Cheerleader says coaches bullied and body-shamed her

Kristine Solomon
Style and Beauty Writer

An Ohio mom and her teen daughter say the 16-year-old was body-shamed by the coach and assistant coach of her cheerleading squad at her high school in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights.

In an interview with local CBS affiliate Cleveland 19 News, Lakessa Taylor says she sent her daughter, Laylonie Dowdell, to school “unbroken” — but that the school sent her back “a broken child” because of the alleged body shaming.

Both of the coaches have since resigned, though the head coach was reportedly already due to step down at the end of the football season.

Dowdell recounted several incidents of humiliation, both at practice and during cheerleading events. At one point, the 11th-grader requested to buy a new uniform, since hers had become tight after a recent bit of weight gain.

A teen in Shaker Heights, Ohio, says she was body-shamed and ridiculed by her coaches. (Photo: Getty Images)

She said the coach responded, “I wonder why. You’re eating too much,” then forced her to run laps until her ride showed up.

Dowdell added that she caught the coaches snickering at her afterward.

“You’re supposed to be my coach. You’re supposed to mentor me … but you’re putting me down,” Dowdell told ABC affiliate Cleveland News 5.

The girl also recounted an incident in which she was enjoying a hot dog and a popsicle at a game she attended with her squad. One of the coaches allegedly approached her to criticize her eating habits. “What are you putting in your mouth now?” the coach asked, according to Dowdell.

Taylor says her daughter has been left demoralized by the body shaming and bullying.

“We train our children to fend off bad things from other children,” the mom told News 5. “But we don’t train them to defend themselves against adults.”

Taylor took her complaint to Shaker Heights High School principal Jonathan Kuehnle, but almost a week later, she said she still had not been contacted. She was also shocked to discover that, post-accusation, the school district paid tribute to the head coach upon her resignation, saying in a statement, “She has been a devoted coach and mentor to students, and she has been a trusted and valuable member of our Athletic Department.” Taylor called the praise “disturbing.”

The mom did get a chance to speak with the assistant coach herself, though. As she recounted to News 5, “She told me herself, ‘Well, Laylonie was laughing and joking, and so I didn’t think there was anything wrong with what I said. Laylonie talks to me about her weight sometimes, so it was OK for me to say those things to her.”

The teen said that her coping mechanism for the coaches’ bullying behavior was to smile and giggle, even though she was hurting inside.

Taylor says that since she’s come forward with her complaints against the coach, four other parents have approached her with similar grievances. Although the school does not seem to have responded directly to the parents or students, administrators did tell News 5 in a prepared statement that they “take complaints of this nature very seriously.”

In the meantime, Dowdell says she is dealing with body image issues for the first time as a result of the ridicule she endured, and Taylor is angry that “my daughter has to have therapy and counseling because of something [the coaches] did to her.”

Yahoo Lifestyle contacted Shaker Heights High School but has not yet heard back.

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