Police are investigating after eight disturbing videos surfaced of high school cheerleaders being forced into a split and a champion tumbler coach has been placed on leave as a result.
One of the students at East High School in Denver, Colo., freshman Ally Wakefield, cries out in pain in a June video obtained by 9News. Meanwhile, coach Ozell Williams, who told the station the technique was one he learned growing up in New Orleans and Chicago, holds her shoulders straight back as others assist in pushing her down.
“This is a grown man pushing my 13-year-old girl so hard against her will while she’s crying and screaming for him to stop that he’s ripping tissues in her body,” said Ally’s mother, Kirsten Wakefield, of the video that was submitted to school officials June 15 but wasn’t investigated until Wednesday, Aug. 23.
She sent an email including the video to the school athletics director and assistant principal Lisa Porter saying Ally “and her other team members were forced to do [splits] at cheerleading camp and practices; unless they had a doctor’s note. This is how Ally injured her leg.”
“My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” the email concluded.
An investigation is now ongoing and five personnel, including the principal and assistant principal, have been placed on leave.
“We have placed East principal Andy Mendelsberg, East assistant principal Lisa Porter, East cheer coach Ozell Williams, East assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and DPS Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman on leave,” Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a statement to 9News. “This is standard practice in an investigation of this type. It does not imply or prejudge in any way the actions of the individuals or what the investigation might determine. Please know that we will share the results of the investigation as soon as possible. …We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy.”
“With regards to certain videos, I cannot state strongly enough — as the superintendent of the school district and as the father of two high school-aged daughters — that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community.”