A once-prominent cheerleading gym in South Carolina is at the center of a growing scandal in which its founder died by suicide, its doors have shuttered and an increasing number of coaches are being accused of sexual abuse and misconduct.
The saga started with the Aug. 22 suicide of renowned cheerleading coach Scott Foster, 49, the founder of Rockstar Cheer and Dance Inc. in Greenville County, South Carolina.
He was found dead in his car with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, the Greenville County Coroner’s Office said. His death came after he found out he was under investigation for the alleged abuse of underage athletes, according to lawyers for his accusers.
Since then, Foster’s estate and Rockstar Cheer have been hit with two lawsuits on behalf of several anonymous accusers, and on Thursday, six coaches were also accused of abuse.
Lawsuits name growing number of coaches
A civil lawsuit was filed Aug. 30 in Greenville County Court on behalf of an anonymous minor who claims she had sexual encounters with Foster at the gym.
Foster allegedly took an interest in the accuser starting in early 2020 and lasting over the course of a year after she was promoted to the top tier team at Rockstar, the complaint said.
He had multiple communications with her over Snapchat “that included messages of a sexual nature, nude pictures of himself and requests for nude pictures,” which she sent, the complaint said
On at least 10 occasions, the girl “was persuaded into performing various sexual acts including oral and penetrative sex with Foster,” which took place at his home, in his vehicle, at Rockstar’s facility, at hotels during competitions and in South Carolina and Florida, the complaint said.
It also alleges that Foster provided the plaintiff with alcohol on multiple of those occasions.
The suit named Foster, who had already died at the time; Rockstar Cheer & Dance Inc; U. S. All Star Federation (USASF), the governing body over the cheer industry; Varsity Spirit, which organizes competitions and camps; and The National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI), which provides background checks.
The suit accuses Rockstar of failure to conduct a proper background check, failure to properly train and supervise Foster’s performance, and failure to prevent sexual misconduct.
On Sept. 1, a federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greenville, South Carolina, against Foster’s estate, his wife Kathy Foster, Rockstar Cheer, USASF and Bain Capital, Varsity Spirit’s parent company, on behalf of several anonymous accusers alleging that the defendants knew, or should have known, about abuse by coaches at the gym.
The suit accused Scott Foster of drinking and doing drugs with minor athletes, sexually abusing them, soliciting nude pictures, assault and groping. Kathy Foster is accused in the suit of enabling her husband and in some instances knowing of his behavior.
That federal lawsuit was expanded Sept. 15, adding three more Jane Does.
The amended suit also added six coaches as new defendants. All coaches were described as proteges of Foster, with five having previously worked at Rockstar.
The coaches were accused of a range of inappropriate conduct including rape, touching, oral sex, groping and soliciting nude photos or sending nude photos and videos to athletes.
The coaches did not immediately respond to NBC News requests for comment.
‘This didn’t just happen in a vacuum’
Ahead of filing the suit, Strom law firm held a press conference saying they were representing dozens of survivors, male and female, who ranged in age from minors to being in their 40s and lived across the U.S., though most cases of alleged abuse were concentrated in Greenville. Most of the alleged incidents occurred between 2014 and 2019.
At the press conference, attorney Jessica Finkling said the abuse went beyond Foster.
“This didn’t just happen in a vacuum. This was allowed to happen because of power, unbridled power where these individuals felt comfortable taking advantage of children. That’s what this is about,” she said.
USASF said in a statement it was “devastated” to learn of the allegations of potential abuse in South Carolina, urging any victims to come forward.
“We respect the central role of law enforcement in investigating such reports, as part of our commitment to a safe environment for all our members. Supporting USASF members is a priority. We will not comment on allegations or developments associated with this matter to allow law enforcement to appropriately investigate the allegations,” the statement said.
Varsity’s president Bill Seely also issued a statement saying Foster was accused of “abhorrent criminal, predatory conduct.”
“The alleged conduct runs counter to everything the cheer and dance community is intended to represent,” he said.
NCSI, Bain Capital, and a representative for Kathy Foster did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suits.
Rockstar gyms across U.S. cut ties with name
As a result of the scandal, Foster’s widow announced that Rockstar Cheer in Greenville County is closing its doors indefinitely.
“Although this was a difficult decision, I believe it is the best option under the circumstances,” Kathy Foster said in a statement. “Over the past 15 years, our incredible athletes have worked hard to build a winning legacy and I will always be extremely proud of each of them.”
In an earlier statement shared with NBC News, she said she was “heartbroken” by the allegations made by current and former Rockstar athletes.
“I hope the survivors are seeking and receive the support they need. I am sympathetic to their stories, and will cooperate with all involved to make sure our athletes learn and grow in a safe environment,” she said.
Adding to the blow, 10 cheerleading gyms operating with the Rockstar name in different states have severed ties with the brand.
“As a group of like-minded program owners previously brought together under the Rockstar name, we are standing together collectively to express our unwavering support for our kids and their parents, and to reiterate our commitment to ensuring a safe and positive cheerleading community,” the gym owners said in a joint statement.
The statement stressed that the gyms operated as individual businesses with “full independence.”
Sheriff’s office says it didn’t know of alleged abuse
The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Thursday night saying it was unaware of reports of sexual abuse at the cheer gym.
“The GCSO has not received any complaint about Scott Foster or sexual abuse occurring at rock star cheer. The only matter we investigated was his death investigation,” the office said to NBC affiliate WYFF of Greenville.
“We have one of the absolute best Crimes Against Children’s Unit and ICAC unit’s in the country, and rest assured if a complaint of that nature was brought to our attention and occurred within our jurisdiction, we would be conducting an extensive, thorough and timely investigation.”