Kentucky fires cheerleading staff for ‘lack of oversight’

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(ABC NEWS) — The University of Kentucky has dismissed the entire coaching staff and the adviser of its powerhouse cheerleading squad after a three-month internal investigation that revealed a lack of oversight by those in charge and a culture of hazing, public nudity and alcohol use, according to a release Monday.

Head coach Jomo Thompson, assistants Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix, and adviser T. Lynn Williamson have all been dismissed, according to the school.

Kentucky’s program is the Alabama football of the cheerleading world, winning 24 national titles in 35 years. The bulk of those championships were earned under Thompson, who led the team to a fourth consecutive national title and his 18th overall during the Universal Cheerleaders Association championships in Orlando, Florida, last year.

“The adviser and the coaches failed to stop a culture of hazing, alcohol use and public nudity at off-campus activities where they were present,” said Eric N. Monday, UK’s executive vice president for finance and administration. “Our students deserve more responsible leadership and the University of Kentucky demands it.”

The school also uncovered conflicts of interest involving businesses owned or operated by staff members who also employed cheerleaders. Officials said they are also investigating the program’s use of school funds under the former staff members.

The allegations that led to the mass dismissal largely stem from a retreat at a place called Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. While there, according to the report, cheerleaders engaged in the use of alcohol and public nudity, including an activity called “basket tosses” where members of the team were thrown from a dock while not fully clothed.

Multiple members of the team also needed medical treatment after consuming alcohol, some of which was brought to the retreat by former members of the team.

At an event in Tennessee, semi-nude team members were urged to make lewd chants in a hazing ritual, according to the report.

The school’s report said all of the inappropriate conduct occurred in front of staff members, who failed to intervene. 

The release says the investigation found no evidence of sexual assault or sexual misconduct during the trips.

Thompson, the head coach, did not respond to ESPN’s request for comment.

“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 school’s release about the report. “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 adviser.”

Last year, ESPN spent time with the cheerleading squad as a part of an assignment about behind-the-scenes moments in college sports.

Thompson said the rigorous path to the prominent Kentucky program resembled that of a major football program. Some of his cheerleaders had been attending his camps since they were in elementary school.

Kentucky receives enough inquiries to join its prestigious cheerleading program that the school also features a junior varsity squad that performs at various events.

“I try to find the best recruits,” Thompson told ESPN last year. “I really go out and try to get the best.”

The school has already commenced a national search to replace Thompson and other staff members. Williamson, the adviser and principal deputy general counsel at Kentucky, retired shortly after the investigation had started.

“This must be a championship-level program both on and off the court and playing fields,” athletic director Mitch Barnhart said. “And as with all our sports, that will be our goal — every day.”

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