High School Cheer Coach Dismissed, Says It's Because He's Gay

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday July 15, 2021

A cheer coach fired from a California high school after a "glowing" review of his job performance maintains his dismissal was not only unjustified — it was driven by anti-LGBTQ animus.

Michael Henderson was abruptly let go after "three years as head coach of Murrieta Valley High School's cheer and stunt program," Patch reported.

The dismissal truncated a "tenure at MVHS" that had "put the school in the national cheerleading spotlight," the outlet noted. "Victories include fourth-place finalist in the 2021 National High School Cheerleading Championship and the sixth-place finalist the year before, among other titles."

The firing was explained to Henderson as a matter of the program "taking a different direction," but his dismissal — and that explanation — followed a claim to Henderson by the school's athletic director, Darin Mott, that "an anonymous complaint letter was lodged against him."

"I never saw the letter," Henderson recounted. "I wasn't even given a chance to respond. I was never interviewed about any of it."

One cheer team member's parent, Kim Altenhofel, who also serves as "president of the school's cheer booster club," recalled to the outlet that "she was contacted twice by [principal Ryan] Tukua and once by Murrieta Valley Unified School District Trustee Paul Diffley as part of the investigation into Henderson," with the story adding that "the investigation seemed to center on allegations of verbal and mental abuse by Henderson."

Altenhofel expressed skepticism about those allegations. She told Patch that the students on the cheer team "loved him" and that "they are heartbroken."

Henderson's attorney Terry Davis said the letter in question "was sent to MVUSD by what is believed to be a couple of disgruntled cheer parents who were angry with their child's position or participation level in the team."

Davis, the article added, "alleges the investigation into the letter 'was spearheaded by devout Mormon MVUSD Board Member, Paul Diffley, who made calls to several unnamed sources impeding due process of the investigation,'" Patch detailed.

"One question related to his sexual orientation raised red flags leading many to believe that it was a substantial factor in the district's decision to terminate Mr. Henderson's employment," Davis said.

Although Patch made an effort to uncover who the author of the anonymous accusations against the coach, the news outlet "was unable to track down student-athletes and/or family members who may have been unhappy with Henderson's performance."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.