The University of Kentucky cheerleading program, winner of 24 national titles in 35 years, took a tumble Monday, when the school fired its entire coaching staff in the wake of an investigation into hazing, alcohol consumption and public nudity.
Head coach Jomo Thompson, assistants Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix, and adviser T. Lynn Williamson have all been dismissed, according to the school, which also placed the program under the compliance auspices of the UK athletic department, according to ABC affiliate WHAS in Louisville.
Thompson, a former cheerleader for the Wildcats, took over the program in 2002 and led it to 18 Universal Cheerleaders Association national championships, including the past four in a row — the second four-peat in program history. According to ESPN, he has compared his rigorous recruitment and training regimens to that of a major college football program, with some athletes attending his camps beginning in elementary school.
But all that success hid a darker side to UK cheerleading, according to the three-month university investigation released Monday. The report documents a retreat to a place called Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. While there, cheerleaders engaged in the use of alcohol and public nudity, including an activity called "basket tosses" where members of the team were thrown from a dock while not fully clothed. Multiple members of the team also needed medical treatment after consuming alcohol, some of which was brought to the retreat by former members of the team, ESPN reported. At an event in Tennessee, semi-nude team members were urged to make lewd chants in a hazing ritual.
The school's report said all of the inappropriate conduct occurred in front of staff members, who failed to intervene.
"A commitment we make and renew every day at the University of Kentucky is that the success of our students is at the center of everything that we do. But for that sentiment to be more than words, we must always act in ways that honor that commitment — especially when we discover rare instances where those who supervise and guide our students don't meet the standards of integrity we expect of each other. This is one of those times," UK president Eli Capilouto said in the school's release about the report. "The University of Kentucky has built the nation's premier collegiate cheerleading program. But regrettably, the integrity of the program has been compromised by inappropriate behavior by some squad members on off-campus trips and by lax oversight by the program's coaches and adviser."
The school has already commenced a national search to replace Thompson and other staff members, according to ESPN. Williamson, the adviser and principal deputy general counsel at Kentucky, retired shortly after the investigation had started.
"This must be a championship-level program both on and off the court and playing fields," UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said. "And as with all our sports, that will be our goal — every day."