Miami-area cheerleading controversy plays out like a sordid soap opera

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A major cheerleading brouhaha has erupted in suburban Miami after parents raised allegations that a popular varsity cheer coach forced them to make payments to the program's booster club to give their daughters access to the school's vaunted varsity cheerleading squad. Those financial irregularities form just one of the highlights of a scene that could just as easily been taken from a mid-afternoon TV soap opera as a school district in South Florida.

As reported by the Miami Herald and a handful of other sources, despite a steady stream of complaints about Parkland (Fla.) Majory Stoneman Douglas High cheerleading coach Melissa Prochilo dating back to January, the school's administration never investigated the coach or issued any discipline against her.

Meanwhile, the popular coach sent emails and online postings that explicitly told parents to make payments to the cheerleading booster club. With reported fees topping $1,500 per year, parents were forced into what they consider to be tantamount to "pay-to-play," a policy which is illegal in the school's district.

That money in turn was reportedly funneled into an account that reached a hefty balance of $69,000, which Prochilo then used to send payments for services and items sold by friends in the cheerleading community. According to the Herald, some of the heftier incurred expenses included a $3,000 choreography fee paid to a close friend of Prochilo and $1,000 for hair bows paid to one of the coach's other cheerleading associates.

While all this sordid financial activity unfolded, other parents complained that their children were being bullied by other members of the squad. Prochilo also reportedly told injured cheerleaders to "walk off" their injuries.

All of these issues were reportedly broached with Stoneman Douglas principal Washington Collado, but the school leader repeatedly refused to address them. Instead, he promoted the cheerleading coach from her position as a part-time substitute teacher to a full-time sub.

And when Prochilo discovered that there were parents complaining about her tactics, she allegedly had other parents call police to complain that they were following her in the school's parking lot, leading to police investigations that eventually were dismissed without any charges.

Prochilo's promotion appears to have been the final straw for many of the disgruntled cheerleading parents, who instead went above Collado's head to report the coach to Parkland schools superintendent Robert Runcie. Horrified by the previous inaction to the complaints, Runcie promptly removed Prochilo from her position as cheerleading coach.

That in turn infuriated the legion of supporters Prochilo has built up in the community -- a pro-Prochilo group handed out flyers supporting her and calling Runcie into question this week -- while leaving the previously angered parents distraught that she was still teaching in the building while some of those parents had been banned from campus by Collado himself.

As the entire soap opera script continues to unfold, no one is certain whether Prochilo or even Collado will lose their jobs as a result. In the meantime, parents on both sides continue to be stunned either that it has taken this long for something to happen, or that Prochilo is being questioned at all.

"I brought it to the attention of the principal in January," said parent Joann Gavin. "As each day went by, it escalated ... the administration was doing nothing."

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