Cheerleaders, Soldiers, Booze and Sex
A National Guard recruiting mission gone awry shakes a small
town to its core.
By Catharine Skipp and Arian Campo-Flores
1:53 p.m. CT Jan 30, 2007
Jan. 30, 2007 - It was supposed to be college day for the students
, a chance to learn about educational prospects at a local institution.
But according to police, two of the school’s cheerleaders ditched the
event (the exact date hasn’t been made public) and instead headed to a
motel with Jill Moore, their coach. There, they met up for a tryst with
two National Guardsmen who recruited at their school.
loosened things up by allegedly providing the girls with vodka. Then, the
cops say, she repaired to a room with one of the soldiers and set up a
different room for the two cheerleaders and the other soldier to “hook
up.” According to authorities, the second Guardsman and one of the girls
later admitted that they had a sexual relationship.
The alleged incident is part of a wider scandal
that has shaken Ware Shoals. With its titillating mix of cheerleaders,
soldiers, booze and sex, the story has drawn national media to a tiny
2,300-person town that, until now, was best known for its annual Catfish
Festival. On Jan. 18, the city of
charged her with transferring beer to a minor; the Greenwood County
Sheriff’s Office charged
with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Then, on Jan. 22,
authorities charged the high-school principal, Jane Blackwell, with
obstruction of justice, accusing her of impeding their investigation into
’s alleged misdeeds. Though the sheriff’s office isn’t bringing
charges against the Guardsmen—since all parties involved were at least
16, the age of consent in
—the military is conducting its own investigation, one that could lead
to a court-martial. Even the South Carolina Legislature may be prodded to
action: some lawmakers are now talking of trying to raise the age of
consent in the state.
Moore, who also worked as a guidance office clerk
at the school, stands accused of a litany of inappropriate behavior.
Authorities accuse her of regularly buying alcohol and cigarettes for
members of her squad. They say she brought along a cheerleader to the
National Armory, where the girl would distract other employees while
had sex with her Guardsman lover, Thomas Fletcher. And they allege that
she also had a sexual relationship with a male high-school student who
once accompanied her to a Clemson athletic event while she boozed it up.
Investigators say that Fletcher and the male student have admitted to
sexual affairs with Moore, who is married with two kids. (Fletcher is also
married.) But she says she’s innocent of the charges. Her attorney, W.
Townes Jones, says she’s utterly distressed. “She is almost
catatonic,” he says. “She cries all the time and says she feels like a
bomb went off inside her. She is barely existing.”
The accusations against
come as no surprise to many townspeople. One high-school student says
used to buy beer for his sister when she was on the cheerleading team. The
parent of a current squad member says she had heard of
’s affair with the male student, but overlooked it because she
a good coach and believed the boy to be at least 18. But not all parents
were as sanguine. Near the end of last year, several contacted police to
complain about the coach’s behavior.
Cops began investigating a few weeks ago but say they quickly encountered
resistance from the high-school principal, Blackwell. When they visited
the school after
’s arrest, they say that Blackwell denied any knowledge of the coach’s
reported improprieties. Yet, subsequent interviews with staff, and
Blackwell’s own notes in a journal seized by police, indicated that she
was indeed aware of some of the accusations. Moreover, authorities learned
that immediately after their visit to the school, Blackwell summoned the
cheerleading team and ordered the girls not to discuss
with “anyone.” Some of the cheerleaders later told cops that they felt
intimidated; one girl left school that day due to “emotional
distress.” Some students also reported that Blackwell instructed
staffers to lock restroom doors between classes, so that none of the
students could send out text messages about the
case. Authorities became incensed. “Nothing is more dangerous than
mixing alcohol, teenagers and automobiles,” said Greenwood County
Sheriff Dan Wideman. “To have a school official facilitating, that is
bad, but for a school to cover it up versus doing whatever was necessary
to protect those kids—that’s appalling.” (Blackwell’s attorney
says she is “completely innocent of all charges.”)
The pedigrees of the accused women add another
layer of drama to the story. Both reportedly come from well-established,
influential old families.
’s father is the head of
and a member of the school board (he resigned from the latter last week).
Blackwell lives in a handsome brick colonial on a large wooded lot and is
herself well-connected: her first cousin is the school superintendent. For
that reason, some locals worry that the affair “will all get swept under
the rug as soon as the publicity dies down,” as one puts it.
But the judicial machinery has now cranked into
action. Moore and Blackwell have both been charged and released on their
resigned from her positions at the school the day she was arrested, and
Blackwell has been suspended with pay, pending the results of the
investigation. Meanwhile, school officials are seeking to reassure parents
that their kids are safe. “Education is going to go on as usual,”
Superintendent Fay Sprouse told The Observer, a weekly Ware Shoals
newspaper. "We are taking steps to ensure our students are safe. That
is our top priority right now.”
But some parents remain irate. Roxie Propst says
her daughter, a cheerleader on the varsity squad, is now getting teased at
school for being “wild and loose.” “Everyone is acting like it’s
all the cheerleaders, but it’s only two that are involved,” says
Propst. “The rest aren’t wild. They are victims.” Unfortunately, all
it takes is a few carousers to give the whole squad a bad name.