This is not a safe or recommended practice
You can definitely say that junior high and high school level sports can be rather intense even though the players are children. They’re held to rigorous schedules and have to train constantly while still keeping their grades up. Kids that go into sports have to be driven to succeed.
However, injuries in sports are quite common and are almost always accidents. This was no accident. A cheer coach has been fired for forcing his students into painful and damaging positions.
Reporters at KUSA in Colorado were stunned to find videos sent to them anonymously that showed multiple young girls being held down by other young girls and an older man in a painful position. They seemed as if they were being tortured as they screamed and wailed in pain, begging the people holding them to stop.
This wasn’t something out of a horror movie or happening next door at the local flophouse; it was going on in a regular American high school to girls wanting to be on the cheerleading squad. It seems that the incident took place during a cheer camp back in June. Eight young teens were forced to split their legs apart while their teammates were told to force their legs and arms downward. The coach himself put his knee into their backs to keep their posture up.
Eight videos in all were sent to the news station by girls on the squad who were horrified by the painful, unhelpful, and potentially dangerous practice.
Fighting the System
After the videos surfaced, some of the girls in the tape came forward to speak out about what happened to them and how damaging it was. Thirteen-year-old Ally Wakefield, an incoming freshman at East High School, was seen on the video screaming and begging for them to stop hurting her. She told KUSA, “It was tearing my ligament and my muscle at the same time. [The coach] was pushing down on the back of my right leg. He was pushing like with his other knee on my back to try to keep my posture straight.”
Her mother was shocked to learn that Ally had suffered a leg injury at the camp and obtained a video herself to show the school’s staff what their new cheerleading coach was doing. On June 15, Kirsten Wakefield sent an email to the school’s assistant principal with a video saying that’s why Ally hurt her leg. She said in an interview, “This is a grown man pushing my 13-year-old girl so hard against her will while she’s crying and screaming for him to stop that he’s ripping tissues in her body.” The school staff met with the Wakefields but didn’t take the situation as seriously as it turned out to be.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said about the meeting, “The school leadership believed they had addressed the parent’s and student’s concerns. It’s now clear they had not.” Mr. Boasberg then swung into disciplinary action against everyone involved, especially the coach. He said, “What is shown in the videos is extraordinarily distressing. At that time, the decision should have been made to terminate the employment of the coach and, I believe, to report what was observed on the video to police.”
The coach who perpetrated this crime against children is Ozell Williams; he’s well known in his area for doing highly technical gymnastic jumps across college and professional football fields, and he’s been working as a cheerleader coach for some time. However, he believes that “forced splits” are an acceptable practice. He said, “You can definitely say that what was in the video could be seen in a different light. I would love to tell my story, but I can’t say anything else at this time.” Another area school called Boulder High School released him in 2016 after he was forcing children to splits and harming them in the process.
Mr. Boasberg is clearly not a fan of the forced splits and said, “We have sent notification to our athletic directors emphasizing that DPS does not allow the use of ‘forced splits’ or any other activity that puts a student’s physical or mental health at risk, or in which a student is forced to perform an exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop. What is shown in the videos is extraordinarily distressing. We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy.”
Ozell Williams has since been fired from his position. The school’s principal, an assistant principal, an assistant cheer coach, and the Denver Public Schools deputy general counsel have been placed on administrative leave until an investigation into the situation is complete.
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