Monday, April 23, 2007

A Conversation with Susan Pressler

Today, we are sharing with you another 'profile in courage' written by our friend Joan Collins. In her latest profile, Joan writes about a selfless and inspiring woman. A woman who not only stood by her husband and family and supported them through extraordinarily tough times but also stood by 46 other families, Duke lacrosse families, who were devastated by the events that unfolded at Duke a year ago. This woman is former Duke Lacrosse head coach Mike Pressler's wife, Susan Pressler. Thank you Joan, for talking with Mrs. Pressler and sharing your conversation with us.

In a book that will be published soon, there will be much more on the ordeal that Presslers along with 46 other lacrosse families went through between March 2006 and April 2007. To find out more or to purchase that book, use the link below.

It’s Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives it Shattered by Don Yaeger and Mike Pressler

Profile in Courage
A Conversation with Susan Pressler

For some time now, several Duke Lacrosse mothers have spoken to me about Susan Pressler, wife of former Duke Lacrosse Coach, Mike Pressler. They described a woman who not only has supported her husband and children through difficult and painful times, but has continued to be an inspiration to them and their sons. Some of the words used to describe her were “amazing, “a rock”, and “the wind beneath Mike Pressler’s wings”. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Susan Pressler.

Susan and Mike Pressler met at Ohio Wesleyan University where she was a swim coach, while he was head lacrosse coach. Originally from Illinois, she is both strong and loving. For over 16 years, Susan Pressler stood beside her husband as they made their home in Durham. As head coach, Pressler built Duke Lacrosse into a highly regarded program. Pressler compiled a 153-82 record at Duke, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship three times, while leading his team to 10 NCAA tournament appearances as well as the Division I men's national championship game in 2005. Pressler was voted ACC Coach of the Year three times and also was honored as the U.S.I.L.A. National Coach of the Year in 2005. She worked with him in organizing the successful Duke Lacrosse Summer Camp.

The family immersed themselves in the Durham community. Their children were happy. Their two daughters, age 9 and 15, know of no home other than Durham. After her husband’s contract was renewed, they put a large addition on their Durham home, almost doubling its size, making it just the way they always wanted. They expected Durham would be their home for the next 20 years. Everything changed on April 5, 2006, when Mike Pressler lost his coaching job at Duke.

Sadly, Durham became a community Susan no longer recognized. After receiving threats and out of fear for their children’s safety, they sent their eldest daughter to live with friends in another city, while their youngest was sent out of state with family for a time.

Immediately after the players were indicted, she used a labeler to make handmade signs “Innocent #6- Innocent #13- Innocent #45” which she displays prominently on her license plate as she drives around Durham. She proudly wears a Duke Lacrosse wristband with the same inscription. Susan insists she will not remove the wristband, until Reade and Collin each score their first goal and she hears from Rae Evans that Dave is alright.

Although she is the mother of two daughters, Susan considers herself to have hundreds of sons. She spoke in a most loving, motherly way of Coach Pressler’s players, not just the recent team, but of all the players over the last 16 years of coaching at Duke. She estimates that about 200 players have passed through his program. “I am so grateful for the young men my husband has brought into our family. I love every kid,” said Susan. Her youngest daughter refers to the players as “Daddy’s Boys”. I would trust my girls with all 47 boys on the team,” Susan said. Parents of daughters understand what that means.

Several days before the Blue Devils played their first game of the season against Dartmouth, Susan Pressler addressed the team in the locker room, something she had never done before. She told them that Duke is not the administration or professors. She said, “Duke is the students. Once you wear that uniform you are always Duke.” She told the team the Pressler family never blamed them for what happened and that she loved them and they should feel proud again.

About Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann she replied, “I am so proud of these three young men and how they handled themselves in the face of the most unbelievable adversity. As the ones picked, it would ultimately be them and their families that the world would focus on. No one would represent Duke Lacrosse with more class and dignity. After their innocence was announced to the world, they spoke at a press conference, their poise and presence could make every Duke alumni proud again. It showed anyone willing to see, that these are great kids from great families, who were falsely accused.”

Ask to comment on John Danowski as Coach of Duke Lacrosse, Susan responded, “Duke Lacrosse is a great program. We were a big part of building the Duke Lacrosse brand. It is difficult to see someone else in that position, but I am glad it is John Danowski. His purpose is pure. He loves it as we did and he loves the boys.”

In August of 2006 Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island announced Mike Pressler would become their new head lacrosse coach. For the past 8 months Coach Pressler has been working at Bryant settling into his new position, while his family remained in Durham. In the next few weeks, Susan and her daughters will move to their new home in Rhode Island. For the Presslers, starting over will mean many changes. It means a new job, new community, new home, new schools and new friends. Her eldest daughter, a sophomore in high school, plays on a varsity volleyball team, Triangle, which has won 8 out of the last 9 state championships. Unfortunately, she must leave her team which means so much to her.

