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DeWine Calls For State Investigation Of Bishop Sycamore High School

Roy Johnson (right), the football coach and the director of Columbus online school Bishop Sycamore, looks on from the sidelines during the third quarter of a nationally televised game on ESPN Sunday, August 29, 2021 against powerhouse IMG Academy out of Florida. Bishop Sycamore lost the game 58-0.
ESPN
Roy Johnson (right), the football coach and the director of Columbus online school Bishop Sycamore, looks on from the sidelines during the third quarter of a nationally televised game on ESPN Sunday, August 29, 2021 against powerhouse IMG Academy out of Florida. Bishop Sycamore lost the game 58-0.

Ohio Gove. Mike DeWine is calling on the Ohio Department of Education to investigate the Columbus-based online school that allegedly misled ESPN to get a football game on national television.

Bishop Sycamore bills itself as a school to help troubled young men, but has little online presence, reportedly exaggerated its football program status with ESPN to get onto the network, and played two games within two days, raising safety concerns.

“Like many Ohioans, I am concerned by the recent reports and questions raised about Bishop Sycamore. While this weekend’s football game brought concerns about the health and safety of players, it also raised red flags about the school’s operations,” the Tuesday statement from DeWine said.

“Schools like Bishop Sycamore have an obligation under Ohio law to meet certain minimum standards. Whether Bishop Sycamore meets these standards is not clear. I have asked the Ohio Department of Education to conduct an investigation into Bishop Sycamore to ensure compliance with Ohio law and to ensure the school is providing the educational opportunities Ohio students deserve,” DeWine said.

USA Today reports the school has fired its coach and at least two upcoming opponents have canceled their games with Bishop Sycamore.

Bishop Sycamore, which plays independently of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, on Sunday was blown out 58-0 against the national powerhouse IMG Academy out of Florida in a game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

The Ohio Department of Education listed Bishop Sycamore as a non-chartered, non-tax-schools for the 2020-21 school year. According to the Ohio Department of Education, "Non-Chartered, Non-Tax Supported Schools (NCNT) are schools that, because of truly held religious beliefs, choose to not be chartered by the State Board of Education."

Halfway through the game, the ESPN commentators stated that Bishop Sycamore claimed they had Division I prospects on their roster but that ESPN could not verify those claims. As the game progressed, the commentators began to express concern for the safety of the Bishop Sycamore players.

"Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster, and to be frank, a lot of that, we could not verify. They did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services," ESPN's Anish Shroff said while calling play-by-play in the second quarter when IMG was up 30-0. "So, OK, that’s what you’re telling us, fine, that’s how we take it in. From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a fair fight, and there’s got to be a point where you’re worried about health and safety."

Ronald Peterson, the director of Bishop Sycamore High School and a coach on the football team, told WOSU on Monday that the school did not misrepresent themselves to ESPN.

“We may not have, not even so much the talent, but the depth to win those games, but sometimes it's not just about the wins and losses for these kids,” Peterson said.

Peterson said his players want to play against highly talented teams.

"We've always played a tough schedule, and we do that not because people give us money to play the game,” he said. “You know, some teams will help us with travel; some don't. But the reality of it is we play it because we want to give our kids exposure against some of the best teams in the country.”

Peterson said on Monday a group called Good Iron Prep contacted Bishop Sycamore to play against IMG. Peterson went into great detail about the process and said that the organization couldn't find an Ohio team to play IMG because they were so good.

However, attempts to confirm the existence of Good Iron Prep online were unsuccessful. ESPN said the game was arranged by the Paragon Marketing Group.

IMG Academy is a boarding school that features numerous players who have committed to play some of the top teams in the country including but not limited to Alabama, Clemson and Florida State. At least three of IMG's players are being recruited by Ohio State. Three current Ohio State football players graduated from the school.

Bishop Sycamore played the game in Canton on Sunday night, just 48 hours prior to playing at Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks, Penn. Bishop Sycamore lost that game 19-7. They also opened the season on August 19 at Akron Hoban High School and lost 38-0.

Bishop Sycamore opened the season with three games in 10 days.

Corrected: September 1, 2021 at 2:43 PM EDT
A previous version of this story indicated the Bishop Sycamore was an online charter school. For the 2020-21 school year, they were classified as a non-chartered, non-tax-school by the Ohio Department of Education.