When Tremper High School holds its annual cheerleading banquet next month, awards such as “most improved” and “hardest worker” seem likely to reappear.
Other accolades from years past face a less-certain future.
The 2018 “Big Boobie” award, for example, was given to the cheerleader who accomplished “a feat” by maneuvering “through cheer routines with her enormous boobs,” according to a video provided to the American Civil Liberties Union, which became involved in the matter after concerned parents and a former employee of the Kenosha, Wis., high school contacted it.
Another member won the “String Bean” award, for being the thinnest, and another the “Big Booty” award.
“We love her butt. Everybody loves her butt,” the presenting coach said in the video, before the girl accepted the accolade in front of 150 banquet guests.
And a special 2017 award — a blond wig — went to a brunette cheerleader dubbed a “ditsy girl.”
Attorneys for the ACLU sent a letter to the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) on Tuesday, notifying them of their concerns over the tradition, which it says dates back at least five years.
The ACLU accused the district of enabling sexual harassment in its school system in violation of federal nondiscrimination and equal protection laws, and threatened to sue if officials fail to take immediate action.
“The incidents described all reveal a culture in which female students are objectified and sexualized,” the ACLU wrote in its demand letter. “The objectifying awards are just one example of a broader culture of body shaming, victim blaming, and harassment throughout KUSD.”
Patti Hupp, a former head coach of the girls’ track team, was among those who had concerns. She told The Washington Post that Tremper was “a difficult culture for women and girls.”
Hupp, who moved away from the district after the 2017-2018 school year, said she endured disrespectful comments during her four-season tenure and that school officials at the highest levels knew of the discriminatory environment.
“Kenosha protects their own,” Hupp said, adding she was shocked that there weren’t more complaints and that coaches weren’t fired immediately.
In April, a month after the 2018 banquet, a parent mentioned the cheer awards to Hupp but did not file a complaint out of fear her daughter would be penalized and banned from the team.
Hupp decided to speak to the principal, Steve Knecht.
”I don’t think it takes much to see that this is extremely degrading to women,” she wrote to Knecht, in a letter dated April 2018 and obtained by the ACLU. “I feel that I need to tell you this for the protection of these girls.”
Hupp also tried to speak to one of the cheer coaches directly but says she was met with a sharp reply.
Knecht, after receiving complaints from “four different people,” launched an investigation. Despite video recordings of the banquet, Knecht reported “he could find no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the coaches” and said he thought the coaches were “just joking around,” according to the ACLU report.
Attempts to reach Knecht were redirected to a district spokeswoman.
The district was made aware of the allegations in April, according to the ACLU, after a Tremper parent met with the chief of student leadership, Sue Valeri, who allegedly echoed Knecht’s sentiment.
Based on records obtained by the ACLU, a district official met with the head cheer coach the following month and told her to write apology letters to all cheerleaders who received mock accolades. She was also directed by the office to submit a resignation letter.
An August memo from Knecht to Valeri and the schools superintendent memorialized the meeting and included a status update: The head coach sent apology letters but “declined to resign.” Knecht welcomed her back as a co-coach.
But, with the ACLU’s involvement, the matter seems far from settled. The group gave the district until March 1 to respond to its demands or risk legal action. Among its requests are disciplining faculty involved in the banquet and administration members who failed to act, anti-harassment training for teachers and students and written guidelines prohibiting officials from commenting on students’ bodies or sexuality.
Tanya Ruder, a spokeswoman for the school district, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
“In regards to the Tremper incident, a clear expectation has been set that awards of this nature are not acceptable and are not to be given at Tremper cheerleading banquets going forward,” she wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
Tremper has followed this guideline, Hupp said: For now, the only official school mandate is that parents will not be invited to next month’s cheer banquet.