Reitz Memorial High School, in Evansville, Ind., bills itself as "providing an exceptional educational opportunity," while offering "a Christian community where young people are valued and cherished." The 87-year-old school has a rich sporting tradition—Tigers teams have won numerous state titles in football, baseball, girls tennis, and boys soccer, and even have a pair of national championships. But one thing's relatively new to Memorial: it wasn't until 1967 that the school first allowed female cheerleaders.
Cheer is big business at Memorial now. Just after the beginning of summer vacation, the entire 30-member Memorial team attended a four-day, "elite" level cheer camp held by the Universal Cheerleaders Association at the University of Tennessee. It's an annual tradition for Memorial; the team has been going to Knoxville every summer for more than a decade. It's fun, it's instructive, it's good for bonding.
This time though, "something" happened.
Last week, the school's president cryptically acknowledged an incident at the cheer camp, steadfastly refusing to go into detail.
"Recently the administration of Reitz Memorial High School became aware of an incident involving the school's cheerleading squad," Memorial President Brother Lawrence Murphy said in a statement released Tuesday. "The school has concluded an extensive investigation and will not comment publicly on the investigation or any action taken by the high school on the basis that all personnel and student disciplinary matters are private and confidential."
The local paper had a brief mention of the statement, and left it at that. But a Catholic school community has its own ecosystem, and it wasn't long before rumors began making the rounds. The final straw: a two-page anonymous letter, written by the mother of one of the girls who attended cheer camp, purporting to reveal the details on what happened in Knoxville. The letter was sent to media outlets and dropped in random mailboxes around Evansville, and one resident forwarded it to us.
Some highlights, followed by the full letter:
"The juniors went into the bathroom and all pooped in the same toilet, intentionally not flushing. The sophomores were then locked in the bathroom and told that if they flushed they would be in trouble. After locking them in a stall with a poop-filled toilet, they made the sophomore girls strip and give lap dances on the junior girls who had also taken clothes off. Throughout these lap dances, the juniors treated it as a contest that they judged ... The girls were insulted the entire time and called fat and ugly. They made fun of one girl's boyfriend and made her give a lap dance four times because she was not doing it correctly. The abuse went on for three hours. According to my daughter, many of the sophomores were crying, one girl even peed herself because she was so scared."
"The abuse was reported to the school and during the investigation the juniors admitted to school officials everything that they had done. The juniors said that they did not want to, however the coaches Jill Mitchell and Kim Schmidt told them that this was a tradition that had been going on for 15 years and that it was team bonding and that it would bring them closer together."
"Now, with school back in session the sophomores have been forced to face their abusers daily and endure harassment from the junior and senior cheerleaders. The sophomores have been threatened by the upperclassmen cheerleaders on Tweeter [sic], and are being bullied during school for coming forward and reporting the abuse from camp."
Mitchell and Schmidt both denied the claims made against them—though they quickly resigned. Mitchell gave a statement to 14 News, in which she said that "if hazing happened during my watch, I would not have condoned it, and if I had been advised of the situation that took place, I would have immediately reported it to the athletic director. It is unfortunate and disappointing to me that the person who wrote the letter didn't sign it."
14 News also spoke to a student who was at the camp, who confirmed many of the claims in the letter, including the lapdances, the cheerleader wetting herself with fear, and the coaches' justification when told about the hazing.
"The level of nudity varied by girl to girl, down to taking off their shirts, to their sports bras, underwear. Same with the junior girl, who the lap dances were given on, was declothed down to her bra and spankies and there may have been some fondling involved."
The person says when they went to tell the now former head coaches, Jill Mitchell and Kim Schmidt. After the incident happened, they were told it was a Memorial High School tradition.
"This was a bonding experience that would keep them closer together."
The school still refuses to comment on the allegations in the letter or the results of its investigation. It confirms only that some students have been disciplined and three coaches asked to resign.
"Reitz Memorial High School has never and will never tolerate any behavior from our students that is inappropriate, intimidating, or which makes others feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any way. We take the welfare and safety of all of our students extremely seriously, and we are firmly committed to providing a safe, healthy, Christian environment for our students, both in and out of the classroom."