Principal, athletic director step down after video shows sobbing cheerleaders forced to do the splits
UPDATE: The principal and athletic director of a Denver, Colo. high school have stepped down following a series of videos showing high school cheerleaders screaming in pain while being pushed into splits during practice.
On Friday, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced that East High School Principal Andy Mendelsberg would be retiring from his position, and Athletic Director Lisa Porter had resigned, following public outcry over the shocking videos.
The videos, which first surfaced this past June, shows cheerleaders repeatedly being pushed into splits while their arms are held up by teammates. In one video, a girl identified as freshman cheerleader Ally Wakefield sobs in pain and repeatedly begs her coach to stop.
“Please stop! Please stop! Please stop!” she is heard pleading with her coach in the video, which was allegedly shot at the start of cheerleading camp last June. KUSA reported that the videos were shot on the phones of two team members, and were sent anonymously to the station.
Wakefield says she didn’t expect to be “forced” to do elevated splits, forced down by her coach and fellow cheerleaders.
“[The coach] was pushing like with his other knee on my back to try and keep my posture straight,” Wakefield told KUSA. “It was tearing my ligaments and my muscle at the same time.”
Cheerleading coach Ozell Williams was fired from his position in August after having been placed on administrative leave along with the school’s assistant cheer coach, Principal Mendelsberg, and two other school officials.
The Denver Post reports that a full investigation into the alleged abuse on the cheer team, conducted by Denver law firm Davis Graham & Stubbs on behalf of the school board, was released to the public on September 22.
“The concerns raised by parents were not limited to the forced splits exercises at cheer practice,” Boasberg said. “But rather, they included concerns that Coach Williams had bullied and humiliated cheer team members during practice and had forced injured girls to practice.”
WATCH: Video of cheerleader being forced to do the splits causes outrage
“This is a grown man pushing my 13-year-old girl so hard against her will while she’s crying and screaming for him to stop that he’s ripping tissues in her body,” Ally Wakefield’s mother, Kristen Wakefield, said.
“[The videos] made me sick to my stomach,” Cheri Nickolay, another concerned parent, told NBC-9 News in Denver. “I don’t know how you could justify that.”
The news of Mendelsberg’s departure prompted anger amongst some parents of East High students, who gathered outside the school Friday to demand that he stay on as principal.
“He is the spirit of East High School,” Emily Solomon, the mother of an East High student, told CBS Denver. “It is a different place without him.”
“He has the full support of the faculty, the students, the parents. And we just really don’t want to see him get used as a scapegoat for this,” said Mike Cohen, another parent of an East High student.
A separate investigation by the Denver Police Department is ongoing. No charges have been laid at this time.
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