After a coach and a parent complained about cheerleading coaches forcing participants down into splits — a technique called “breaking” — a video of a similar incident was picked up by local media and subsequently went viral. Uproar ensued. On the video, teen girls are seen crying, begging for coaches to stop.
Five school district employees, including coach Ozell Williams, have been placed on leave pending an investigation. Police are investigating whether or not to pursue child abuse charges against some or all of the employees.
Because incidents like this one are as much political as they are procedural, public opinion on this issue will hold significant sway. Call it what you will — and many are, on both sides — but, these days, educators must do their work with “parental PR” in mind.
This is doubly important for people like Williams, a private tumbling school owner who works on a contract basis with the school board. Williams has a business reputation to protect, as well as a teaching gig. If Williams loses one, the other may suffer as well.
And here’s where the case gets even more interesting. The videos are from a year ago. Back then, Williams was working with another group of cheerleaders at another school. When the parent complained, apparently, not much was done.
Fast forward a year, when another coach witnessed Williams using the same technique and complained. This time a local TV station found the videos and put them on the news.
The videos make for both compelling and disturbing viewing. Eight girls are “broken,” in sequence, with at least one of them begging for coaches to “please stop.”
As they do, the news agencies looked for an “expert” witness to put the videos in context. Jim Lord, director of Cheerleading Coaches and Administration Association (CCAA), said the practice of “breaking” was used decades ago, but that the procedure is both outdated and damaging to students.
“Outdated” and “damaging” are not terms anyone wants associated with their brand, much less those working with kids. Yet Williams seemed nonplussed by the allegations, telling media the videos were taken “out of context” and that they could be “seen in a different light…”
It’s a difficult challenge for both Williams and the school board. The coach is a former University of Colorado tumbler with a strong background in the sport. Up to this point, Williams has been a popular and inspirational coach and speaker at local area schools. Now, the school board, parents, and students are all faced with deciding which Williams deserve the most credit: the one who spoke so inspiringly and engaged well with the kids, or the one on the video refusing to listen to a girl begging for the pain to stop.