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Cheer Inc.

Cheer Incorporated: Varsity Scores A Legal Victory

Judge dismisses multiple allegations against cheerleading giant … but other claims will move forward.

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When Scott Foster – founder and owner of the Rockstar Cheer franchise – died in his vehicle of a “self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head” on August 22, 2022, many in the cheer community expressed shock. Condolences littered social media platforms. His wife and business partner, Kathy Foster, publicly mourned.

Within the messages expressing sadness, though, an undercurrent of something sinister was percolating – an undercurrent that spurred this news outlet to dig deeper and ask questions.

On the day after his death, FITSNews exclusively reported that Foster was staring down “a multi-jurisdictional investigation into (among other things) allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls.” Following that report, the floodgates opened with additional incriminating information about the 49-year-old Greenville, S.C. businessman.

As lawsuits began to be filed in civil court, we quickly learned it wasn’t just underage girls – and it wasn’t just Foster. And most importantly … we learned it wasn’t just Rockstar.

The first federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greenville, S.C. on behalf of four Jane Does and two John Does. Three additional federal lawsuits followed in South Carolina and the scope expanded quickly to different states – and more gyms and coaches.

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The lawsuits – most of which were filed by the Columbia-based Strom Law firm – drew a bead on several iconic institutions within the American cheerleading industry. For starters, the Strom lawsuits listed as defendants multiple corporate affiliations of Varsity, the Memphis-based company that’s made billions of dollars selling cheerleading apparel and organizing cheerleading and dance camps/ competitions across the country. They also named Jeff Webb, Varsity’s founder and former owner, along with two companies which purchased ownership interests in Varsity within the last decade – Charlesbank Capital Partners and Bain Capital, the Boston-based investment firm co-founded by U.S. senator Mitt Romney.

Bain purchased Varsity for nearly $3 billion in 2018, but Charlesbank retained an ownership interest in the company. In fact, that interest was expressly cited in one of the new complaints filed this week.

“When it sold to Bain Capital in 2018, rather than walk away from the enterprise, Charlesbank made the conscious business decision to reinvest and retain an ownership interest in the Varsity Defendants in order to continue reaping the financial benefits of Varsity’s enterprise with the Rockstar Defendants,” the lawsuit alleged.

Additionally, the lawsuits named the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF) and the USA Federation of Sport Cheering (a.k.a. USA Cheer) – two nonprofit entities which purportedly regulate competitive cheerleading and protect cheer athletes. These lawsuits claimed Varsity was part of a “civil conspiracy” tied to the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The aim of this alleged conspiracy? The creation, organization and propagation of “a system of young-athlete abuse against innocent victims.”

This week, though, several of those claims have been dismissed. In a 41-page ruling issued June 20, 2023 by senior U.S. district judge Henry M. Herlong, Jr., the RICO challenge was dismissed – along with six other complaints against the alleged conspirators.

Two of the claims – for negligence and unjust enrichment – can still be pursued by the Strom lawyers.

News of the federal action was first reported by Daniel Libit of Sportico, who quoted one of the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys as celebrating the ruling – which according to him helped the case against these defendants clear a “significant roadblock.”

(Click to View)

Strom law attorney Bakari Sellers (FITSNews)

“We are very, very proud of our plaintiffs for coming forward, and we look forward to continuing this process to get justice all around and am thankful for them speaking up,” Strom lawyer Bakari Sellers told Libit.

Libit referred to some of the claims filed by the Strom attorneys as “arguably long shots from the start.”

Herlong – who was placed on the bench by the late George H.W. Bush – clearly agreed with that assessment. Among the claims he dismissed was the Child Abuse Victims Rights Act (CAVRA) claim stated in the filings. The amended filing stated the defendants “enabled by the ongoing certification and ratification” of Varsity, USASF, USA Cheer, Bain, and Charlesbank since Rockstar Cheer was “held out” by those Defendants “as being part of a network of safe and trustworthy cheer coaching gyms.”

In his order, Herlong noted the plaintiffs “have not stated a plausible claim for relief against Varsity under § 2255.”

“Notably absent from plaintiffs’ responses to the Varsity defendants’ motions to dismiss is any discussion of the eleven predicate offenses cited in the amended complaint,” Herlong wrote.

Herlong also dismissed the RICO claims against Varsity and other defendants. RICO statutes require a plaintiff must sufficiently allege that the defendant conducted an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity and that the plaintiff suffered injury to “business or property” as a result.

“The court finds that plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged RICO standing, an association-in-fact enterprise, or that Varsity conspired to commit a RICO violation,” he wrote.

A claim that Varsity violated the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (SCUTPA) under S.C. Code Ann. § 39-5-20(a) was also dismissed. Varsity argued the SCUTPA claim should be dismissed “because there are no specific allegations in the entire 75-page complaint that any action by Varsity … was unfair or deceptive in the conduct of trade or commerce.”

(Click to View)

An empty sign outside of the former Rockstar Cheer gym in Greenville, S.C. (Provided)

In their response, the Strom lawyers claimed to have satisfied the deceptive act requirement based on allegations that Varsity misrepresented the safety of its competitions and affiliate gyms.

“Defendants (Varsity) were involved in a continuous scheme to misrepresent the level of athlete protection the Varsity network provided,” they wrote, adding the company “went to great lengths to publicly represent the safe environment an athlete could expect.”

Herlong again sided with Varsity stating the amended complaint contained no allegations that athletes represented in the lawsuit actually relied on Varsity’s safety representations in deciding to cheer for Varsity-affiliated gyms and compete at Varsity competitions.

In addition to dismissal of the CAVRA, RICO and SCUTPA claims, Judge Herlong also dismissed the claims made of negligent supervision, breach of contract, fraud, and civil conspiracy. Though he declined to dismiss the claims of gross negligence, unjust enrichment, and negligent security — meaning Varsity will remain a defendant in the lawsuits filed against them.

Count on FITSNews to keep our readers informed of the latest developments in all of the narratives we are tracking related to the ongoing cheerleading sexual abuse lawsuits. Also, please remember we have an open microphone policy which affords these named defendants – and anyone with an intelligent perspective on these matters – the opportunity to share their views with our audience.

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THE ORDER …

(Via: U.S. District Court)

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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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WANNA SOUND OFF?

Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.

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1 comment

J Monday Top fan June 23, 2023 at 6:36 am

Jenn-Keep shining the light on this! If enough parents get the memo about such predatory practices, Varsity & others like them will be hit where it really hurts. They will eventually be exposed & unraveled. You have already pulled some threads…

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