is common knowledge around the department that several people working there would likely be considered underqualified if they applied at other Division I athletic programs.
When asked if he would hire many of the employees currently in the department, Chace said, “No, I would not hire them. I think if a new athletic director came in, they could interview 10 or 20 different directors, managers, and can build a team that can live up to the high demand.”
But apart from the practice of hiring connections, Chace also said that there was a general lack of both freedom and communication.
“We had ideas we wanted to implement for a halftime sketch, and ideas to improve our presence on social media. You had to bring it to one manager, and then that manager had to bring it to a director, and that director had to bring it to an assistant, and on and on,” Chace said. “Many of the people there are on this big power trip and they can be that way because they know their jobs are secure through a close relationship with Jean.”
These “power trips” led to a major letdown in communication, Chace said. He recalled a specific moment that stuck with him: “There was a time during my junior year when the other mascot was promised to perform at one of the several tournaments that we play in and, unfortunately, he was denied an opportunity by management for no concrete reason. They made a promise and then a week before the event, without any real notification, they just took it away.”
The communication lapses directly influenced one of the more puzzling decisions that the department made-grounding the cheerleading team after an injury. In Chace’s senior year, one of the cheerleaders incurred an injury doing a stunt. No one was informed how to correctly report the injury, and the team was barred from doing stunts, according to both Chace and Peache.
Peache, who graduated with a biology degree and wants to pursue a career in physical therapy, wasn’t on the team at the time, but knew several of the members and said that everyone agreed it was a foolish decision.
“The athletic department wasn’t talking to them. Instead of trying to resolve the issue, the department said, boom, you’re not allowed to stunt anymore,” she said. “You’re taking away our whole routine. It’s like saying to the basketball team, ‘you guys can play but nobody can shoot.'”
And that’s not even the biggest issue Peache has with the department.
“We used to have guys on our team, it used to be fun and energetic,” she said. “We could never keep a consistent coach because we had restrictions on what we could do and what we couldn’t do. Nobody in athletics actually knows anything about cheerleading-nobody was a cheerleader or knows any of the rules, anything like that, so it made it really hard for coaches and cheerleaders to get along with people in athletics.”
Peache cited her disappointment that the squad couldn’t find respect despite showing up on time and prepared for every game.
“My biggest thing was the lack of respect that we got. We are there 100 percent. We have practice two to three times per week. We’re at men’s and women’s games-every single game- we’re on time, we’re there, we’re putting in effort,” she said.
Even though the squad is under the umbrella of the athletic department, they don’t get any of the perks that come with being an athlete, according to Peache.
There was a laundry list of complaints: the cheerleaders aren’t allowed to work out in the same gym as the athletes, they don’t get scholarships, and they pay for their own camps and gear. They travel to tournaments, but only a certain number can go. Peache said that for one tournament, they were only allowed to bring six girls.
“One year, when I was on the team, we had one coach and he had told the department that either the whole team was to go to the tournament, or they weren’t going,” she said. “And basically, they told us ‘how dare we say something like that, you should be honored to go and travel.’ They told us that they could take any six girls off the street and they can do what we can do, that they could show up at a game and support the team.”
Cheerleading squads are there to spur the crowd and fuel spirit, and while they are not part of the on-court action, Peache said that that’s no excuse for a lack of respect.
“Basically, they were degrading our sport,” Peache said. “We tumble and we stunt, we’re athletes. It was not pretty.”
These practices were department-wide and led to a general unease around the building, Chace and Peache said.
One particularly rough experience got under Peache’s skin more than anything.
She was back at school, taking extra classes, trying to graduate. Though she was no longer a member of the cheer team at this point, she still felt the athletic department needed to provide help, especially due to the fact that she was pregnant. The father of the baby was Krys Faber, who played basketball for DePaul from 2008 until 2011. Peache cited that another pregnant athlete received plenty of help when she asked the athletic department. She bears no ill will toward that player, with whom she is very good friends with, but she was not so happy with the athletic department’s reaction to her own pregnancy.
“I had gone to Jean for some advice on what to do…The player went to Jean and Jean was really supportive. Something similar happens to me and they said that they couldn’t help me out, that I had to find other resources,” Peache said. “I was at school taking extra classes to graduate, not in the department. But still, this involved one of their former athletes, and they were showing favoritism to one complaint and not the other.”
Peache said she still has received no help or empathy from the athletic department or anyone associated with it. While she currently works as a patient’s representative at Northwestern Medicine to provide for herself and her two-year old son, she said that there’s no excuse for Ponsetto and the department to treat her the way they did.
“She basically blew me off,” she said.
When asked for comment, DePaul sent a statement that said the following: “Any DePaul employee who has any issue with a supervisor can certainly register their complaint(a) or issue(a) with HR, which will then investigate the problem and help to resolve it. All prospective employees must be qualified for the university positions they are seeking, and there are multiple checks and balances inside the university to see that this is so. A student or student athlete who seeks counseling will be provided that counseling. Athletics, as well as Student Affairs has specific rules and codes of conduct by which student activities are to be governed.”
Both Peache and Chace said they don’t have any vendetta aimed at bringing down their former employer. Both of them now live comfortable lives and appreciate their experiences. Still, both agree that, given a chance to return and do it all over again, they would do it for the craft and not for any sort of allegiance.
“Some people appreciated me, many people didn’t. At the end of the day, it was the interaction and experience with the fans that was rewarding for me,” Chace said.
When asked the same question about doing it all over again, Peache took several, long seconds before answering. “That’s hard to say,” she admitted. “I mean, yes, because I love the sport. I love cheerleading. Those were my friends, and I have such great memories. But I just think the program went downhill. I don’t know if I’d do it again.”
Chace said that the future has a chance to be very bright if the necessary steps are taken.
“We need a reason to believe. We need something to look forward to,” Chace said. “But we’re never going to reach those goals without change.”