External review of NDSU’s cheer program showed issues within the athletic dept.

“Systemic concerns were identified regarding lack of support.”
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 2:41 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - An external review of the North Dakota State University cheer program was released, stating the current culture of the team under the interim coach is an improvement over the previous coach. However, the report also states systemic concerns regarding the lack of support for the cheer team by NDSU Athletics and trainers.

“The report highlights an important issue within our athletics department that, while our cheer team is composed of serious athletes, the team is not a competition team. As a result, the resources available to the cheer team differ from the resources available to competition sports,” wrote NDSU Director of Athletics Matt Larsen in a statement. “That being said, we need to do a better job clarifying roles/expectations and improving communications within the athletics department regarding the cheer team. We will take time to process the report and will implement improvements before the start of the new season.”

The review was conducted by Michelle Donarski at ABST Law. She interviewed 11 cheerleaders and leadership within the athletic department and through her report it was mentioned that interim coach Jasmine Powell-Calhoun’s communication style is more positive and respectful than the previous coach, Verona Winkler.

“The interim coach has “kinder criticism,” is positive, supports them, and cares about their wellbeing.” wrote Donarski in her review of the NDSU cheer program.

The report highlighted three concerns by the cheer team, lack of support by NDSU Athletics, lack of respect and access to athletic trainers and team practice safety concerns. This included being denied access to the Sanford Health Athletic Complex and the weight room. This also coincides with the limited access to trainers as the cheer team did not have a clear understanding regarding this resource.

“The trainer confirmed that communication is not consistent with Cheer Team and the trainer expressed frustration with Cheer Team communication,” wrote Doanrski in her review. “The trainer has not taken any steps to improve communication with the Cheer Team or reached out to coach to address the trainer’s frustration with Cheer Team communication.”

According to Donarski’s report, the cheer program is assigned an athletic trainer however many of them did not know about it. That trainer is Ashley Hool, who told Donarski that she does not have time to treat a cheer team athlete at basketball games but would in an emergency. According to the review, there were a number of concussions last semester but no baseline concussion protocols were administered.

“The Cheer Team experiences of lack of support by athletic trainers was consistent and appeared to be a disregard of Cheer Team athletes and injuries of Cheer Team athletes by the trainers.” wrote Donarski.

Donarksi wrote in her report there doesn’t appear to be any immediate safety concerns with the cheer program. She also expressed concern with the team itself because the roster has dropped from 18 to 12, which the program believes increases risk of injury.

“In conclusion, the current culture of the Cheer Team is positive and appears to be an improvement from the previous coach. Systemic concerns were identified regarding lack of support of Cheer Team by NDSU Athletics and trainers.” wrote Donarski.

The former NDSU cheer coach, Verona Winkler, resigned in November after an investigation was opened into Winkler’s actions as the coach. For more on this story, click here.