World Cup

Suit of Armor: Warding Off Lawsuits

Suit of Armor: Warding Off Lawsuits

Though it’s one of the most successful and well-known gyms in the nation, Freehold, NJ-based World Cup All-Stars hasn’t been immune to facing a lawsuit. To date, the program has faced two.

“You never know who is going to come back and sue you,” says co-owner Joelle Antico. “You have to run your gym like a business; this isn’t an extracurricular activity. If owners don’t have insurance, anyone can come after us personally.”

World Cup is just one of many programs facing a growing reality: cheer professionals are at risk for a wide range of lawsuits—ranging from copyright to injuries to harassment. Modern gym owners must be well-equipped to face whatever might be hurled their way, and taking the necessary measures for lawsuit prevention is key.

Cover your bases. 

It may seem obvious, but the most effective way of warding off lawsuits is to make sure all aspects of your business are up-to-date, competent and compliant. “As long as you keep your insurance current, keep your floor safe and assure that your staff is qualified and certified, that’s a big first step,” says World Cup co-owner Elaine Pascale, who has 19 years of experience.

Drawing up clear policies can also ensure that there is no gray area up for legal interpretation. National Cheer Safety Foundation CEO Kim Archie says a gym owner’s top priority should be establishing clear, written policies that cover all the bases. “Having the right procedures that cover things across the board—from bullying to abuse to sexual harassment to injuries—is crucial,” advises Kim Archie, CEO and founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation.

Both Pascal and Archie agree—gym owners must document everything. Looking back, Pascal says she wishes that she’d been stricter about paperwork from the start. “We had kids coming in from the outside in lower-level classes, where we didn’t know the parents as well. We weren’t as vigilant with forms and documents and making sure everything was checked off,” says Pascal. “[It’s important to] take care of everything.”

Insure your future.

“As a fast-growing segment of the industry, cheer gym facilities have their own unique needs apart from squads and competitions,” explains Lorena Hatfield of K&K Insurance, one of the leaders in the sports insurance field. “Facility owners may need various types of insurance such as property, contents, workers’ compensation, auto and crime coverage.”

According to Hatfield, coverage that includes coaches, teachers, the gym owner and the gym itself is best. She suggests choosing an insurance policy that offers commercial general liability, which typically protects against liability claims for bodily injury and property damage. A number of companies cater directly to cheer gyms, such as K and K, Markel Insurance Company and Sadler Sports (which Archie calls one of the “best in the business”).

Though most companies do offer policies at various limits and price points, Hatfield says it can be risky to skimp. “Purchasing coverage on price alone can be dangerous, as there are often differences in what is offered between providers,” she shares. “It’s important to know what is excluded, as well as what is covered, before purchasing insurance.”

It’s also key to work with your provider on tailoring your policy to your program’s specific needs. “Personal and advertising injury, professional liability and medical payments for participants may also be part of an insurance program tailored for cheer squads,” adds Hatfield.

Also important is clarifying any exclusions that may be in the fine print. “In policies, there can be public exclusions, which can include negligence clauses that strip the gym of coverage. You have to get the most specific, specialized coverage,” says Tom Gowan, a Philadelphia-based law partner who focuses on personal injury cases.

Face reality.

If an incident does occur, address it immediately. “Follow up, check in, document it,” Pascale instructs. “Find out how the child is doing that night. It shows sensitivity. We don’t like seeing any one getting hurt. We really do care.”

-Nicholas McCarvel

The Cheerlebrity Phenomenon, Part Two

Photo credit: Zoha Photography

To limit the distraction of having a cheerlebrity teammate, Twist & Shout’s Orson Sykes sets strict rules during competitions for cheerlebrities regarding what’s expected of them, even when it once meant having a sit-down discussion with Whitney Love about strolling around too much at Worlds. (The cheerlebrity quickly isolated herself and went on to give the best performance of her life, Sykes says.)

“You have to make sure that the boundaries are set in place,” Sykes adds. “Whitney and Britni [Love] weren’t allowed to sign autographs or take pictures in the warm-up room. We insulated them to keep people away. At the end of the day, we’re at this competition to perform well. This is not a personal appearance for you.”

Former Cheer Extreme All-Star and current University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill student Maddie Gardner appeared a CNN special about Cheer Extreme that focused largely on her, has her own line of Fancy Face cosmetics and will star in an upcoming Cheer Channel show, Cheer Mashup. Aware of the impact her cheerlebrity might have on her teammates, Gardner recently dedicated an entire post on her blog, “Let’s Hear It for the Bases,” to her team.

“My coach always told us that the flyer is like the quarterback,” she says. “They do receive much of the glory, but also much criticism. I feel as though the bases and backspot play a very influential role in the group; without them there would be no flyer. Again, with a football comparison, where would the QB be without the offensive line?”

Sykes also uses a football analogy to describe his work with Whitney Love. “Cheerleading is like any other sport in the sense that if this were football, we ran a lot of plays for her,” explains Sykes. “On the other side of that, Whitney knew she wanted to win at the end of the day and she got into the team concept. She understood that even if she was tired, coming up to an event, the team had to feed off of her. She couldn’t come in lazy. She set an example by coming in early and working hard.”

As far jealousy among teams, Sykes suggests that such issues are usually a product of the cheerlebrity’s personality. If she’s gracious and a hard worker, she tends to lift the rest of the team up, naturally nipping jealousy in the bud.

“If the cheerlebrity is humble, they would always make it a point in interviews to talk about the team and how supportive the team has been,” he says. “Whitney [Love] never put herself over the team. The team knew that Whitney was extremely talented.”

Sykes admits he’s been lucky to have humble, diligent cheerlebrities on his squads. But what about the other members, who also work hard and conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike manner? Pascale, a founding member of the National All Star Cheerleading Coaches Congress, says she has been lobbying for years to create more scholarships for deserving cheerleaders who aren’t as visible.

“There are so many heroes in this world of cheerleading,” Pascale says. “These young athletes work so hard; they give so much up. We have kids with cancer, kids fighting a disability, kids fighting emotional issues from homes and they come out as heroes. To me, these are the kind of kids I’d like to see applauded and [given] scholarships. I just don’t think there’s enough given to these kids that are so deserving. Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus—this is what they see, and this cheerlebrity is just hooking on to that model. With all the heroes in our industry, why can’t we gift them in an opposite way of what these kids are programmed to see on TV?”

———>Part 3: Under Pressure