By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s championship cheerleading program got rocked Monday when a three-month investigation following a complaint from a cheerleader’s mother led to all four coaches being fired and the advisor resigning after it was determined there was inappropriate conduct by members of the cheerleading squad included hazing activities, alcohol use and public nudity.
UK president Dr. Eli Capilouto said the coaches and advisor did not “meet the standards of integrity” expected at UK.
I’ve been lucky enough to write stories about several national championship cheerleaders as well as several who went to the recent Winter Olympics for a cheerleading demonstration. I reached out to one of them for her reaction to Monday’s news, especially after I saw so many former UK cheerleaders defending coach JoMo Thompson and his staff after they were all fired.
“We have always been treated with respect in and out of the program. It has always been very strict to say the least and expected nothing but excellence. That being said, we were college students and if we did partake in anything that was not condoned. We were punished or banned from the program until we could get our life back on track. This included grades, tardiness, etc,” she said.
“Partying, you get it. But JoMo and the staff never encouraged any type of behavior and kept close contact with our families, too.”
This cheerleader’s mother was frustrated by the allegations as well based on the experience her daughter had at UK.
I wondered why the complaint was not filed until February if the incidents occurred last summer. The former cheerleader say sometimes a team member is not asked to come back to the program or just not try out like all cheerleaders do each year even though any cheer member can always opt to still try out.
But what about the annual Lake Cumberland retreat where the investigation alleged there was drinking and both bottomless and topless stunts into the water by male/female cheerleaders?
“As far as the lake goes, the baskets (throwing a cheerleader into the water) were never mandatory and never topless. I’m not saying there wasn’t drinking because we have a mix of team members who are of drinking age all the time. But nothing was ever in front of coaches and if caught, actions were obviously taken,” she said.
The investigation that included interviews with numerous cheerleaders indicated the coaches saw what was happening or at least knew. However, the former cheerleader told me the retreat was about much more than just lake time.
“There was maybe a day of lake time out of the four days there. It’s a lot of team bonding, set activities, and everyone gets up in front of everyone and says goals, highs and lows about their life and you really learn about how others operate,” she said. “If someone has a death in the family and might blow up at you during practice, we know there are underlying issues. The lake was a small portion on what actually is being taught during that time. It’s very eye opening about your team.”
She also defended Thompson’s leadership.
“JoMo is really nice but extremely quiet! He never yelled, never spoke out of line, just a good all-around guy,” she said. “It’s definitely frustrating to see! I hate it for the people just trying out for the first time. But there is a reason that some people are not invited back and if you don’t possess all the qualities outside of talent, then you don’t represent the university.
“I promise any alumni you ask will proudly tell you the same with all of this craziness.”