LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Just one day after all four UK Cheer coaches were fired over an investigation into inappropriate behavior, cheer alumni are trying to set the record straight about the program they describe as top notch.
"The topless baskets, I'm sitting here like that never happened. I don't believe it," said UK Cheer alum Jared Erlenbaugh, '05-'08.
Erlenbaugh was a part of two NCA national champion teams at UK. He questions some of the accusations in the school's report, like excessive drinking and partial nudity openly took place on the team's trip to Lake Cumberland.
"I know for a fact that if any of the things that are alleged had happened and Jomo or T. Lynn knew about it, we would have been in huge trouble," said Erlenbaugh.
Several alumni tell LEX 18 Head Coach Jomo Thompson and Advisor T. Lynn Williamson preached "absolute responsibility" to the team each season. We're told cheerleaders spent hours each week practicing, conditioning and in study hall. They also had to undergo random weekly drug tests. If anyone broke team rules, there were consequences.
"If you are late for practice - you run a mile, if you drop a stunt - you run a mile. And I mean that in a good way. It teaches you responsibility," said UK Cheer alum Chris Rodonis, '06-'11.
"Even the report said that they were punished for drinking at the trip," Erlenbaugh pointed out.
Rodonis says the coaches and T. Lynn went above and beyond to help each athlete. He says they helped him find new scholarships and financial aid packages to pay for school when his dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor and his family hit hard times. Rodonis and Erlenbaugh don't believe the staff should take the fall for young adults hiding alcohol in their bags or doing chants when the coaches weren't present.
"I'm saying some of it might have happened, but I do not believe for a second that it was condoned or not punished or addressed by the coaching staff as something that was completely inappropriate," said Erlenbaugh.
"Never was there a lack of oversight in my experience. The Lake Cumberland retreats that they bring up, never was there alcohol, and if there was, the coaches, if they knew about it - oh my you're probably going to be off blue squad real quick," said Rodonis.
As for the conflict-of-interest accusations regarding students being paid for doing housework for T. Lynn or working at coaches' gyms, both Erlenaugh and Rodonis say cheerleaders would volunteer to do work for them when they were short on money. They believe that Lynn and the coaches were just trying to help them out, and that those events are being twisted.In the hours since the news broke of the coaches' firings, there has been an outpouring of support for them on social media.
A number of alumni have changed their Facebook profile pictures to UK Cheer photos, or photos with the cheer coaches. Cheerleading alum wonder if there was a history of hazing or coaching negligence why the program hasn't run into problems before, and why other former cheerleaders aren't coming forward with similar stories.
"I feel like two great people, their reputations are being tarnished. T. Lynn gave up four decades of his life doing this. Jomo gave up over a decade, almost two. It's sad," said Rodonis.
Cheer alumni tell LEX 18 they wish the athletics department would have considered other consequences like banning the team lake trip moving forward, or suspending team travel for a year, rather than clearing out the coaching staff. Many have said the student-athletes should have shared some of the blame and punishment. It also should be mentioned that collegiate cheer is not governed by the NCAA.