LEXINGTON, Ky. — Following a three-month investigation into the University of Kentucky’s cheerleading program, the university dismissed all four cheerleading coaches, Head Coach Jomo Thompson and Assistant Coaches Ben Head, Spencer Clain, and Kelsey LaCroix. What You Need To Know
Thompson was with the program first as a cheerleader in 1996; he became head coach in 2002. UK’s cheerleading program has won 24 national championships in the past 35 years.
A call from a family member of one of the cheerleaders prompted the investigation which began in early February. The family member alleged inappropriate conduct by squad members and inadequate oversight by coaches during off-campus trips.
UK's investigation included interviews with more than 60 students and found the coaching staff and administrative advisor did not provide reasonable oversight at off-campus events where members of the cheerleading squad participated in hazing, alcohol use, and public nudity.
“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,” said UK President Eli Capilouto.
The investigation also uncovered lax oversight and poor judgment by T. Lynn Williamson, the cheerleading program’s advisor for forty years. However, Williamson retired after learning of the investigation and being directed to have no contact with the squad.
“The advisor 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.”
According to UK Provost David W. Blackwell, the investigation’s specific findings include:
- Coaches knew or should have known of inappropriate behavior by squad members but did not properly address it;
- While at a team retreat at Lake Cumberland, some cheerleaders threw their teammates in the water while topless or bottomless. This was done at the direction of other cheerleaders and within the view of some coaches
- Coaches allowed former cheerleaders to bring boats and alcohol to the retreat, and some cheerleaders were partially nude and/or drinking while on the boats;
- Coaches failed to stop students from drinking and to confiscate alcohol brought to the retreat by some squad members. Some members required medical treatment after drinking
- During a cheerleading camp held in Tennessee, some cheerleaders were told by other squad members to perform inappropriate chants and wear outfits without underwear.
Monday said he assigned oversight of the program to University of Kentucky Athletics. Executive Associate Athletics Director Sandy Bell will now lead the program and the national search for a new coach.
“This must be a championship-level program both on and off the court and playing fields,” said Mitch Barnhart, athletics director. “And as with all our sports, that will be our goal — every day.”
The search for a new head coach, who will be part of the selection of assistant coaches and 2020-21 team members, will begin immediately.