Coaching Under the Influence
Imagine this scenario: you shell out thousands to hire a highly recommended choreographer to come into your gym and teach your squad a new routine. Your athletes show up, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to learn an array of skills to show off at their upcoming competition. But mere minutes into rehearsal, it’s clear that the choreographer is distracted and high on an illegal substance. You immediately send him home in a cab—now weeks away from competing with absolutely nothing prepared.
The above scenario happened to Cheer Savannah’s Stephanie Britt, and sadly, the incident is not an isolated one. As drug-related episodes like this continue to permeate the all-star cheer community, gym owners are calling for something to be done about it.
“Using drugs both on or off of the job is completely unacceptable,” says ACX Cheer’s Randy Dickey. “I personally feel that if you work with children, you should not be under the influence of chemical substances whatsoever. A coach is more than a coach. A coach is a life coach. You shape these kids and develop their habits. If you can’t get your own life together, I just don’t feel that you can really be a role model for these kids.”
Britt agrees. She argues that the industry has made recent moves towards taking on a more conservative approach to competitions, so why shouldn’t eliminating drugs should be an equal part of that priority? “We are going to long uniforms because they don’t want the sport to seem promiscuous. They are going towards the dance moves being a lot more conservative and less makeup, because they think that is the reason a lot of people don’t want to sign their daughters up,” she explains. “Well I’m thinking, ‘Maybe we should clean up the adults, clean up the people that mentor the kids!’”
A Call to Action
Many gym owners, like AIM Athletics’ Dia Muhammad would love to see the USASF take action. “USASF should mandate drug testing for all professional members,” she explains. “We have taken an excellent step in requiring background checks. Drug screenings are definitely the next step in ensuring the safety to the children, our growing industry, and gym owners nationwide. If USASF does begin mandating drug screenings, I do believe we will witness a ‘cleanup’ in our industry.”
Dickey seconds this notion, mentioning that he has witnessed too many professionals operating under the influence around his athletes and that the sport’s governing body should be in charge of supervising that. “Some people debate if that’s the USASF’s place or not. I made a post in the ASGA and I had some instructors tell me that they didn’t feel like it was the USASF’s job to do that—and if they wanted to hire someone, that was their choice. But I was like, ‘That’s not the way it works.’ That’s not the gym owner’s decision; there should be somebody there to be the liaison to make sure that the right professional is there in front of the kids.”
Putting Policies in Place
Many programs, like AIM Athletics, have very clear-cut rules about drugs and on-site alcohol usage spelled out in their employee paperwork. In the case of a reported usage, Muhammad says her gym would immediately terminate an offender. Britt would do the same, but Dickey says he might initially opt for less drastic steps, depending on the severity of the situation.
“We have a chaplain who is with the Fellowship of Christian Athletics that comes to our staff meetings every Tuesday night,” he reveals. “If I found out somebody was doing drugs, I would definitely point them towards him and hope that they would take the proper steps to rectify themselves.” Regardless of their outlook, all three gym owners agree that programs should have a firm anti-drug plan of attack in place.
A United Front
Cheer program owners have started to band together in the fight against hiring staff members that have a past history of using drugs. When Britt encountered her unruly choreographer situation, for instance, she immediately hopped on ASGA’s Facebook page and posted the following alert: “I highly discourage gym owners and my peers from using choreographers with a history of drug abuse, whether they have had rehab or not, because you never know what you are going to get.”
Following her remarks, Britt was immediately bombarded by messages from fellow gym owners with similar experiences. She encourages her colleagues to openly share stories of past offenders in an attempt to keep child athletes safe from being around these drug offenders. And since there is nothing currently mandated by USASF, many industry professionals see this methodology as the best way to ensure they end up hiring reputable and drug-free staff members.
“Because there is no governing body rule that will blackball [offenders] from the industry, they can go right up the street and work at your competitor,” says Dickey.
Britt says that one of her colleagues even went so far as to start circulating a list of choreographers and having fellow gym owners rate experiences associated with using them. “If they don’t do a good job, put their name out there and we’ll blackball them,” says Britt. “It’s all about word of mouth.”
According to many gyms, drug use within the all-star cheer community continues to be a problem—but that hasn’t stopped programs from doing their part to halt the issue. And with voices being raised across the community, many see it as only a matter of time before USASF steps in and takes action.
“I take this job very seriously. I want this industry to be taken seriously, and we are never going to get there if we don’t curb some of the ‘wild, wild West’ antics that we have going on in our industry,” explains Dickey. “They need to go away.”