Police have launched an investigation and five Denver high school employees are on administrative leave for forcing members of a cheerleading team into painful splits.
The cheer coach, assistant cheer coach, East High School principal, assistant principal and Denver Public Schools deputy general counsel are on leave as video has surfaced of eight cheerleaders repeatedly being forced into the position during the first week of cheer camp in June, KUSA reported.
The girls were held down in the painful extended splits by teammates and newly hired cheerleading coach Ozell Williams, as seen in videos which were sent anonymously to the station earlier this month and which police are investigating. East High School allegedly had a copy of one of the videos as far back as June.
Incoming freshman, Ally Wakefield, is seen in one video being forced into the split while screaming in pain. The 13 year-old asked the coach to “please, stop” nine times in less than 24 seconds. Though other videos were not released by the station due to privacy concerns, KUSA reported that Wakefield was not the only cheerleader to endure the excruciating treatment.
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Wakefield’s mother contacted the school in June about the incident.
“I have attached a video of the forced splits she and her other team members were forced to do at cheerleading camp and practices; unless they had a doctor’s note. This is how Ally injured her leg,” Kirsten Wakefield wrote in a June 15 email to the school’s Athletic Director, Lisa Porter.
“My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” she wrote.
But Wakefield and other parents were left waiting for answers until KUSA requested records related to the complaints on Tuesday. The next day, Denver police launched their investigation and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg issued a statement.
Principal Andy Mendelsberg, Assistant Principal Lisa Porter, Cheer Coach Ozell Williams, Assistant Cheer Coach Mariah Cladis and DPS Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman being placed on leave “is standard practice in an investigation of this type,” Boasberg said. “It does not imply or prejudge in any way the actions of the individuals or what the investigation might determine.”
“I want to reiterate in no uncertain terms our commitment to the safety of our students. We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop,” he continued.
Wakefield’s father, Eric Wakefield, told The New York Post that the coach had threatened removal from the team for anyone leaking information or video about cheer team practices. Wakefield shared that his daughter was being cyberbullied about the video by classmates, teammates and even strangers. He told the Post his sleep has been affected since the video surfaced and he is considering legal action against the school.
“My number one priority is my daughter’s health,” he said Thursday.
Another cheerleader’s mother told KUSA that her daughter, Anna, quit the team after also being forced into splits.
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“That made me sick to my stomach,” Cheri Nickolay said after viewing video of Anna’s teammate. “I don’t know how you could justify that.”
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