Cheerleading gym owner accused of taking funds, improperly using franchise name

PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. — Donations are pouring in for a group of local athletes whose entrance fees for a national cheerleading competition were never turned in. Parents now want answers from the gym's owner who they say got thousands of dollars from them.

“We were devastated. It was like someone had dumped a cold bucket of water over our heads,” parent Jennifer Brigmon told Channel 2’s Ashley Swann.

Brigmon and other parents at GymTyme Georgia in Dallas said they were stunned to learn Friday that their children are no longer registered for any of their upcoming cheerleading competitions, including next week’s Cheersport National Championship in Atlanta.

“We received an email around 4:30 that he was pulling us out of the competition,” parent Jodi Ferguson said.

Parents said Craig El took over the gym in May, and has since collected thousands in tuition and fees, including $850 per child that was specially marked for competitions. But parents said those fees were never turned over to any event organizers.

“We were all blindsided by it, just like all the parents and coaches,” athlete Kaitie Branham told Swann. “It was really just kind of heartbreaking, honestly.”

El also owns GymTyme Illinois and Ultimate Athletics. An attorney for Louisville Cheer and Dance Company, LLC, which operates two GymTyme locations in Kentucky, says his clients own the GymTyme name and logo and El has no rights to their use in Georgia.

“Our company is in no way formally or informally affiliated with his company,” attorney Kevin Eddins told Swann. “I would believe that a lawsuit is very likely.”

El refused Swann's repeated requests for an interview, telling her by phone that excessive past-due balances are to blame. But parents said that's not the case and they have since set up a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising the $18,000 they need for their 100 athletes to compete next week.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the operators of the Cheersport National Championship emailed Channel 2 Action News the following statement:

“We recently learned of the issues that are affecting cheerleaders from GymTyme Georgia. We are working with the parents of the affected athletes to help them compete at our upcoming CHEERSPORT competition in Atlanta.”

Craig El also provided the statement below:

“GymTyme Georgia is urgently addressing our current challenges and we are committed to a high level of transparency with our customers. We have fully disclosed the details of these challenges; including past due customer accounts exceeding the amount needed to cover the competitions in question.

We are exhausting every possible resource and working to fulfill our promise of delivering a premier experience for our families. While we recognize that there will be some disappointment and inconvenience as we work through this situation, we are confident that we can come to an agreeable resolution so that our athletes can continue training and competing in the sport that they love.

We value our customers’ feedback and encourage parents to communicate their concerns often. We welcome the opportunity to continue that dialogue as we are dedicated to deliver exceptional services.”