The University of Kentucky fired its cheerleading coaches Monday after an internal investigation determined they failed to oversee off-campus events that included inappropriate behavior by some members of the squad.
The investigation reportedly determined the coaches were aware of hazing, alcohol use and public nudity by the national championship squad. Kentucky has won 24 of the last 35 national championships.
Head coach Jomo Thompson and assistants Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix were fired.
The three-month investigation reportedly revealed “lax oversight and poor judgment” by primary advisor T. Lynn Williamson, UK’s principal deputy general counsel. Williamson retired earlier this month after learning of the investigation and was told to have no contact with the squad.
The investigation involved interviews with more than 60 squad members, coaches and administrators and found that the activities occurred last summer during a retreat at a Kentucky lake and a cheerleading camp in Tennessee. Some cheerleaders at the retreat allegedly performed gymnastics routines known as “basket tosses” that included hurling teammates into the water while partially nude within view of some of the coaches.
Two local women are part of the 60-member squad and neither was reported to be a part of anything inappropriate. Annamarie Coughenour, a sophomore from Huntington St. Joe, and Tylee Oldham, a freshman from Hurricane. Coughenour’s mother, Amy, posted about her disappointment in the investigation on Facebook and defended the coaching staff. Amy Oldham said Thompson’s support was valuable in Annamarie achieving Dean’s List honors.
“At no time in the past two years have I been told or witnessed any inappropriate behavior,” Amy Coughenour wrote, adding that she thinks the coaches are victims of a smear campaign. I have had the pleasure of spending time with multiple team members on and off campus. At no time has their behavior been anything less than exemplary.”
The report indicates that coaches also didn’t confiscate alcohol brought to the retreat by some team members and some cheerleaders required medical treatment for intoxication. Some cheerleaders at the camp were directed to perform lewd chants and wear outfits that did not include underwear. The report found no sexual assault or sexual misconduct during the trips.
Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a teleconference that the coaches knew, or should have known, about the inappropriate behavior.
“They failed to take sufficient steps to address the conduct,” he said. “They did not act in ways that would protect the health, safety and well-being of our students who were entrusted to their care.
“This is not who we are at the University of Kentucky. This is not what we do,” he said.
The investigation also uncovered potential conflicts of interest by two coaches who ran gymnastics businesses and employed squad members.
Capilouto said the athletic department will take control of the cheerleading program, which will be led by associate director Sandy Bell, and will begin a national search for a new coach.