The early years of a person’s high school career are not supposed to be traumatic. College applications are in the distant future, and it is a chance for teens to enjoy being adolescents. That’s why what happened to 13-year-old Ally Wakefield from Denver, Colorado shocked the world.
Like many other girls her age, Ally was a member of her high school’s cheerleading team. As an incoming freshman, she had decided to attend a summer cheer camp at East High in June 2017. But what she never expected was to be taught by a coach who pushed her to the point of tears, agony and injury.
It takes months of training to successfully do the splits. Ligaments and muscles have to be extended over a period of time before a person can manoeuvre into the position without hurting themselves. Coach Ozell Williams, however, ignored all logic when he forced girls on this cheerleading team into doing the splits.
One of these girls was Ally, whose pain was documented on camera by two other girls at the camp who were rightfully disturbed by what was happening to them. Despite pleading with Williams to stop forcing her into the agonizing position, Ally was manhandled until she was forced to do the splits…
Ozell Williams was recently hired by East High. He has an impressive track record, training cheerleaders who have performed during Bronco football games – wowing audiences by doing impressive backflips. However, in order to achieve such impressive results, the coach uses some disturbing techniques.
Forcing a person into doing the splits is known as “breaking”, and it has emerged that Williams was fired from a previous position in 2016 for using this technique.
“It was tearing my ligament and my muscle at the same time,” Ally Wakefield revealed. ”He 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.”
Warning: The following video contains footage which some viewers may find distressing.
When Ally’s mom and her friends’ moms saw the disturbing footage of what was being done to them in June 2017, they contacted the school’s principle, Andy Mendelsberg. However, it took a subsequent two months after Ally’s mom sent this email for the police to be contacted and an investigation into Williams launched.
“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. My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened.”
School Principal Andy Mendelsberg, Williams, and a number of other people involved have now been placed on leave as a result of the incident. Tom Boasberg, Denver Public Schools Superintendent, issued the following statement to assure parents that the incident was now being treated seriously after the shocking footage was anonymously passed into local news station KUSA-TV.
“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.”
What happened to the East High cheerleaders is a dangerous reminder of how far some coaches like Williams will go to get results from their teams – results which in William’s case brought him personal acclaim. We hope that justice is served for the girls involved and wish Ally all the best recovering from this incident.