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.
Garden City, NY