Michael Henderson, the popular head coach of Murrieta Valley High School’s cheer and student program in southern California, was abruptly fired from his job last month.
The reasoning? Henderson believes he was fired for being gay. He has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging that the process leading to his dismissal was “flawed.”
Many MVHS students and families agree. On July 14, a group of them gathered and protested in support of Henderson, hoping to bring him back.
Henderson served as the cheer and stunt program’s head coach for three years, and his squad had just come off a fourth place finish at the 2021 National Cheerleading Championship in April. They finished sixth the year before.
According to a report in the Patch, an anonymous letter launched an investigation into Henderson’s coaching style.
“The anonymous letter was sent to MVUSD (Murrieta Valley Unified School District) 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,” said Terry Davis, Henderson’s attorney.
Henderson says he never saw the letter, was never interviewed, and was never given a chance to respond. To add salt to the wound, earlier that month, he received a “glowing” evaluation from MVHS Principal Ryan Tukua and Athletic Director Darin Mott.
Davis contends the investigation was driven by Paul Diffley, a member of the MVUSD Board of Trustees, and a devout Mormon. He reportedly “made calls to several unnamed sources impeding due process of the investigation,” and one question was related to Henderson’s sexual orientation. Davis believes this raised red flags and was a substantial factor in the district’s decision to terminate.
Kim Altenhofel, president of the MVHS cheer booster club and a parent of a cheerleader on the squad, told the Patch that she was contacted twice by Tukua and once by Diffley. She was asked questions about allegations relating to verbal and mental abuse by Henderson, but said she never saw any form of abuse.
She continued by saying the squad is distraught over Henderson’s firing and “the kids loved him.”
The Patch also reached out to several team members and parents, but did not find one person who witnessed behavior that could or would have been characterized as abusive.
In addition to July 14’s protest, students and parents packed the June 17 Board of Trustees meeting. However, the board shut down their voices because Henderson’s firing was not on the agenda, so the trustees were prohibited from addressing the comments.
Henderson continues to coach several of his student athletes off campus at Corona-based Prime Cheer and Stunt.