NDSU cheerleaders are defending former coach following allegations

One of the biggest complaints was that Winkler forced some cheerleaders to perform through injuries.
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Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 10:31 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - It’s a story we brought to you first. Our investigative team uncovered allegations of abuse against Verona Winkler, the former NDSU cheer coach. “I guess I was just saddened,” said a former NDSU cheerleader from 2008 to 2011.

Kristina Wood, who also cheered for the team from 2001 to 2004, said, “I’m really shocked by the allegations if I am speaking candidly.” Some former cheerleaders are now coming to Winkler’s defense. “These actions that are being made are unfair,” said Shad Heffernan, another former cheerleader from 2001 to 2004. They say she had an “old school” coaching style, but it was never a cause for concern. “She was hard. She told you what you needed to hear and not wanted to hear,” said Matt Welt, who participated on the team from 2001 to 2006. Kelly Mallette, a cheerleader at NDSU from 2002 to 2008. “She was always very tough, but I also am military and have a had a lot of coaches. She doesn’t even come close to the toughness I am used to,” she added.

This group of athletes says they aren’t discrediting those who have spoken out, but says their experience is far from what others are claiming. Another former cheerleader, who requested to remain nameless, said, “I never once felt she was out of line or expected too much.” One of the biggest complaints was that Winkler forced some cheerleaders to perform through injuries. “If it was too much we would tell her I can’t cheer today, it’s hurting,” said Welt. ”We always sat out. We didn’t have to go through the injury.”

Heffernan added, “did we personally push through time? Yes. I can 100% say there were times when I wasn’t feeling it but If we had a competition or a show, something coming up that needed to be done. I did it.” Some say they expect that type of coaching at the collegiate level. “Every athlete, every sport at that collegiate level you don’t go in expecting to stay the same. You are pushed to be better,” said a former cheerleader.

They also believe the generational divide may explain their difference in experiences. “The mentality is different so I could definitely see how her style could be misunderstood,” Wood said. Through it all, these individuals believe Winkler genuinely cared for all of the cheerleaders she coached over the years. “We never once doubted her coaching, where she was coming from. Her heart. She really did care about us and we all felt that,” said a former cheerleader.

Winkler has since resigned from her position as the NDSU cheer coach, after two decades. Valley News Live has tried to reach Winkler, but has yet to hear back.