VNL Investigates: Claims of abuse by past NDSU cheerleaders against former cheer coach

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 10:30 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Former North Dakota State University cheerleaders are claiming verbal, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of former cheer coach, Verona Winkler. Winkler resigned from the position on November 9.

After a several month investigation, NDSU confirmed that Winkler resigned from her position. The reason for stepping down is unclear. Since late August, 10 former cheerleaders have spoken to us about the alleged conduct of Winkler. Some of these allegation stem back to 2018, with them ranging from student-athletes being forced to perform with an injury to making inappropriate comments about students’ weight in front of others.

A former cheerleader from this season has also spoken out, claiming Winkler would make threats of violence towards them.

“I have heard her say things like, I want to throw this chair at you, I could stomp on your face right now,” said the former cheerleader, her identity is being withheld on her request due her to fear of retaliation by Winkler. “Everything from the first camp to that last practice, I definitely had my worries about her and the things that she would tell us and say to us.”

The former cheerleader described a toxic culture created by Winkler, adding that she would call them names and body shame. When she got to her breaking point this season, her parents got involved and asked the school to help out.

“It’s hard to imagine that the school or the athletic department didn’t know that this was kind of going on. And to allow it is unacceptable.” said the former cheerleader’s dad.

According to the former student-athlete, Winkler would make claims that she was untouchable.

“She would also use intimidation to make sure we didn’t come forward about this kind of thing, she would say things like, I have the school lawyers, I don’t even have to pay for them. People have tried to get me fired in the past and I am still here.” said the former cheerleader.

Since starting this investigation in late August, we’ve requested several documents, including Winkler’s personnel file. We’ve interviewed 10 former NDSU cheerleaders about these allegations against Winkler and requested interviews with the former cheer coach, Athletic Director Matt Larsen and Associate Athletic Director Colleen Heimstead on several occasions. Each time was rejected, with the athletic dept. denying any knowledge of these allegations against Winkler.

It is worth noting, we asked for interviews on October 26 and November 2. Winkler resigned on November 9th, weeks after we requested interviews. We’ll continue to try and secure interviews with the university. Tomorrow on Valley News Live, we hear from more former cheerleaders and their allegations against Winkler.