Editor’s Note: Footage may be disturbing to some viewers.
Five people associated with Denver’s East High School have been placed on leave as police investigate a disturbing incident in which several members of the cheerleading team allegedly forced a freshman into an extended split position as she screamed for them to stop.
The cheer coach, assistant cheer coach, high school principal, assistant principal and Denver Public Schools deputy general counsel have been placed on leave, according to 9News.
Videos from the first week of cheer camp at East High School in June appear to show incoming freshman Ally Wakefield surrounded by her new teammates and being forced by the recently hired cheer coach into doing the splits.
Wakefield, screaming in pain, is seen on the video pleading with her coach nine times in 24 seconds to “please stop.”
Instead of allowing Wakefield to be released, the coach, Ozell Williams, appears to hold her shoulders and push down further.
The coach is a familiar figure in Denver, having made a name for himself as the guy doing backflips down the field at Denver Broncos and University of Colorado football games.
The cell phone videos were shot by two members of the team and sent anonymously to News9 in August.
“I have attached a video of the forced splits she and her other team members were forced to do at cheerleading camp and practices; unless they had a doctor’s note. This is how Ally injured her leg,” Kirsten Wakefield, Ally’s mom, said in a June 15 email addressed to East High School Athletic Director Lisa Porter and obtained by News9.
“My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” the email continued.
“I don’t understand why that’s allowed,” Cheri Nickolay told News9. Her daughter, Anna, quit the cheer team and does not appear in any of the videos, but she said she received the same treatment. Anna showed her mother the video.
“That made me sick to my stomach,” Nickolay said. “I don’t know how you could justify that.”
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg issued the following statement about the investigation:
Earlier today, I became aware of an exercise used at cheer practices this summer at East High School. We immediately began taking steps to investigate this issue, and our Department of Safety is supporting Denver Police in this effort. In order to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, we have placed East Principal Andy Mendelsberg, East Assistant Principal Lisa Porter, East Cheer Coach Ozell Williams, East Assistant Cheer Coach Mariah Cladis and DPS Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman on leave. This is standard practice in an investigation of this type. It does not imply or prejudge in any way the actions of the individuals or what the investigation might determine. Please know that we will share the results of the investigation as soon as possible. I want to reiterate in no uncertain terms our commitment to the safety of our students. We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop. While this investigation is ongoing, we are entirely focused on ensuring our students and staff at East are receiving the supports they need. A senior leader at the school, East Assistant Principal Jason Maclin, will serve as interim principal during this time and we are providing additional counseling for our students and families. With regards to certain videos, I cannot state strongly enough — as the superintendent of the school district and as the father of two high school-aged daughters — that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community.