Yesterday UK announced the conclusion of a three-month investigation into the UK cheerleading squad, regarding allegations including hazing, underage drinking and public nudity.
After a concerned parent informed a faculty member about this misconduct in February, the Office of Student Conduct and the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity conducted over 60 interviews investigating the program.
The initial complaint primarily focused on the cheerleading squad’s annual Lake Cumberland retreat, an opportunity to bond as a team and learn about the coaches’ rules and expectations.
According to the initial report, during the retreat, the squad members were pressured to perform basket jumps off of the dock, either topless or bottomless.
Another claim is that recent alumni of the program brought boats to the retreat on which public nudity and underage drinking occurred.
Lastly, the report stated that at a pre-season cheerleading camp in Tennessee, new team members had to sing a traditional lewd chant in front of other cheerleaders, taking off an article of clothing for every time they messed up.
The OSC and OIE concluded that the four coaches, Jomo Thompson, Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LeCroix, either knew or should have reasonably known of this inappropriate conduct and intervened.
Their lax oversight and failure to “exercise a reasonable degree of control” over the team is considered by these offices to be a serious negligence of their duties as university employees.
For these reasons, all four coaches have been terminated immediately without rehire privileges or financial compensation.
In the day since the announcement, current and former UK cheerleaders have taken to social media to express their disagreement with this decision.
Some have said that the allegations against the coaches are without merit, including sophomore cheerleader Jake Graham, who tweeted about the issue Monday afternoon.
These accusations that have been put out about Kentucky cheerleading are absolutely ATROCIOUS and not true! Our coaches have been FIRED over FALSE accusations!! These are lies made up by a parent that was unhappy about the outcome of her daughter’s performance in college!— Jake Graham (@jake_graham115) May 18, 2020
Senior Allie Law shared this sentiment, referring to the cheer parent who made the initial complaint.
One person’s voice was louder than 40+ athletes’ voices. & that’s all I have to say on the matter.— Allie Law (@allie_grace1234) May 18, 2020
Several others saw the parent’s compliant as an overreaction or manipulation of the facts spurred by a personal grudge, including former UK cheerleaders Jacklyn Fyffe and Donavon Rice
"Actions are made by individuals and not influenced by the coaching staff AT ALL" Fyffe said. "Someone’s just mad they didn’t get what they wanted and trying to destroy a legacy."
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. Actions are made by individuals and not influenced by the coaching staff AT ALL. Someone’s just mad they didn’t get what they wanted and trying to destroy a legacy. The coaches are the top in the industry and I’m proud to have be coached by them. https://t.co/jD9V0YLWWZ— Jaclyn Fyffe (@jaclynfyffe1212) May 18, 2020
i am struggling to come to terms with the fact that the coaching staff who taught me how to believe in myself and push myself are now gone bc of one person’s false accusations. Thank you whoever you are, you have now destroyed my happiness. My heart hurts.— Donny🦈 (@DonavonRice) May 18, 2020
In an 23-minute Instagram live, former cheerleader Kyle Steele shared his frustrations, stating that team traditions have happened for over 20 years without anyone raising an issue or having a problem with head coach Jomo Thompson.
He said that during his time cheerleading from 2016 to 2019, the coaches didn’t know what the team was doing at the Lake Cumberland retreat. The team went to a faraway dock so they wouldn’t see them and snuck alcohol in Gatorade bottles to sneak on the trip.
He added that if the coaches ever did discover that anyone had been drinking, the team would have to do extra running and conditioning to discourage that behavior in the future.
“People just lost their jobs that did nothing wrong,” Steele said. “It blows my mind that one person can do this entire thing. It makes no sense to me.”
Other former UK cheerleaders have said that collegiate athletes are adults, and therefore should be responsible for their own actions. Cheyanne Bustle, who cheered from 2015 to 2018, replied to a tweet from Matt Jones saying "Individuals (ADULT athletes) have made their OWN decisions & should have their OWN consequences."
