Videos showing eight Denver cheerleaders repeatedly forced to do the splits are getting explosive reactions across the internet.
Denver Police are now investigating incidents at East High School. The cheer coach, assistant cheer coach, high school principal, assistant principal and Denver Public Schools deputy general counsel have all been placed on leave.
During the first week of cheer camp in June, Ally Wakefield, an incoming freshman was surrounded by new teammates, and forced, by the recently hired cheer coach, into an extended split position. Ally asked her coach, Ozell Williams, nine times in less than 24 seconds to “please, stop.” Other cheerleaders seen in videos also cry out in pain as they're forced to do the same.
The disturbing videos have sparked outrage online from parents asking how this could have happened on school grounds.
Academic policies vary from state to state and can also differ on a local school district level.
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) is in charge of overseeing high school athletics on a state level. While school districts and schools can set their policies on a locally, they're still required to follow guidelines set by the CIF.
Coaches hired by high schools in California must go through coaching education courses and earn the required certification. The purpose of the certification is to make coaches meet a minimum level of professional training to teach student-athletes, according to the CIF.
According to the CIF website, "The program provides strong, pragmatic and comprehensive instruction for coaches of interscholastic athletics in California that is consistent with the highest national standards as set by the legislature, state Department of Education, California Interscholastic Federation and National Federation of State High School Associations."
The primary requirements for coaching high school sports are:
- a general coaching education course
- a sports specific concussion course
- sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) training
- first aid and CPR training
All coaches, whether paid or unpaid, who are cleared by the school to come in contact with students athletes, must pass coaching education courses. This applies to both private and public schools who are CIF members. Nearly all schools in the state are members with the exception schools that don't participate for religious reasons or because of other special circumstances.
Additionally, cheerleading coaches are required to undergo specialized training beyond the basic requirements. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), mandates a "Spirit Safety Certification" backed by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA).
The course helps coaches learn how to teach cheer techniques to student-athletes, with the goal of minimizing risk of injury. The course goes over topics including safety awareness and legal liability, as well as medical responsibilities and skill progression.
Regardless of the training required to become a student-athlete coach in California, sometimes, such in the case of the Denver cheerleader coach, there is behavior by school leaders that may be alarming to others.
Under California law, all school employees are trained to identify and report child abuse and neglect. Teachers, coaches and school staff are all Mandated Reporters, meaning they have a legal duty to report abuse to law enforcement and school supervisors.
The California Department of Education holds guidelines on how to make reports to authorities. If a Mandated Reporter fails to report abuse, even if it's only suspected, they may be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.