Grady High School suspends cheerleading team for bad behavior

The Grady High School varsity cheerleading team has been suspended because of “inappropriate behavior,” including making offensive remarks in an incident at Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School and taunting other teams.

Grady principal Betsy Bockman suspended the 15-member team Jan. 16 through the remainder of the boys and girls’ basketball season and postseason games. The regular season ends today, and then the teams begin tournament play.

Bockman declined an interview request through an Atlanta Public Schools spokesman.

She sent a message to parents and cheerleaders announcing the team had been suspended, citing “serious situations of behavior and actions on the part of our cheer team that reflect poorly on Grady.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the Jan. 18 message in response to an open-records request.

Grady, located across the street from Piedmont Park, is among Atlanta’s highest-performing high schools and enrolls nearly 1,400 students. The high school has built a reputation for solid academics and boasts a graduation rate that outpaces the statewide average.

In her message to parents, Bockman said the most “serious and distressing” incident occurred Jan. 15, the night of a girls’ basketball game at Maynard Jackson High School.

“At that time, members of the team were in the Jackson lobby displaying very inappropriate behavior and making offensive remarks. When the team went to the bus, members of the team recorded themselves using very profane language directed toward adults including Jackson administrators, school resource officers, and Jackson parents as well as Jackson students. This recording was then posted on social media where it was shared multiple times,” Bockman wrote.

APS officials did not provide details about the nature or context of the remarks.

In addition to benching the team, two students were disciplined, according to Bockman, who answered questions sent to the district’s spokesman.

The varsity cheer coach, Shea Smith, was removed. She is not an APS employee and could not be reached for comment Thursday. On Friday, she released a written statement.  

In her letter to parents, the principal wrote that throughout the basketball season she observed cheerleaders eat and drink during games, leave the stands “to socialize,” use profanity and taunt other teams and their cheerleaders.

She said the team has engaged in cheers and displayed “gestures and movements” that created “unwanted attention and detract from what Grady should be about.” Bockman said that adults associated with Grady’s cheer squad also have acted inappropriately.

The principal wrote that she hopes the team’s suspension is “something we can all learn from and cause us to reset our expectations for student and adult behaviors. Grady will be known for positive and sportsmanlike behavior. We will have to work together to restore our reputation.”

In response to the AJC’s records request, the district said there were no emails sent by Grady administrators and coaches about disbanding the team.

The incidents were not reported to the Georgia High School Association, and the athletic organization was not involved in the principal’s decision to suspend the team, said its associate director, Penny Pitts Mitchell.

She said the association has worked hard to get cheerleading teams to abide by its rules, which prohibit taunting or other behavior such as cheering during free throws or stomping in stands to make extra noise.

“We want them to cheer for their team, not jeer for the other team,” she said.

She said she couldn’t say how unusual it is for an entire cheerleading team to be suspended.

The Grady cheerleading team will be reinstated next school year. Maynard Jackson High School’s basketball and cheer teams were not involved in the incident that took place at their school, the district said.