“Unfair”: UK cheer alumni defend fired coaches, petition seeks support

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Cheerleading Alumni of the University of Kentucky released a statement Thursday defending head coach Jomo Thompson, assistants Ben Head, Spencer Clan, and Kelsey LaCroix, and advisor T. Lynn Williamson.

The coaches were fired Monday. UK says they didn’t give proper oversight during off-campus events, during which hazing, nudity, and drinking allegedly took place (click below to enlarge).

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The statement comes as the social media debate over the action heats up and the mother who some have said is the whistleblower who started the investigation denies that role and threatens legal action over threats she says she and her family have received.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED EARLIER THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A petition to have the University of Kentucky cheerleading coaching staff reinstated had almost 12,000 signatures by noon Thursday as the debate over the university’s actions this week continues to heat up.

That includes possible legal action by the mother of a cheerleader and the cheerleader who have been accused of filing the initial reports that began the investigation into the heralded program.

But Karen Oldham, in Facebook posts, has said she’s not the person who started the probe, although she wrote she cooperated with the investigation.

Since she’s been tabbed by some as the instigator, she said her family has received threats to their safety.

Meanwhile, Michelle Rothwell started a petition to UK Cheer Supporters Wednesday afternoon encouraging the university to reconsider.

As of noon Thursday, the petition had 11,681 signatures with a goal of 15,000.

Since the university announced the firing of coach Jomo Thompson and his staff Monday, a number of former cheerleaders have spoken out in support of the staff. Some have criticized the university for what they call an “over reaction.”

Many of the cheerleaders who spoke to WTVQ ABC 36 News praised the staff and said coaches never condoned any of the behavior outlined in the university’s three-month hazing, alcohol and nudity investigation.

The cheerleader, who just finished her freshman year, and her mother Karen Oldham have been the subject of memes and other social media postings claiming Oldham was the initial whistleblower in an investigation that included 60 interviews with team members and coaches, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Oldham has disputed the accusations in her social media posts.

UK’s investigation findings did not identify the source of the allegations. It only said the probe began after a cheerleader’s family member contacted a UK professor with concerns about oversight by the coaches and conduct by the team.

Two other cheerleaders, through an attorney, later came forward.

In a Facebook comment this week, Oldham said she did not contact UK but said she “will let you know I personally am reporting the abuse my daughter has endured the past 48 hours!”

In another comment, she said her daughter “told the truth when asked,” according to the Herald-Leader.

In other posts, she said her family has been threatened.

In releasing its report this week, the university said it would not tolerate any kind of retaliation. But thus far, it has not taken any action in that regard.

According to the Herald-Leader, University of Kentucky spokesperson Jay Blanton said he wouldn’t speculate on whether any particular online posting would be considered retaliatory by the university.

“If someone reports a post to the University — our Student Conduct office — I know they will review them in accordance with our policies,” Blanton said in a statement Wednesday. “But I’m not going to speculate on something we don’t have formally from someone. That wouldn’t be fair to the process or people who may ultimately be involved in it. We take these issues very seriously and any such concern or complaint would be fully reviewed and investigated.”

After the release of the investigation which found that the coaching staff “knew or reasonably should have known” about the team taking part in hazing activities, public nudity and alcohol use while on university trips and did not take sufficient steps to address the conduct after learning about it, several past and present cheerleaders took to social media to defend the coaches. Some cheerleaders admitted the behavior occurred but protested the penalties imposed on the coaches.

The investigation found 15 cheerleaders, one assistant coach and the program’s longtime adviser told investigators they witnessed the team performing partially nude basket tosses into Lake Cumberland during a retreat and did not notify the university until questioned.

Others admitted prohibited alcohol was brought or consumed on trips, according to the investigation’s findings.

“There is no way any parent can say it is okay for a coach to watch naked athletes in any fashion,” Karen Oldham said in a Facebook comment cited by the Herald-Leader. “I’m glad our daughter was not a participant. Just so sad for all and I pray the victims heal. There were so many crazy findings we had no clue. It has been amazing how some have resurfaced lol to give me full credit of my name Karen. To this date we have sued no one but I am definitely looking at it in the near future.

“Someone will be held accountable for these abusive acts. We have been threatened and I will always protect my kids,” she continued, referencing her plans to contact a lawyer.”

 

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Veronica Jean Seltzer joins ABC 36 as Anchor/Reporter. On most weekdays, you will see her reporting the news. VJ hails from a small horse farm outside New York City and most recently comes from South Bend, Indiana where she reported for the CBS and Fox affiliates. VJ holds a Master of Science in Journalism degree from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University. Her passion for journalism runs deep. It began as she studied graffiti as an ancient form of communication in Athens, Greece. While a student journalist in Morocco, she learned her most important journalistic lesson: good stories are about people. VJ loves life in and around Lexington. She feels most at home among horses and a diverse community of fascinating people. She enjoys reporting during the week and on the weekend she strives to bring her neighbors the news that matters most to them. VJ enjoys going to neighborhood events, exploring, horseback riding, skiing, sailing, and good movies. Look for her out and about in the community! VJ invites you to reach out to her with story ideas or just to say hello! Find her on Facebook at Veronica Jean Seltzer ABC 36, tweet her @VJS_ABC36, or email her at VSeltzer@wtvq.com. She looks forward to hearing from you!