The University of Kentucky has fired the coaching staff of its cheerleading program following a three-month investigation into hazing allegations within the 24-time national champion program.
Head coach Jomo Thompson and assistant coaches Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix were all fired, according to a UK news release Monday. The investigation also found “lax oversight and poor judgment” by T. Lynn Williamson, the longtime adviser for the program. Williamson, whose primary university job was principal deputy general counsel, retired days after learning of the investigation and being directed to have no contact with the cheerleading squad, according to UK’s release.
“A commitment we make and renew every day at the University of Kentucky is that the success of our students is at the center of everything that we do. But for that sentiment to be more than words, we must always act in ways that honor that commitment — especially when we discover rare instances where those who supervise and guide our students don’t meet the standards of integrity we expect of each other. This is one of those times,” UK President Eli Capilouto said in the release. “The University of Kentucky has built the nation’s premier collegiate cheerleading program. But regrettably, the integrity of the program has been compromised by inappropriate behavior by some squad members on off-campus trips and by lax oversight by the program’s coaches and advisor.”
The investigation 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.
The investigation found no evidence of sexual assault or sexual misconduct during these trips, according to UK’s news release.
Following the investigation, the university has assigned oversight of the cheerleading program to the athletics department.
UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart decided to fire the coaching staff following reports by the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, the Office of Student Conduct, and a jointly authored report that included input from an expert outside UK with expertise in employment law. Sandy Bell, executive associate athletics director, will now lead the program and hire a new coaching staff.
“The annual retreat will be eliminated, and all off-campus trips will be closely supervised,” Bell said in the release. “Cheerleading squad members will be held to the same standards as all our student athletes. It’s a new day for UK cheerleading.”