High School Cheerleaders being forced to do splits in Denver. Staff under investigation. (See Video)
The brutal cheerleading coach shown forcing young girls to perform painful splits was fired from one job last year and passed over for another because of concerns about his over-the-top practices, as more footage emerged of teens screaming in agony.
Ozell Williams — one of five employees now on administrative leave at East High School in Denver after being caught on camera holding down an incoming freshman as she screamed for him and teammates to stop — was dismissed as a consultant from Boulder High School in 2016 after a parent complained and a coach saw him forcing a girl to do splits, also known as “breaking,” KUSA reports.
Williams, who runs Mile High Tumblers, was also passed over for a permanent job at a gym in Brighton after the owner watched him spend a week with young athletes.
“They would go to do things and if they would stop, like they would go into a tumbling pass and they would stop, and he would be like, ‘I’m going to punch you in the face if you don’t do it next time,’” said Julie Ledbetter, the gym’s owner. “… You don’t tell kids you’re going to punch them in the face if they can’t pull the skill.”
Williams, who could not be reached for comment Friday, said the eight videos showing him and several cheerleaders forcefully holding down girls — sometimes as they screamed for him to stop — were taken out of context.
“You can definitely say that what was in the video could be seen in a different light,” Williams told the Denver Post. “I would love to tell my story, but I can’t say anything else at this time.”
Williams has also taken a leave of absence from teaching tumbling classes, the Denver Post reports.
Meanwhile, new footage obtained by The Post shows three teammates and Williams holding down an unidentified girl in the same way Ally Wakefield, a 13-year-old incoming freshman cheerleader, was restrained in one 24-second clip.
“F— me!” one girl screams in agony as Williams holds her down with the help of three teammates. “Ow, ow, f— me!”
“You made her scream, too?” Williams says in reaction to the girl’s piercing shriek, which startled her teammate.
“You stay there,” Williams instructs the girl.
“I’m trying,” she replies.
“No, you not — you finished?” Williams says.
“No! Yes, I am,” the girl wails in agony.
Williams is seen in other clips telling girls to “relax” and that they’re “not listening” when they say they’re in pain.
The disturbing footage has led to five school employees being placed on administrative leave: Williams, principal Andy Mendelsberg, assistant principal Lisa Porter, assistant cheerleading coach Mariah Cladis and an attorney for Denver Public Schools.
“This is standard practice in an investigation of this type,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a statement posted on the school’s website. “It does not imply or prejudge in any way the actions of the individuals or what the investigation might determine.”
Tyrone Campbell, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department, said the footage has been under investigation since Monday.
“The moment the video came into our hands, we began investigating it,” Campbell told The Post early Friday. “We’re going to make every effort to speak with all parties involved to get an understanding of what exactly occurred.”
The videos have also caught the attention of the National Cheer Safety Foundation, which blasted the actions caught on camera as “child abuse” in a statement to KUSA.
“It gets worse every time you look at it to see that adults think that this is OK,” founder Kimberly Archie said. “It’s OK to be competitive, it’s not OK for something like this, this is child abuse, this is child maltreatment, it’s not OK. The coach should have known it wasn’t OK, and the kids should have felt comfortable enough to say, ‘Hey, stop! What are you doing? Why are you doing this to our teammate?’”