The head cheerleading coach at a school in Denver, Colorado, has been fired following an investigation into disturbing video footage of students being forced and held down into the splits at a summer cheerleading camp.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg confirmed on Friday, Aug. 25, that head coach, Ozell Williams, has been dismissed from East High School. He was appointed head coach at the school less than a year ago, reported the Chicago Tribune.
The abuse was captured on video by girls in the cheerleading class on June 6. According to parents, the principal and other staff of East High School had been made aware of the incident caught on video in June, but nothing changed for the girls.
The girls decided to send multiple videos to the local TV Station, 9News, which screened some of the footage this week.
Warning: some may find the following scenes disturbing
Boasberg said that he had not been alerted to the incident captured on the videos until this week.
“I have watched all of the videos,” Boasberg said on Friday. “As a superintendent, and as a father, and as an athlete, they are deeply disturbing. What happened was wrong.”
In a press release on Aug 23, Boasberg said of the videos, “I cannot state strongly enough—as the superintendent of the school district and 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.”
He continued, “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.”
The police have since opened an investigation into child abuse, and Boasberg has placed four other district employees on leave in relation to the incident. In addition to head coach Williams, this includes the principal at East High School, an assistant principal, an assistant cheerleader coach, and a district lawyer.
Boasberg learned that the administration staff had been aware of the abuse since June when parents showed them at least one of the videos. The principal and assistant principal said that they believed they had addressed the issue after discussing it with Williams upon seeing the videos.
At least one girl suffered physical injuries during Williams’s cheerleading class. Ally Wakefield, 13, suffered torn muscles and ligaments in her groin area and potentially a pulled hamstring.
Ally said, “The world is a scary place and the people you think you can trust, you can’t always and that you just have to be conscious of who you are with and just trust your gut feeling,” reported KTLA.
The girl’s mother, Kirsten Wakefield, told the police investigators, “I am saddened and disheartened that it came to this point but at least something is happening. We just want to make sure this man doesn’t injure or mentally hurt another child.”
It has since come to light that Williams was fired from Boulder High School in Boulder, Colorado, last year but officials at the Denver Public School did not know of this, and he did not tell the staff at East High School.
Parents at Boulder High had also expressed concern about Williams’s teaching techniques.
Williams appeared in a TEDx talk in April in which he describes his love for tumbling, and how it helped him through tough times to make a better life for himself.
“I started Mile High Tumblers 5280, which is an organization where we give back to the youth through mentor and tutoring, by giving them the outlet to shine in front of thousands of fans,” he said.
“Through [tumbling] I’m able to share not only my turmoil of seeing my mom beaten, going through violence at an early age, having a gun put to my head, as well as being on the stand and testifying.”