By BRETT MARSHALL
When the Garden City High School girls basketball team walked off the floor on Feb. 18 after suffering another one-point loss to rival Dodge City at The Garden, the mood amongst the players and coaches was certainly a somber one.
And the mood apparently hadn't changed nearly 24 hours later, when the Lady Buffs gathered for their Feb. 19 practice.
According to head coach David Upton, he had requested all members of the varsity team who wanted to be supportive of him and the program to step on one side of a line that was on the gymnasium floor. If not, he said, players were welcome to leave.
In the middle of that discussion, two seniors — Jacksenie Tornero and Kristen Padilla — opted to leave the team and walked out of the gym.
In an interview on Friday, Upton discussed the girls' departure, saying Tornero had put her foot on the line, rather than crossing over, and that fence-riding would not be acceptable.
But Tornero and Padilla say they felt they were being singled out with Upton's use of the line to determine who wanted to be on the team.
According to Tornero, it was when she didn't cross over the line that GCHS assistant coach Marcus Summers walked toward her and started yelling at her.
"Summers was talking, and he was saying that we can't be putting people down, and we can't have bad attitudes and negative attiudes on the bench," Tornero said Saturday. "I guess that whole time he was looking at me. I kind of just smirked about it, and then he just blew up in my face."
While not physically in contact with Tornero, the senior point guard said he (Summers) "was really close to me, and he was screaming at me."
Padilla said that when Summers approached Tornero, it felt a little intimidating.
"He (Summers) jumped at her (Tornero) for rolling her eyes, or something," Padilla said. "Then he (Upton) said, 'just get out of the gym. Just get out of the gym.' When someone's that close in your face is telling you what to do, and just being the people we are that have pride, I'm getting out because I want to because I can't handle this anymore.'"
On Monday, senior guard Kennedy Brunson and junior forward Jaymie Bernbeck, two current squad members, disputed parts of Tornero and Padilla's account of Wednesday's practice.
"At first, he (Upton) just gave us all a talk because we just had speakers come in about perseverance, and how this had occurred to the team," Brunson said. "Then he brought up the line, and if we wanted to cross the line and finish the season on a good note with him, carry on the journey with the season, or if we had problems with it and wanted to stay on the other side. We had to choose. He gave us the option, and we all went across the line, and Jacksenie straddled the line, didn't cross it completely. He (Upton) told her that she couldn't ride the fence anymore, that she needed to choose one side or the other. She didn't make an effort to cross the line, and that's when he kept talking to her. She just kept talking back to him."
At that moment, Tornero said, Upton told her she wouldn't be making the trip for the Friday game at Hays, after already having been told in the locker room after Tuesday's loss to Dodge City that she wouldn't be starting in the Friday game at Hays.
"Then Summers came in and said a few things, and then she (Tornero) rolled her eyes," Brunson said. "Summers got upset about that and told her not to roll her eyes at him. He didn't do anything wrong in my point of view, and that's when she walked out. Then coach Upton said if there are any others who want to follow her, and that's when Kristen walked out."
Tornero said she told Summers, "you don't even respect us and the team, or me. He just kept going off. It was just bad. It was bad enough that coach Upton had to pull him away. He (Upton) was smiling and that just made me mad to where I walked off."
Bernbeck, a three-year varsity player, said the Feb. 19 practice discussion was long overdue and that the end result was a more positive atmosphere that carried over into the team's victory at Hays on Friday.
"On Wednesday, we got through our warm-up, he (Upton) drew the line and said if you want to finish this year with me and with all these girls and play the way I'm gonna coach, step over this line," Bernbeck recalled of the discussion. "Jacksenie kind of lingers, puts her foot on the line and coach Upton said, 'We can't have fence riders. You've gotta be all in or it's not gonna work.' It's shown in our losses, not playing as a team. She (Tornero) kept rolling her eyes. I thought she was being disrespectful."
Bernbeck contradicted both Tornero and Padilla's account of the Summers incident.
"He (Summers) wasn't even close to screaming," Bernbeck said. "He was not even close to being in her face. That's not what happened. If someone rolled their eyes at somebody in authority, they'd get upset because it was disrespectful. He (Summers) took care of it."
Tornero said the entire discussion was a culmination of how she felt she had been treated.
"I said, 'OK, that's fine,'" Tornero said. "And I walked away. I walked away because I was mad how Summers reacted and just blew up in my face. I wasn't mad that I wasn't gonna start. He told me I wasn't gonna start that night we played Dodge. I didn't walk out because of not starting. I walked out because Summers blew up in my face. I walked out knowing I'm done. I'm quitting. I was just mad. I was just done. Tuesday night was a frustrating night. The seniors were frustrated. That day (Wednesday) when I walked through the doors, I was quitting. I've got too much pride to go back in the gym and play for coach Upton."
Tornero had been a two-year starter for the Lady Buffs, while Padilla, a reserve guard, also had been in the program for four years.
"After the game Tuesday, we all were uneasy with each other," Padilla said. "No one was really getting along. We were disrespected that whole game (Senior Night)." Padilla said she went to the Wednesday practice with an open mind, but things changed when Summers began his speech to Tornero, she said.
"That's when the disrespect started," Padilla said. "None of us had a good attitude because everybody else was smiling, and had nothing wrong. We were being disrespected the whole time. That shouldn't have happened."
Padilla said she thought Upton could have handled the situation differently, and that's where some of the issues came from.
"If he wanted to talk to us personally, he should have come at us personally," Padilla said. "The way he handled it was not right. If he knew that he wanted to attack us, he should have attacked us in a room with just them two (coaches) and us. Because he attacked us in front of the team, that's what made us not want to be a part of the team."
Padilla also said that the Wednesday incident was the tipping point for both her and Tornero.
"We weren't gonna handle the disrespect anymore," Padilla said. "That's why Jacksenie and me walked out. We really quit because of our pride. We know what we deserve."
Brunson said she was sorry that her teammates decided to leave the team.
"Of course, we're gonna miss them. They were our teammates," Brunson said. "I feel like coming out Friday (at Hays), we played as a team. There was no drama, no negativity on the court."
Bernbeck said she could feel and see the change in the team.
"I saw a lot of difference," she said. "We executed our plays and pushed the ball up the court. Hopefully, everything is right now."
Upton, who gave his account of the Feb. 19 practice incident in a Friday morning interview, declined to comment on Tornero and Padilla's accounts of the incident. Summers also declined to comment.
The Lady Buffs finished their regular season on Tuesday with a 57-31 victory over Liberal and earned the No. 3 seed for the Class 6A sub-state tournament, which begins Wednesday with a home game at The Garden against one of three teams — Wichita Northwest, Hutchinson or Dodge City.