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Suspended Azarian gymnastics coach left previous gym after parents’ complaints

Amanda Hensley, currently suspended by USA Gymnastics while it investigates verbal and emotional abuse and bullying allegations against her at Azarian U.S. Gymnastics Training Center, stepped down from a coaching position at another Orange County gym in 2017 following parent complaints about her treatment of young gymnasts, according to documents obtained by the Orange County Register and interviews.

USA Gymnastics has expanded the scope of its hearing on allegations against Hensley to include testimony about her alleged misconduct at World Elite Gymnastics, a Rancho Santa Margarita gym, according to two people who have testified in the hearing.

Hensley was the optional program coach at World Elite when she sent out an email notifying families in a high-level group she was coaching that a routine parents meeting to discuss the upcoming season and budget was scheduled for July 27, 2017.

But the meeting quickly became heated as its focus turned from scheduling to Hensley, with at least 10 parents complaining to gym employees about how she treated young female gymnasts and her coaching methods, according to two parents who attended the meeting.

Hensley resigned her position within days of the meeting. She remained at the gym coaching lower-level gymnasts until December 2017, according to former World Elite parents.

“I wanted to reach out in an effort to get everyone on the same page regarding the recent changes within the gym,” Taylor Smith, World Elite team coach, wrote in an Aug. 7, 2017, email to parents. “Last week a handful of parents had expressed concerns with Amanda and her coaching style. We are supportive of both sides and take all aspects of this situation very seriously.

“These recent events have led Amanda to decide to step down from her position as an optional coach …

“… Your concerns, as well as your athletes’ development, is of the utmost importance to us, and we will do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition.”

World Elite said in a statement that the decision to step down was Hensley’s.

“Amanda voluntarily stepped down as an optional level coach soon after this meeting,” the statement said. “Even though Amanda had decided to step down, World Elite looked in to the matter and did not feel that further action needed to take place. We did however notify SafeSport about the concerns addressed and no follow-up occurred. Moving forward, there were no other concerns brought to World Elite’s attention during the following four months that she continued to work with our Compulsory program.”

Hensley is one of three Azarian coaches placed on interim suspension by USA Gymnastics while the organization investigates allegations of physical, verbal and emotional abuse and bullying and pressuring gymnasts to train and compete while injured. Hensley, Vanessa Gonzalez, the Azarian girls’ head coach, and Perry Davies, the gym’s former girls’ head coach, are banned from “all contact” with gymnasts during their suspensions.


• Azarian parents, gymnasts and former coaches detail complaints

• Ex-Azarian coach: ‘This is about doing the right thing’

The unexpected length of Hensley’s hearing forced USA Gymnastics to postpone a hearing for Gonzalez scheduled for last week, according to four people familiar with the hearing. A hearing scheduled for September was also postponed in part because of the volume of complaints against the Azarian coaches, according to four people familiar with the hearing.

At least 30 witnesses have told USA Gymnastics they will testify that some coaches at Azarian physically, verbally or emotionally abused and bullied young athletes, according to a former coach and former parent at the Aliso Viejo gym.

USA Gymnastics general counsel Mark Busby confirmed the number of witnesses in conversations with Rena Shikuma, a former Azarian coach, and Reshma Block, a former Azarian parent this week, the women told the Register.

“Mark said there are 30 willing to testify against the coaches,” Block said.

The Gonzalez hearing was postponed for a third time this week.

“USA Gymnastics scheduled a hearing for Coach Vanessa Gonzalez for Thursday and Friday this week,” Jennifer Tarnowski, a paralegal with USA Gymnastics wrote in an email Wednesday to witnesses. “However, counsel for Ms. Gonzalez asked that the hearing be rescheduled to a later date. Accordingly, the hearing will be rescheduled. Ms. Gonzalez will remain on suspension from all contact pending the outcome of the hearing. We will continue our investigation and prepare to present our findings to a hearing panel.”

Hensley has declined multiple requests to respond to questions about the allegations against her.

“As we’ve told you before, I am not allowed to respond to these false allegations at this time due to the confidentiality agreement I signed with USAG,” Hensley said in an email earlier this month after receiving a request for comment from the Register that detailed the allegations against her at both Azarian and World Elite. “When I can, I will address all these slanderous statements.”

Azarian officials have refused to discuss whether they were aware of the allegations against Hensley at World Elite when they hired her. Smith, the World Elite coach, trained under Davies as a gymnast at Azarian, according to Shikuma.

“To our knowledge, World Elite Management was never contacted by Azarian Gymnastics as a reference,” World Elite said in a statement.

Hensley, the gym said, “left World Elite voluntarily and on good terms with our gym.”

At Azarian, Hensley is alleged to have prevented gymnasts from coming to the aid of a 10-year-old female gymnast who writhed in pain on a mat during training last year, unable to rise to her feet after sustaining what would later be diagnosed as a torn hamstring, according to interviews with the girl’s mother and three other parents familiar with the incident and a confidential formal complaint to USA Gymnastics obtained by the Register.

“Amanda screamed at her and said stop being a baby and making things up,” according to the complaint filed by a parent at Azarian. “This gymnast went off and cried and no one checked on her to see what was hurt or if she was okay. Finally the older gymnasts went to her and they were worried so THEY called her mom. It ended up being an actual injury that showed up in an x-ray.”

The girl, sobbing, eventually crawled off the floor on her own, according to the four parents.

Hensley also refused to let another gymnast give the 10-year-old girl ice for her injury, according to four parents.

“When the girl got ice for her, Amanda told my daughter you’re being overly dramatic and faking it,” the girl’s mother said.

Hensley is also alleged to have bullied two other gymnasts with back injuries, according to three formal complaints with USA Gymnastics and interviews with four parents and Shikuma, the former Azarian coach.

One of the girls was diagnosed with six back fractures, according to her mother and three complaints.

“Amanda said she was faking her broken back. But she wasn’t faking it. X-rays showed she had a broken back,” according to a complaint. “Many of these girls have so many injuries and a couple had broken or fractured backs. It is very concerning.”

Source: Orange County Register

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