This past weekend at the Lone Star Classic National qualifier in Dallas, the Presslers eldest daughter, Janet, had a chance to meet some members of her new team, the Rhode Island Blast Volleyball. It was another glimpse for this teenager into what lies ahead. They were scheduled to play in the afternoon pool on court 38, the same court Janet’s Triangle 16-1 team played earlier that morning. Susan Wolcott, mother of a member of the Men’s Duke Lacrosse 2006 Team, was in the stands to cheer Janet and her team. For Susan Pressler, this represented the bridge between the Duke boys and the Bryant boys, which will forever be a part of the Pressler children’s lives.

On the same day back in Durham, younger daughter, Maggie, attended the Duke-Army Lacrosse game where Jimmy Regan, former Duke Lacrosse player and Army Ranger, recently killed in Iraq, was honored in a half time ceremony. Former Duke assistant Joe Albericci, and the Army Captains presented Regan’s parents and fiancé with a cadet sword. The Duke Captains presented his family with his framed No. 10 Duke Jersey. “Jimmy represented and lived the Ranger Creed, extraordinary but not surprising, for a Duke Lacrosse player. This is yet another reason for Duke Alumni to be proud of their lacrosse team again,” she said.

According to Susan, lacrosse in Rhode Island is at a stage similar to North Carolina when they first moved to Duke over 16 years ago. She described a Bryant University community that has been supportive and wonderful in welcoming them. The Bryant parents are excited that their children will have an opportunity to learn lacrosse from a man with the talent and expertise of Coach Pressler. The climate is much colder, so they will be practicing indoors a lot and shoveling snow, however the citizens of Smithfield have warm hearts to compensate for the colder temperatures.

During our conversations, I could not help but think of one of my mother’s favorite expressions, “When one door closes, another door opens.” I thought of all the New England boys who will benefit from another door that has opened.

Susan is optimistic about the future. Bryant has a student body of about 3,500 students. At Bryant’s first game of the season, there were 700 spectators, much more than attended Pressler’s first game at Duke years ago. In the stands were some of Pressler’s former players and their parents.

Susan is excited about Mike Pressler’s soon to be released book, “It’s Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives it Shattered”, which he wrote with Don Yaeger. It was written to fulfill a promise Mike made to the 47 players that he would tell the world the truth at the appropriate time and venue.

Bryant opened the door for Coach Pressler. As they hold the door open for Susan Pressler and her daughters to enter, they will soon learn that the woman entering the door has a heart big enough to love each and every one of Bryant University’s sons.

“Optimism is the foundation of courage,” wrote Nicholas Murray Butler, former President of Columbia University. “My goal is to not let the events of this last year taint my children’s view of the world,” said Susan Pressler. She is a testament to finding the inner strength to recognize the open door in front of you, when one had closed unexpectedly.

One former member of the Duke lacrosse team wrote to me, “I am forever indebted to Mrs. Pressler for what she did for me and my friends”. Heroes inspire us. Susan is an inspiration for us all to rise above feelings of disappointment and watch for our own opening doors.

Susan Pressler is a true hero.

Joan Collins
Garden City, NY


At 8:36 AM, April 23, 2007, Anonymous Susan Wolcott said...

Thank you Joan for giving everyone the opportunity to know Sue Pressler! She is an stellar example of what we all should be. We love you Sue!

At 8:58 AM, April 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Joan, great profile! Thank you for sharing.

Sue Pressler sounds like an amazing woman. I hope the Pressler family will be able to put this totally behind them and move on with life. My best wishes to Presslers and all the other lacrosse families who were touched by this tragedy.

Duke mother

At 9:50 AM, April 23, 2007, Anonymous kbp said...


Thanks so much for taking time to share that with us.


At 11:04 AM, April 23, 2007, Anonymous joan foster said...

Joan, Another inspiring profile! And what a wonderful remarkable woman! Our prayers are with the Pressler for much happiness ahead.

At 11:35 AM, April 23, 2007, Blogger Carol said...

Thank you for the wonderful article. I have been privileged to know Sue for many years and can attest to her strength, and her love and support for the lacrosse program. Her daughters show strength and grace far beyond their years as well. We will miss you!


At 2:15 PM, April 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for the latest profile. Susan Pressler sounds like a woman who deserves high praise. I will look forward to reading the book and finding much more about what the Pressler family has gone through. It has been a bad year for so many people, but it sounds like the lives of Pressler family members were turned upside down – all by a bunch of lies! My best wishes are with them. Good luck and much success at Bryant.

Duke Parent

At 11:29 PM, April 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joan, thank you for another wonderful profile. Sue Pressler is truly a class act. She should be admired and emulated. My warmest regards and best wishes to Presslers. Good luck and much success at Bryant!

