By JAMES POLLARD, Associated Press/Report for America
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A lawsuit alleging the rampant sexual abuse of underage athletes at a competitive cheerleading gym in South Carolina has been amended to name six more coaches as defendants and three more accusers.
The accusers — now seven female and two male — say in the federal lawsuit amended Thursday that they were sexually abused by coaches at Rockstar Cheerleading and Dance in Greenville, which is in the northwestern corner of the state. The accusers’ lawyers allege that sexual abuse at the gym could date back two decades and that there could be 100 more victims who haven’t come forward.
One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Bakari Sellers, likened the case to that of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor who is serving a minimum of 40 years in prison after admitting that he molested some of the nation’s top gymnasts for years.
None of the Rockstar coaches have been charged and The Associated Press is not naming them. State and federal law enforcement agencies are investigating the gym and other cheerleading outlets and have seized computers, cellphones and other evidence, one of the accusers’ lawyers, James Bannister, said earlier this month. He said the agencies asked lawyers not to identify them.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse ranged from rape and forced oral sex to molestation and pressuring children as young as 13 to send nude photos of themselves to coaches. The lawsuit also details instances in which coaches gave students alcohol and cannabis at their homes and in hotel rooms during cheerleading competitions.
The allegations first centered on the gym’s founder, Scott Foster, who was found dead in his car on Aug. 22. The coroner determined he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Kathy Foster, his widow, announced in earlier this month that Rockstar Cheerleading and Dance would close “indefinitely.”
“Although this was a difficult decision, I believe it is the best option under the circumstances,” Foster said in a statement reported by local NBC affiliate WYFF. “Over the past 15 years, our incredible athletes have worked hard to build a winning legacy and I will always be extremely proud of each of them. I ask for privacy for my children and for those personally affected during this difficult time.”
The amended suit details several instances in which it alleges that athletes were abused outside of South Carolina at events sanctioned by Varsity Spirit, which runs competitions, and the U.S. All Star Federation, the country’s cheerleading governing body.
Varsity Spirit President Bill Seely said in a Sept. 1 statement that the accusations detailed “abhorrent criminal, predatory conduct” and were “devastating to hear.” In an Aug. 30 statement, USASF said the organization was “devastated to learn of allegations about potential abuse.” The statement declined to comment on developments while law enforcement investigations are underway and reiterated that members should report any allegations.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys said they expect to file more lawsuits naming other perpetrators at other gyms around the country.
“We’re talking about serious repeated abuse that was reported to everyone including the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department,” attorney Bakari Sellers said in a statement. “For Varsity Spirit, the USASF and Bain Capital, these survivors didn’t matter. Their checks did. They did nothing to stop this abuse then and they’re doing nothing now.”
James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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