Cheerleaders, coach debate fairness of tryouts

By By Deborah Rafferty

By Deborah Rafferty

Two former members of the U’s cheer squad said their former coach unfairly rejected and mistreated them while accepting other applicants who did not meet the physical requirements.

Elise Russon, a member of last year’s cheer team, and at least one other former member accuse Tasha Lowe of mistreating them and rejecting them despite meeting the skill qualifications8212;a dispute that eventually led to a legal investigation at the U, led by Russon’s mother.

“She made cheerleading miserable,” Russon said. “She was just very degrading.”

The first practice after the Sugar Bowl, Lowe announced that Kory Uyetake, the head cheer coach during football season, had quit. Lowe, the coordinator for the U Crimson Line, was his replacement to temporarily oversee the Runnin’ Utes basketball season and cheer team tryouts.

At that first practice, she announced to the team that she was mean and that they better get used to it, Russon said.

Russon said Lowe put down the women on the team throughout the season, turned the women against each other and made up rumors about them.

In one instance, Russon said, Lowe complained that when the women sat down, they could see rolls of fat through their uniforms.

In Miami after the NCAA basketball tournament, Russon woke up dizzy and nauseous. Russon said Lowe asked one of the men on the team if Russon had been out drinking the night before with the basketball team, and he said that she had not been with the team the previous night. Lowe responded that she could not trust any of them, Russon said.

Lowe said that account is not true, and declined to comment further.

Anjila Jarvis, Russon’s teammate, was concerned because she could not do a standing back tuck, a requirement to make the team. She approached Lowe about the situation. Lowe told her not to bother even trying out, that she would not make the team without performing a back tuck and that Jarvis needed to take time for herself8212;that she had family issues and was unstable, Russon said.

“There was nonstop false accusations about all the girls,” said Reagan Probst, a member of last year’s team. “She couldn’t find anything on us. It didn’t stop us from trying out.”

A week before tryouts at the last practice, Lowe sat down with the women and said that none of them were guaranteed a spot on the team next year, Russon said.

“It was a really competitive tryout,” and returning applicants are not guaranteed a spot on the team, which is why they hold tryouts every year, Lowe said. She also said that it was a positive experience. “I didn’t have any problems with the girls,” she said.

Probst and Russon expected to make the team because they had performed really well, Russon said. When neither woman’s number was called when the new team was announced, Russon and Probst yelled at Lowe, saying that it was not fair. Lowe just ignored them, Russon said.

In a meeting after tryouts with Lowe and her boss, Pete Oliszczak, a manager in the athletics department, both Russon and Probst asked Lowe to explain why they did not make the team. Lowe said they were not good enough to be on the team, Russon said.

Russon said some of the women selected for the team could not do a standing back tuck, despite Lowe’s earlier statement that it was an absolute requirement. The requirement is also published on the cheer team’s website.

After the women aired complaints about Lowe and how they felt they were unfairly cut, an investigation was conducted to determine whether the tryouts were legitimate or if a new round should be held. It was concluded that the results of the tryouts were legitimate and the women would not be reinstated on the team.

However, the investigation occurred without the knowledge of either Probst or Russon, they said. They said their testimony of the incident was never taken. Wendy Russon, Elise’s mother, hired an attorney after receiving word of this investigation.

“It was never our intent to sue,” Wendy Russon said. “We just wanted our story to be heard. They could have cared less. They were only going on what Tasha said.”

With the goal to have the women reinstated on the team, Russon’s attorney set up a meeting on the last week of July with Oliszczak; Rob Gramse, the current cheer coach; Robert Payne, an attorney for the U; and Mary Bowen, a representative for U Athletic Director Chris Hill. Lowe was not present at the meeting. Because the former cheer members said that so many negative things had already been said, the women’s attorney suggested the meeting’s mood remain upbeat. Russon and Probst apologized for their behavior immediately following tryouts and produced e-mails and video evidence from tryouts to support their argument8212;that they performed the required moves and that Lowe had mistreated them.

However, after the meeting, despite Gramse telling those present that he had no problem with letting the women back on the team, Oliszczak would not let them, Wendy Russon said. Russon and Probst received a letter from Payne in the following weeks that said their behavior after tryouts was not the reason for them not being reinstated, but it would be unfair to those already on the team if they were, Russon said.

“All summer long, we were treading so lightly because we thought the girls might be reinstated,” Wendy Russon said. “We parted amicably. We said what we needed to say.”

Lowe declined to comment as to any details about her experience.

Oliszczak did not respond for comment. Gramse also declined to comment.

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Tyler Cobb

Anjila Jarvis, Chantel England and Courtney Gramse pump up the crowd during last year?s game against Oregon State. Some of last year?s cheerleaders were involved in a dispute with the former cheer coach over the fairness of tryouts.