Duke Lax Friend

At 10:34 PM, May 29, 2007, Anonymous J. Booth said...

Let me qualify by saying I believe the three boys are innocent, Mike Nifong is a scumbag and that the parents of the boys should sue Mr. Nifong to the fullest extent of the law.

However, I have some problems with Coach Pressler's wife beginning with the cap she wore in Baltimorte yesterday that reads "DUKE LACROSSE INNOCENT" It should read "DUKE LACROSSE INNOCENT OF RAPE"

The Duke case is not "To Kill A Mockingbird Two" In fact, I have heard many of you on this board make a comparison to Don Imus' comments on the Rutgers women's basketball team to that of the Duke players. Let me make this clear, the women's team was coming off a miracle season when Imus made his comments. What exactly were the men's lacrosse team coming off of when they were falsely accused?? In fact, if I were a parent of one of the women on the Rutgers team, I would find the comparison insulting.

Secondly, Coach Pressler was aware of what happen three days after the party and two days before the next scheduled game. You don't think he should have dealt with it internally? You don't think he should have taken accountability and suspended the team captains for a game or two? I hope Coach Pressler addresses this in his new book. If he does, then I forgive him. If he does not take accountability then I think it would be unfortunate and if that is the case, then the only thing Duke did right was to force him out. If you disagree with this, I would love to hear why?

At 9:30 AM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

J. Booth,

It sounds like your feelings were hurt to hear the Duke team declared innocent.

First, let me tell you that you are not alone in that department. You have 88 comrades at Duke (unless you are one of them in which case you have 87 comrades). Now, the bad news. There is no cure to this decease that you succumbed to. You will just have to live with it and suffer from it. You will frequently hear from people who do not have the decease (i.e. the normal people) how the Duke lacrosse team members including the three former accused players are INNOCENT. You will hear everyday that Mike Pressler was a great coach and committed no mistakes that any other coach has not. Furthermore, Coach Pressler’s his wife is a lovely woman who has the right to wear any hat she chooses.

Yes, that's right. You will hear these truths from the normal people around you and you will have to keep quite unless you are talking with your comrades at Duke. You will find sympathy from then. But, then again, they are hardly normal.

At 9:44 AM, May 31, 2007, Blogger Gary Packwood said...

J. Booth 10:34 said...

...However, I have some problems with Coach Pressler's wife beginning with the cap she wore in Baltimorte yesterday that reads "DUKE LACROSSE INNOCENT" It should read "DUKE LACROSSE INNOCENT OF RAPE"
They were found innocent of all charges...not just the rape charge.
...Secondly, Coach Pressler was aware of what happen three days after the party and two days before the next scheduled game. You don't think he should have dealt with it internally? You don't think he should have taken accountability and suspended the team captains for a game or two?
There was no situation to deal WITH, J. Booth! Remember, they were innocent and said so.

I realize that you are attempting to move forward an agenda that requires white male athletes to be demonized but this didn't work. You need to adjust your strategy and find a new enemy. I suggest you take on injustice for those with mental health problems. That issues needs some attention.

At 10:11 AM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous Jbooth said...


Let me tell you something buddy. I am the father of a D-I player whose team made it to the final eight this year. I know many of the boys on the Duke Lacrosse team from High School and they are fine young men.

It is people like you that make the sport look bad and gives all of us unfair stereotypes.

When I said Coach Pressler should have dealt with it, I meant the following:

1) Underage drinking (let me tell you something, I am also a coach and any of my players who drink during the season I will deal with harshly, it lets the team down and our goals down)

2) The disgusting email "skin the bitch" That is disgraceful.

3) Hiring strippers in the first place.

4) Racial slurs.

My friend, I am sure Mrs. Pressler would have a problem with each of them. The boys are innocent of the rape charges, but Coach Pressler should have dealt with the above.

You say I have an aggenda, my only aggenda is that my son and family and the other boys in the lacrosse community and at Duke are not lumped into being stereotype bigots.

Please tell me why the above is OK with you and why any Coach should not have dealt with it. If you know something I do not and the above four points I listed did not happen, then I will be the first to say, that Coach Pressker had nothing to deal with. If you cant, then you should be a assahmed of yourself.

Finally, what part of "The parents should sue Nifong to the fullest extent of the law" DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND???

At 10:40 AM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am usually quite. But out of respect to the people who are running this website, may I suggest we leave this disagreement at where it is and not pursue it further. It is obvious that not all parties agree on this matter. On the other hand, this is neither the time nor the place to pick up a fight over it. I doubt a confrontation here will produce any positive results or change any minds.

Just a friendly suggestion from an observer who is usually quite!

At 10:46 AM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous madder than a hornet said...

Mr. Booth,

It is good that you are willing to be open minded that all the facts are not known. It is also evident that you have not read the published material regarding the American Psycho email, response to Kim Roberts taunt, etc.

