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Cheer Inc.

Cheer Inc: Loopholes Linger

Ineligible coaches continue to flout rules with no repercussions …

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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.

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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. 

Stephanie Britt (Twitter)

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. 

(Click to View)

(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 …

(Click to View)

Stephanie Britt with child athletes at the Lowcountry Showdown on March 4-5, 2023 (Provided)

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.

(Click to View)

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

  1. 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:
    1. 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;
    2. 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.
    3. Allowing any person to violate the terms of their Ban, Suspension or any other Sanctions imposed by the USASF.
Source: USASF 2022-2023 Code of Conduct and Compliance

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?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

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 jenn@fitsnews.com.

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8 comments

Kathleen Bounds Top fan March 10, 2023 at 12:18 pm

I’m aware of numerous lawsuits v numerous bad actors all across the country, as reported by FitsNews and other media outlets. SO – what will it take to put a halt to these ineligible coaches/owners continuing to appear at competitions and schmoozing (grooming?) potential victims?

Perhaps an arrest or 2, or 3, or MORE will drive the message home? “The wheels of justice grind slowly” – I get that. But we’re talking about the health and safety of CHILDREN here …. criminal charges of child neglect/abuse should be referred to law enforcement for prosecution, in addition to the civil litigation already filed. Have any such charges been filed?

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Millie Dennis Bursey March 10, 2023 at 5:28 pm

Stephanie should never be put in a news article with Scott Fosters name included in that story.
Also this article is not 100% accurate. So please get your story straight before you publish false information.

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Roxy March 10, 2023 at 6:00 pm

Please note that this article is not accurate and needs to be fact checked before publishing. This is clearly an attack on Stephanie over 2 parents who have nothing better to do than to destroy her life. I’ve had my family at her gym for almost 10 years and have never had an issue with her. The allegations are obscured and she should NEVER be in the same paragraph let alone same article as Scott. He was disgusting he should have been banned long before he was.

The false allegations are insane. USASF should have looked into it more and realized it was false. They caved and ran with their tails between their legs without looking because of Scott. Instead of instantly banning they should have looked at who was giving them false info and realized that they were unstable adults.

I’ve spoken with previous customers at local gyms in Savannah and they are happy here. I’m happy here and will continue to give Danny and Cheer Savannah my support.

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Kristi W Miller March 10, 2023 at 7:44 pm

Praying for Stephanie Britt and her family !! This is an on going injustice to Stephanie and kids , fiancé and Cheer Savannah! Stephanie Britt is in my opinion the nicest, most caring, honest , loving, heartfelt , knows her expertise Coach , friend , mama to all , kind of person! In my opinion from social , private, to kind she is the absolute person I want In my family’s corner ! She has abided by these ridiculous accusations for long enough!! God will prevail ! Her name is being used against her because people are jealous of her and her name should never be used in this context ever period, but that being said it obvious that the congregation throwing her name around is jealous and doing everything to jeopardize everything she has fought to build! Cheer Savannah can’t be stopped because of the legacy Stephanie Britt has built ! As much as I think this is ridiculous and ludicrous, you can’t stop love , loyalty and greatness! So keep coming for us , she has more in her corner and they have more in the organization corner than you could ever imagine!! You all of you who are even remotely putting her name and gym involved should be ashamed!! I have boys but have family in this organization and know Steph personally, this is an absolute insult to the Cheer world and to these kids who love and adore her and to the her family!! You should be ashamed!!

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Angela March 10, 2023 at 8:10 pm

Putting Stephanie Britt in the same article as Scott Foster is leading. They COULDN’T be further from the same type people. This article paints a picture that is far from the truth. Sex offender, drugs and alcohol, and grooming children is what Mr. Foster was up to … NOT Coach Britt.

Every gym has “those” mom’s who think their child is the best and “has” to be on a certain team. When little Suzy doesn’t do so well it couldn’t be their fault. So accusations are made “my coach is picking on me” and so on… mom’s and daughters feel the need to save face, or mom is on a mission to “defend” little Suzy. All it takes is an accusation now a days and the sensitivity of the sport at the moment and being better safe than sorry! My heart goes out to the victims who were legitimately affected.

We are extremely happy at the gym and we talk to our daughter constantly about the environment and her feelings. The gym has an open door policy and that was before the ban. Our first season my daughter had a male coach and I spent numerous practices inside the gym until I was comfortable. The staff is incredibly respectful to the athletes while still pushing them for greatness. Every interaction with Stephanie the past few years we have known her, has been positive. She is blunt and honest but I prefer things not be sugar coated or talking behind my back. She has a straight forward approach and plan to help each athlete be successful.

To the writer of this article… your sources need another check.

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Hilary Nicole March 10, 2023 at 9:13 pm

This article is beyond disgusting and all of allegations against Stephanie are absurd. Stephanie Britt is one of the most kind and caring women that I know — a true inspiration to women and business owners as well. I feel blessed that my child was able to spend multiple years with her before all of this nonsense began, but we will forever support Stephanie and be a part of the Cheer Savannah family regardless of what happens or who is running the gym.

Stephanie never did anything but uplift my child, encourage her, and help her learn and grow. Stephanie is the sole reason that my child began to LOVE this sport. She poured nothing but love and encouragement to all of her children and athletes. I hope that one day this will all be over and the jealous “women” that have created this — DO NOT WIN. Stephanie has spent her life building this empire (an amazing and incredible one at that) only for it to nearly be destroyed, all over a select few mad and jealous people with nothing better to do than attempt to take her down.

I wish nothing but the best for Stephanie and her family as they continue to have to deal with this. HEAVY prayers for her and her family, and last but not least —

JUSTICE FOR STEPHANIE BRITT ??
We will forever be Cheer Savannah for life.

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Suzy March 10, 2023 at 11:25 pm

I agree with Roxy and Millie, Scott was a nasty, greezy, disgusting filth of a human. My child has cheered for both gyms, she knows the some of the victims. To link him and Stephanie together so you can get views on your article is down right evil. Let’s look at the actual facts….
Stephanie OWNED the gym and was the first to do so in Savannah. Then here comes another gym in town.. who is constantly cheating the USASF by lying about who is on the roster. Last year the person who reported it to the usasf is also the same person who was called out by Stephanie for having her child go and tumble at the competitors gym before the season was over then went and gym hopped to them. Embarrassed I’m sure, she decided to take revenge on Stephanie? Stephanie is the kindest person, and because she said “rude” things… feelings got hurt.. and that mom ran like a coward.
Well let me tell you something… maybe that mom went and got together with jealous parents at her new gym because they wanted to be mad at Stephanie too. Most of Savannah started at cheer savannah and couldn’t pay and left owning a balance, and wants to blame Stephanie for thier failures.
I watched with my own eyes that mom literally pull her phone out and start her drama.. she even labeled herself “the firework squad last year”..

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Lailyn Wilkens March 11, 2023 at 7:44 am

The fact that there are parents in this comment section defending ANYONE who is permanently banned by USASF is doing a disservice to their children. You all are part of the problem. I am not even from the area but for USASF to do anything take an act of God. Regardless of how good of a person someone is….rules are in place for a reason. If they aren’t being followed then they need to be brought to light. The fact that, that is being missed is mind boggling. And I do not think the author was comparing her crime to Scott’s crime. They are saying these are the same loopholes that are still not being addressed. Literally do better as parents and grown adults.

Reply

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