In a highly disturbing and unusual video obtained by 9Wants to Know News, an incoming freshman cheerleader from Denver’s East High School, Ally Wakefield, can be seen being forced down into an extended split position by her male coach, Ozell Williams. Williams can be seen pushing Wakefields shoulders as she repeatedly cries out in excruciating pain and begs for the exercise to end.
The local news station says they’ve obtained more videos, showing seven other cheerleaders being forced into splits in a similar manner; those videos are not being released out of concern for the girls’ privacy (Wakefield agreed to release her video). (Related: Group of bikers showed up to escort a kid to school – and the reason is pretty cool)
Denver Police are investigating the incidents, and a number of school administrators, Williams, and the assistant cheer coach have all been placed on leave in the interim.
As noted by 9Wants to Know, Wakefield is seen with her arms being held by fellow cheerleaders as she is heard begging Williams to “please, stop” a total of nine times throughout the short 24-second video, yet, Williams does not relent, pushing down the teenager’s shoulders and forcing her to the ground. According to Wakefield’s parents, Ally was seriously injured as a result of the exercise.
The news station says they only obtained the anonymously sent cell phone videos in August, though East High School administrators have had access since to the same video since June. Kirsten Wakefield, Ally’s mother, sent the video to the school district when she found out what had happened to her daughter.
“I have attached a video of the forced splits she and her other team members were forced to do at cheerleading camp and practices; unless they had a doctor’s note. This is how Ally injured her leg,” Wakefield wrote in an email to East High School Athletic Director Lisa Porter, dated June 15. (Related: High School Student Gideon Yapp Threatens His Teacher For Not Rounding His Grade From 43% To A 70%)
“My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” she added.
“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 tissue in her body,” Mrs. Wakefield told the news station.
“Parents have, for months, launched complaints towards the school administrators and the coach himself,” notes 9Wants to Know.
In fact, the the school didn’t even launch an investigation into the incidents until August 23, one day after the news station “requested numerous records related to those complaints and the cheer team from East High School.” (Related: Schools in Minnesota instructed to let students as young as kindergarten choose bathrooms, pronouns)
Finally reacting to the situation, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg released the lengthy statement, below:
Earlier today, I became aware of an exercise used at cheer practices this summer at East High School. We immediately began taking steps to investigate this issue, and our Department of Safety is supporting Denver Police in this effort. In order to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, we have placed East Principal Andy Mendelsberg, East Assistant Principal Lisa Porter, East Cheer Coach Ozell Williams, East Assistant Cheer Coach Mariah Cladis and DPS Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman on leave. This is standard practice in an investigation of this type. It does not imply or prejudge in any way the actions of the individuals or what the investigation might determine. Please know that we will share the results of the investigation as soon as possible. I want to reiterate in no uncertain terms our commitment to the safety of our students. We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop. While this investigation is ongoing, we are entirely focused on ensuring our students and staff at East are receiving the supports they need. A senior leader at the school, East Assistant Principal Jason Maclin, will serve as interim principal during this time and we are providing additional counseling for our students and families. With regards to certain videos, I cannot state strongly enough – as the superintendent of the school district and as the father of two high school-aged daughters — that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community.