LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Four cheerleading coaches with the University of Kentucky have been fired from the program after a three-month investigation found they failed to provide reasonable oversight during off-campus events.
Head Coach Jomo Thompson and Assistant Coaches Ben Head, Spencer Clan, and Kelsey LaCroix are no longer with the program. The university says they did not take action after inappropriate conduct by members of the cheerleading squad. It took place at off-campus events, including hazing activities, alcohol use, and public nudity.
Eric N. Monday, UK's executive vice president for finance and administration, said the investigation began in early February after a call from a family member of a cheerleader. The family member claimed inappropriate conduct took place by squad members during off-campus trips, and coaches didn't provide enough oversight.
The three-month process included interviews with more than 60 students, coaches, and administrators in the cheerleading program.
UK Provost David W. Blackwell said the review found:
- Coaches knew or reasonably should have known of inappropriate conduct by cheerleaders and failed to take sufficient steps to address the conduct;
- During a team retreat at Lake Cumberland, some cheerleaders performed gymnastics routines that including hurling their teammates from a dock into the water while either topless or bottomless. The routines, known as "basket tosses," were done at the direction of other members of the squad and within the view of at least some of the coaches;
- Coaches allowed cheerleading alumni to bring boats and alcohol to the retreat, where some cheerleaders were partially naked and/or drinking while riding on boats;
- Coaches did not confiscate alcohol brought to the retreat by some squad members or intervene to stop students from consuming alcohol. Several squad members became so intoxicated they required medical treatment; and
- During a cheerleading camp in Tennessee, some cheerleaders were directed by other members of the squad to perform lewd chants and wear outfits that did not include underwear.
"We place the safety and health of our students above all other priorities as a university," Blackwell said. "We cannot truly have a championship cheerleading program if we do not protect the health, safety, and well-being of our students."
The investigation found no evidence of sexual assault or sexual misconduct during these trips.
T. Lynn Williamson served as the cheerleading program's advisor for four decades and retired days after learning of the investigation. It found he lacked oversight and had poor judgment. Williamson's primary university job was principal deputy general counsel. He's told to have no contact with the cheerleading squad.
According to the investigation, two members of the coaching staff ran gymnastics businesses that employed members of the cheerleading squad. An advisor also hired students and coaches to perform work at his home. Both are being looked at as potential conflicts of interest; the Office of Internal Audit is reviewing these and other financial practices of the cheerleading squad.
"The advisor and the coaches failed to stop a culture of hazing, alcohol use, and public nudity at off-campus activities where they were present," said Monday. "Our students deserve more responsible leadership, and the University of Kentucky demands it."
Monday has assigned oversight of the cheerleading program to the University of Kentucky Athletics to help hold the program accountable.
Athletics Director Mitch has directed Sandy Bell, executive associate athletics director, to lead the program, including the hiring of a new coaching staff. A national search will be conducted for a new coach.
"This must be a championship-level program both on and off the court and playing fields," Barnhart said. "And as with all our sports, that will be our goal — every day."
Bell said they're getting rid of the annual retreat, and off-campus trips will be closely supervised.
"Cheerleading squad members will be held to the same standards as all our student athletes," Bell said. "It's a new day for UK cheerleading."
Athletics officials are meeting on Monday with current members of the current squad to share the news and discuss the timeline for hiring and tryouts.
UK Athletics will immediately begin the national search for a new head coach, who will be part of the selection of assistant coaches and the 2020-21 team members this summer.
UK's cheerleading program has won 24 national championships in the past 35 years.