These coaches put their LIVES into helping us become better athletes and human beings. Individuals (ADULT athletes) have made their OWN decisions & should have their OWN consequences. I am SO proud to have been a part of this program and to have been coached by these people. https://t.co/aDb0n5Wax5— Cheyanne Bustle (@CheyanneDonn) May 18, 2020
In his Instagram story, former cheerleader Caleb Schulman wrote, “My heart is broken for some awesome friends and coaches who are having to take the fall for ISOLATED actions** that ADULTS decided to make on their own!”
Schulman said in a statement to the Kernel that while the program had certain “traditions,” they were free from peer-pressure.
“Our coaches did everything they could to prevent us from doing everything you have heard about with this investigation,” Schulman wrote. “We chose to do the things we did without (their) permission.”
Monday night, several current and former cheerleaders posted videos of the traditional “basket-tosses” performed at Lake Cumberland that were mentioned in the reports.
The videos did not show any signs of public nudity or intoxication by any of the team members.
In regards to the UK Cheer allegations— Here I am doing a basket at the lake retreat.1.) I am not being hazed2.) I am not topless3.) I am not under the influence pic.twitter.com/a6kdGVcuog— Alana Copas (@alanabcopas) May 18, 2020
NOTE: No one was hazed in the making of this video!!Also:*I was not topless (as you can see)*I was not under the influence*I was not forced/coerced into doing this 🤷🏽♀️ pic.twitter.com/E1NIvobwAH— Madison Mullin (@madison_mullin) May 18, 2020
Putting it everywhere for the world to see. Saw @madison_mullin do this so I thought I’d join in. Here I am doing a basket into the lake at retreat. Note I am not topless nor am I intoxicated. Madison’s basket was a lot better than mine tho 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/sVbbuXi4jI— Hanners (@Hannahbrooke5) May 18, 2020
The general consensus among UK cheerleaders is that while the results of this investigation are unfair, they will not stop them from continuing their legacy as the nation’s premiere cheer squad.
Freshman Grant Erzen said in a Tweet that this isn’t “the last” of UK cheerleading, referring to the squad as a family.
Words cannot describe how I’m feeling right now. This program has given me so many incredible opportunities in just a year. I wouldn’t be who I am without my coaches and their legacy. It’s a shame one person can tarnish a dynasty but I promise this isn’t the last of us #family pic.twitter.com/EDE8IaEumu— Grant Ernzen (@ErnzenGrant) May 18, 2020
Finally, junior Chas Welte Tweeted a thread supporting the fired coaches and the cheer program, encouraging people to stand up for those who he believes are truly good people who did nothing wrong.
I stand for programs and institutions that ingrain positive lifelong values into my character. The University of Kentucky has done just that, let alone the program I have dedicated and sacrificed for during the last four of my twelve years cheerleading.— Chas Welte (@ChasWelte) May 18, 2020
Emily Sawyer, a UK cheerleader from 2012 to 2016, told the Kernel that she was never hazed or saw anyone get hazed. In fact, she said, the coaches were very serious about misconduct, kicking people off the team if they disobeyed alcohol, drugs or other major rules.
Sawyer wrote that the program’s coaches gave much-needed structure to her life while challenging her and her teammates to meet a high standard, both academically and athletically.
“The success and the student athletes produced from this program are a testament to the integrity and leadership withheld by Jomo Thompson and T. Lynn Williamson,” Sawyer wrote. “These allegations are not a reflection of this outstanding program or the coaches that I am proud to know and be a part of.”
Due to the results of the investigation, UK Cheerleading has been placed under the management of UK Athletics under Mitch Barnhart.
Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart has charged Executive Associate Athletics Director Sandy Bell with hiring a new coaching staff. Bell said in a press conference Monday that the positions will be advertised exactly as any other university position would.
Braden Ramsey contributed reporting.
Editor's note: Caleb Schulman previously worked for the Kernel.