COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A lawsuit alleging rampant sexual abuse of underage athletes at a competitive South Carolina cheerleading gym has been amended to name six more coaches as defendants and three more accusers.
The accusers — now seven women and two men — say in the federal complaint filed Thursday that they were sexually abused by coaches at Rockstar Cheerleading and Dance in Greenville, which is in the northwest corner of the state. Lawyers for the accusers claim the sexual abuse at the gym may date back two decades and that there could be 100 more victims who have not come forward.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Bakari Sellers, likened the case to that of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor who is serving at least 40 years in prison after admitting to abusing some of its top athletes country for years.
None of Rockstar’s 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 shops and have seized computers, cell phones and other evidence, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, James Bannister, said earlier this month. He said the agencies asked the lawyers not to identify them.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse ranged from rape and forced oral sex to molesting and pressuring children as young as 13 to send nude photos of themselves to coaches. The lawsuit also cites instances in which coaches gave students alcohol and marijuana in their homes and hotel rooms during cheerleading competitions.
The allegations initially centered on the gym’s founder, Scott Foster, who was found dead in his car on August 22. The coroner found he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Kathy Foster, his widow, announced earlier this month that Rockstar Cheerleading and Dance would be closing “indefinitely.”
“While this was a difficult decision, I believe it is the best choice 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 and every one of them. I ask for privacy for my children and for those personally affected during this difficult time.”
The amended lawsuit details several instances in which it alleges athletes were abused outside of South Carolina at events sanctioned by Varsity Spirit, which organizes games, and the USA All Star Federation, the nation’s cheerleading governing body.
Varsity Spirit President Bill Seely said in a Sept. 1 statement that the charges described “heinous criminal, predatory behavior” and were “devastating to hear”. In an Aug. 30 statement, USASF said the organization was “devastated to learn of allegations of potential abuse.” The statement declined to comment on the developments while law enforcement investigations are ongoing and reiterated that members should report any complaints.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they expect to file more lawsuits naming other perpetrators at other gyms around the country.
“We are 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, USASF and Bain Capital, these survivors didn’t matter. Their checks were done. They did nothing to stop this abuse then and they are doing nothing now.”
James Pollard is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.