As it does every spring, cheer competition season in America is fast approaching its zenith. Each weekend, teams across the nation are battling for coveted spots at The Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Florida next month. Parents and their child-athletes are traveling to competitions across the country – emptying their wallets as their children leave their hearts on the mat.
At these competitions, Tennessee-based Varsity – the corporate behemoth of the American cheerleading industry – has been busy reassuring parents that the safety of their children is the company’s top priority. This message has been reiterated via videos and assurances from staff that increased ticketing costs are part of the company’s plans to increase security.
Why does Varsity need to provide such reassurances? Because competitive cheer is staring down a widespread institutional sex abuse scandal – one enabled by years of failed oversight within the industry.
That failed oversight is continuing. Earlier this year, this news outlet reported that one of the cheer coaches named in a phalanx of lawsuits aimed at exposing the scandal appeared at a cheer competition in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The lawsuits began more than six months ago following the spectacular implosion of Greenville, S.C.-based Rockstar Cheer. This gym became the epicenter of the scandal on August 22, 2022 when its late owner and founder, Scott Foster, died by suicide. The day after Foster’s death hit the news, FITSNews reported the 49-year-old coach was staring down “a multi-jurisdictional investigation into (among other things) allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls.”
We quickly learned it wasn’t just girls. And it wasn’t just Foster. And most importantly … it wasn’t just Rockstar.
On September 18, 2022, FITSNews published an article detailing one of the loopholes related to the unified ineligible list that is maintained by Varsity and one of its “watchdog” organizations, the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF).
Along with USA Cheer, USASF is a so-called “oversight” body purportedly protecting child athletes from harm. In reality, though, it has a loophole-laden “reporting” structure which facilitates abuse through a “closed network,” according to one of the recent lawsuits (.pdf).
The USASF/ USA Cheer ineligible list – which you can view here – is intended to keep track of industry participants who have been charged with (or convicted of) crimes. It is also intended to track coaches, choreographers and other adults who have engaged in “any conduct inconsistent with (cheer) rules, policies or standards” or “any action of misconduct … determined to not serve the (sport’s) best interests.”
Unfortunately, eligibility restrictions for those who break the rules are not being enforced.
This “closed network” was previously exploited by Foster – and continues to be exploited by coaches named in the various Cheer Inc. lawsuits. Evading Varsity’s new “layer of security” appears to be no issue whatsoever for coaches placed on the ineligible list – including Stephanie Britt of Savannah, Georgia.
The owner and founder of Cheer Savannah – a popular gym based in Pooler, Georgia – Britt was added to the temporary ineligible list on September 9, 2022, just days after the death of Scott Foster. She landed on the permanently ineligible list in late February 2023 after a lengthy investigation by USASF.
Sources close to that investigation told FITSNews the allegations against Britt involved multiple violations related to athlete safety and inappropriate behavior. Some of the alleged violations were reportedly captured on Britt’s social media and reported to USASF by multiple parents – with the first complaint dated March 10, 2022.
Parents involved in the investigatory process reported that despite her newly ineligible status, Britt continued to flout the rules. On September 10, 2022 – just one day after she was listed on the temporary ineligible list – Britt transferred her business to her husband, Danny Britt, who also became a registered coach and gym owner in the USASF system.
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(Via: Georgia Secretary of State)
Numerous parents reported seeing Stephanie Britt interacting with child athletes at Cheer Savannah just days after her ineligibility was announced – a clear violation of industry rules. Owners of USASF gyms sign a membership agreement with USASF stating, “You agree not to be associated with, allow in your club, or permit access to any of your club’s athletes any person who is: (1) listed on USASF’s website as permanently ineligible (i.e., banned) for membership in USASF; (2) listed on USASF’s website as temporarily ineligible (i.e. suspended); or (3) listed on any federal or state sex offender registry.”
Coaches also sign an agreement affirming that “if you know of, suspect, or have reason to believe that another member has violated any of the aforementioned policies, guidelines, and/or rules, it is your responsibility to promptly submit a report to the USASF.”
Despite her placement on the USASF’s permanent ineligibility list, sources have reported Britt was spotted again this weekend at the 9 Panel Lowcountry Showdown competition in Charleston, S.C.
Britt and others on the ineligible lists are allowed to attend events so long as they do not enter the warm-up area which is restricted to eligible coaches, gym owners and athletes. She is also restricted from having interaction with child athletes while in attendance.
Based on images posted on social media by parents, this rule appears to have been violated …
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USASF touts sanctioned events as safe – stating attendees “find peace of mind knowing minimum safety standards will be met and the same rules and regulations will be followed every time, at every event, by every member.”
Training available online indicates that while the responsibility of tracking banned and suspended individuals does not necessarily fall under the purview of those responsible for events, USASF rules clearly state such individuals should have no conduct with their athletes. With so many recent substantiated reports of ineligible coaches interacting with child athletes, this claim is falling flat with parents.
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The USASF code of conduct and compliance – which is agreed to by all members of the organization – clearly lays out that aiding and abetting is a violation:
SECTION 2.7: Aiding and Abetting
Source: USASF 2022-2023 Code of Conduct and Compliance
- Aiding and Abetting occurs when a Member aids, assists, facilitates, promotes or encourages the commission of prohibited conduct by an individual, including but not limited to, knowingly:
- Allowing any person who has been identified as Banned, Suspended or otherwise ineligible by the USASF to be in any way associated with or employed by a Member Organization;
- Providing any coaching-related activities or services, within a Member Organization’s facilities or in the vicinity of other Members, to an Adult or Minor Athlete who has been identified as Banned, Suspended or otherwise ineligible by the USASF.
- Allowing any person to violate the terms of their Ban, Suspension or any other Sanctions imposed by the USASF.
Accompanying Britt to Charleston, S.C. last weekend was her husband – the current gym owner of Cheer Savannah. According to multiple parents, Danny Britt told them his wife had “permission” to attend the competition.
Permission from whom?
Based on the aforementioned USASF rules and regulations, any gym owner or coach who allowed Britt to come in contact with a child athlete at a USASF-sanctioned event is in violation of their membership agreement and the code of conduct and compliance.
Multiple parents who witnessed Britt’s interactions with child-athletes in Charleston promptly reported her to USASF through the organization’s “Safe at All Star” program – which should have immediately initiated a third-party investigation into the complaint.
One of these parents received a response USASF director of conduct and compliance, Meredith Walker, who claimed the agency reviewed the material and determined Britt was “interacting with the athletes in public areas as other spectators did.”
“The team’s view was this did not constitute a policy violation unless she was in a restricted area where only USASF-eligible members are allowed to be,” Walker continued.
“This situation is exactly how Scott Foster continued to gain access to his victims and they’re allowing it to happen again,” one frustrated parent told me.
Amy Gaffney – lead partner in the Gaffney Lewis law firm – is one of the attorneys working on the Cheer Incorporated lawsuits. In a recent interview conducted with this news outlet, Gaffney referenced ongoing failed oversight within the Varsity-controlled cheer industry – referring to it as “inexplicable.”
“In the employment arena we frequently will say that you’re not on notice that you’ve got a bad egg until they do something bad,” Gaffney said. “From that point you as the employer – or you as the controlling authority – need to be taking steps to curtail their ability to do that. That’s your role.”
Many parents are wondering: What (more) is it going to take to make Varsity start performing its role?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].
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