A D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday awarded Bessie Stockard, former women's basketball coach at the University of the District of Columbia, $318,000 in damages for breach of contract and slander in connection with her firing as UDC coach after the 1980-81 season.
The jury of eight women and four men found damages of $18,000 in the breach of contract claim and $300,000 in the slander claim. The defendants are former athletic director Orby Z. Moss Jr., the university and the District government. The slander award stems from Moss allegedly saying he fired Stockard because she had misappropriated money intended for team travel.
Stockard, who has remained on the UDC physical education staff as an associate professor, said she would like to resume coaching there for a fourth time. She has a 225-60 record in 12 seasons at UDC and its predecessor, Federal City College.
"It's going to take a while to appreciate people who understand what the truth is," she said. "The university has done me wrong even to let it get this far. I owe it to myself to resume coaching . I've come up through the ranks. I coached eight or nine years without a gym. By the time they got a facility you have someone come in and take it away from me."
Willis Thomas, the current athletic director, was unavailable for comment. Bertha Cummings has coached the Firebirds the past two seasons.
The award, according to Jack Scheuermann, attorney for Moss, is subject to review by Judge Robert Shuker, and Scheuermann said that if Shuker upholds it, the case will be appealed. "Moss . . . did nothing wrong," Scheuermann said. "He was merely doing his job . . . "
Moss, now the director of athletics at North Carolina A&T University, could not be reached. Nor could Leslie Nelson, the assistant corporation counsel who represented UDC and the city.
During the course of the trial that started early last week, three witnesses -- former players Theresa Snead and Louise Spriggs and former assistant coach Steve Haynes -- testified that Moss told them he fired Stockard because she had misappropriated funds intended for a trip to Atlanta.
Moss testified that Stockard had taken an advance of $1,150 for the trip and was trying to get reimbursed for $1,000 more. Stockard testified that she had spent $196 more and had produced receipts to prove it. There was no paperwork introduced to back Moss' claim. Moss testified he did not say that he fired Stockard because she misappropriated funds.
Stockard resumed coaching at UDC in the 1982-83 season after the D.C. Office of Human Rights Commission ruled that her dismissal in 1981 was based on sex discrimination.
After reinstatement, she was allowed to coach the final two years on her contract, but athletic director Sid Hall, who replaced Moss, chose not to renew it. Stockard has filed another complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, charging the university terminated her as retaliation for bringing the original claim. That case is pending, according to John Clifford, Stockard's attorney.
Stockard's first coaching stint at Federal City covered eight years during which she built a ragtag team into a national power with a 145-30 record. She was fired in 1976 by Oliver Thompson, who fired the men's basketball coach and football coach at the same time.
After coaching at American University, going 27-6 in two seasons, she was rehired by UDC in 1979 and had a 40-11 record for two seasons before Moss fired her.