The 2006 Team Captains issued an apology statement early which has largely been ignored. It addressed the poor judgment of the party in a honest and sincere manner.

I anticipate that you will read in Coach Pressler's book that he was instructed by the admin of Duke to not take any action in the early days.

Duke's legal counsel, Wes Covington, was directing every move at that point in time. Mr. Covington is a civil lawyer and when the lawsuits start to fly his directions through Dean Sue will be part of the damaging discovery.

Our loyalty to Sue Pressler runs deep for hundreds of reasons. She endured threats by a current Duke student to her daughter. That student was never disciplined and was put on the Campus Cultural Committee by Duke's Admin. Until you walk a mile in those shoes perhaps you should withhold judgment on what she chooses to wear on her ballcap.

My ballcap of choice is "Duke's Admin ignored it's students civil rights"

I hope your son is never the victim of prosecutorial misconduct and falsely accused of 3 felony charges. If he is, I hope he has a strong support system that includes people like the Presslers as he will need it.

At 11:10 AM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous jbooth said...

Good post and a fair assesment.I was not aware that the administartion had told Coach Pressler to do nothing. I hope Coach Pressler goes after them. In fact, that is outragous! Perhaps if GP and annoynomus had posted what you did, I would not have gotten as upset as I did. But I realize, they are as shrill on their view points as are people like Al Shaprpton are on theirs.

Yes, I am planning on reading the coach's book in June. Like I said, I have no doubt that Coach Pressler is a class act.

Best of luck to Duke Lacrosse next spring, except if you play Georgetown!

At 1:05 PM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous bill anderson said...

More than one outraged parent has asked me to write a reply to J. Booth's missive. I'm not sure what to say, as if he really believes that the Duke LAX players did something that was way out there, then all I can say is that he is not very familiar with college life these days.

I do tire of this notion that some 19 and 20-year olds drinking beer is a Crime Against Humanity. When I was in college (yes, yes, thousands of years ago), the drinking age was 18, and I doubt we had any more problems at that time than we see today regarding alcohol consumption.

I don't like the hiring of strippers, but that is much more common -- including women's groups -- today than it used to be. Again, many feminist groups do it, and at Bucknell University last year, university feminists had strippers perform ON CAMPUS. So, while we may not approve of the team's actions, this was not something that was REALLY OUT THERE.

As for the McFayden email, it was not a threat nor a Crime Against Humanity. It was a sophomore writing sophomore things. Kids write outrageous emails sometimes, but the greater outrage was:

1. It was illegally obtained;
2. Police and Nifong tried to use it to get McFayden to testify that he saw a rape. When McFayden refused to lie, the email was released and he is forever demonized.

I really do tire of this "they were monsters" notion of the Duke LAX team. The big story is not a college party that was pretty tame by modern standards. The big story was that agents of the state attempted to frame three young men for something that never happened.

We must not lose sight of that. And, by the way, if there is a parallel here, it is not "To Kill a Mockingbird," but rather the Scottsboro Boys. And I will say that history does not prattle on about the previous criminal records that some of those young men had when they were falsely accused of rape in 1931; instead, history concentrates on the monumental injustice of that case.

So, Mr. Booth, while I understand your point, I ask you to take some perspective here. What is worse, a college party that was a bust, or a prosecutor of the State of North Carolina trying to falsely convict -- knowing what he was doing - three young men for something that did not happen? Please do not equate the two.

At 1:21 PM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous jbooth said...

I agree with you. Read my above post.

At 2:27 PM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous bill anderson said...

I agree with you. Read my above post.

1:21 PM, May 31, 2007

Thanks. If those kids are anything like I was, there will be enough regrets for a lifetime. I cannot say I was the most responsible college student in my day.

(Granted, I was an athlete who took a solemn pledge not to do anything constructive in the classroom. One of the great ironies is that I cut economics classes left and right as a sophomore and got two C's and a D. I now have a doctorate in econ and teach college economics. I remind my students to do as I say, not as I did....)

At 3:21 PM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous jbooth said...


You are all right!!

I too made that same pledge and proud to say I stuck to it the four years of my college exerience (100 years ago, ha ha).


Not only was I pulling for Duke to beat Hopkins, I can tell you that my son and the vast majority of his team mates were as well.

Duke is one great team and if they played Hopkins seven times they would probably beat them at least five times. Unfortunately, they had to make up to much of a deficit in the second half not just with the score but with face offs. The game on Saturday against Cornell I think took their legs and energy away from them in the first half against Hopkins.

best of luck to all of you.

At 8:46 AM, June 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Coach P's book. It is great. I enjoyed reading it very much, although what I was reading was not enjoyable in the least (a lot of it downright sad and infuriating). I highly recommend the book to anyone who is even remotely associated with Duke. This book should be a must-read for a lot of people for a long time to come.


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