COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A lawsuit over the rampant sexual abuse of underage athletes at a South Carolina competitive cheerleading gym has been amended to name six more coaches as defendants and three more accusers.
The plaintiffs — now seven women and two men — say in the federal lawsuit that was amended Thursday that they were sexually assaulted by coaches at Rockstar Cheerleading and Dance in Greenville, in the state’s northwest corner. Prosecutors’ lawyers argue that gym sex abuse could go back two decades and that there could be 100 more victims who have not come forward.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Bakari Sellers, compared the case to that of Larry Nassar, the former US Gymnastics and Michigan State University physician, who is serving a minimum 40-year prison term after admitting to some of the best has molested the country’s gymnasts for years.
None of the Rockstar coaches have been charged and The Associated Press does not name them. State and federal law enforcement agencies are investigating the gym and other cheerleaders and have seized computers, cell phones and other evidence, one of the prosecutors’ attorneys, 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 describes cases where coaches gave students alcohol and cannabis in their homes and hotel rooms during cheerleading competitions.
The allegations first focused on gym founder Scott Foster, who was found dead in his car on Aug. 22. The coroner determined that 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 close “indefinitely.”
“While this was a difficult decision, I believe it is the best option under the circumstances,” Foster said in a statement from 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 immensely proud of each of them. I ask for privacy for my children and for those personally affected in this difficult time.”
The amended suit details several cases of allegations that athletes outside of South Carolina were assaulted at events sanctioned by Varsity Spirit, which hosts competitions, and the U.S. All Star Federation, the country’s cheerleading governing body.
Varsity Spirit President Bill Seely said in a statement dated Sept that the allegations detailed “appalling criminal, predatory behavior” and were “devastating to hear”. In an Aug. 30 statement, USASF said the organization was “stunned to learn of allegations of potential abuse.” The statement declined to comment on developments while law enforcement investigations are underway and reiterated that members must report all allegations.
Prosecutors’ lawyers said they expect to file more lawsuits naming other perpetrators at other gyms across the country.
“We are talking about serious repeated abuse that has been reported to everyone, including the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department,” attorney Bakari Sellers said in a statement. “To Varsity Spirit, the USASF and Bain Capital, these survivors didn’t matter. Their checks worked. They did nothing then to stop this abuse and now they are doing nothing.”
James Pollard is a member of the Corps for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national, not-for-profit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on classified issues.