UK Audit: “Structural and cultural failure” in cheer program

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – An investigation of the University of Kentucky cheer program by the school’s Office of Internal Audit, found the organizational structure and decision making within the cheer team potentially allowed for the “personal enrichment” of then head coach Jomo Thompson, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Thompson had no comment on the audit’s findings when contacted Thursday by the Lexington Herald-Leader, according to the report.

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Thompson and three of his assistants were fired by the university in the spring and the team’s advisor, retired.

The moves came after a university disciplinary investigation that said some UK cheerleaders took part in hazing, alcohol use and public nudity and that the coaching staff knew or reasonably should have known about the team’s conduct and didn’t take sufficient steps to address the conduct after learning about it.

Following his firing, numerous current and former cheerleaders publicly came out in support of Thompson and refuted the findings of the school’s investigation.  Thompson himself released a statement in May that said he didn’t agree with the manner in which his relationship with UK came to an end.

The school’s internal review of the cheer team’s finances showed Thompson owned or was a shareholder in two businesses that he regularly used for unofficial UK cheerleading activities or further his financial interests, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

One example was Central Elite Kentucky, a gym in Lexington where UK cheerleading held practices.  The gym was jointly purchased by Thompson and a relative of one of the squad’s assistant coaches, according to the newspaper report.  Thompson and the squad’s director of operations directed students and potential cheerleaders to receive training at the gym and the facility hired two of the squad’s assistant coaches to manage the gym, according to the report.

The internal audit also found the cheer team and the school’s logo were used for the financial gain of some former cheerleaders without UK’s prior approval, according to the report.

The UK logo and cheerleading brand were used to promote cheerleading camps held by the Cheer Experts, which is owned by a former UK cheerleader.  Thompson and active squad cheerleaders worked at the camps, according to the newspaper report.

The cheer program also spent more than $8,000 on t-shirts over a three-year period with two unnamed companies owned by a former UK cheerleader, which was not previously disclosed, according to the newspaper’s report of the audit.

After the cheer program scandal became public, the team was moved under more direct supervision of the athletics department.

Former UK cheerleader Ryan Martin O’ Connor was hired in June as the program’s new head coach.  The program has won 24 national championships.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.