Everything we know about Bishop Sycamore, the 'high school' that apparently scammed ESPN into airing a football game
During the second quarter of its 58-0 drubbing by IMG Academy on Sunday, Bishop Sycamore got the attention it sought. With the team down 30-0, ESPN's announcers implied Bishop Sycamore lied in order to get on television.
Since then, the sports world has been desperate to discover: What is Bishop Sycamore, and how did the school scam ESPN into airing one of its games?
Digging too deep into this situation only invites more questions. Some are answerable, others lead down more complicated roads. Here's everything we currently know about Bishop Sycamore.
Why is Bishop Sycamore a big story?
Bishop Sycamore entered the public's consciousness during its 58-0 blowout loss to IMG Academy. During the contest, ESPN's announcers said Bishop Sycamore told the network the team had multiple top recruits. ESPN could not verify that, leading the announcers to imply the network was duped.
That information should be easy to verify, right?
Hypothetically, yes. There are websites like Rivals.com dedicated to high school athletes and college recruiting. If Bishop Sycamore really had "a number of Division I prospects" on their team, those players should have appeared when you entered the school's name into those websites.
If you search MaxPreps.com, you get a pretty ordinary page featuring the team's record and no official roster.
That's odd. What about the school's website?
It currently takes you to a bare page with a nondescript picture of a football player and the message, "It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help."
Yeah, that's all you get now. A few days ago, the site was more fleshed out. The site shows a banner with a logo for the school at the top, sections labeled "about us" and "staff" and "schedule." Both the "staff" and "about us" tabs were blank.
The home page read more like a blog. The top article on the site was focused on how to get recruited. Four other stories were written about the team, one of which was a "Bishop Sycamore hype video."
You haven't mentioned the actual school yet
That's because there might not be one. The website makes no mention of classes or teachers or alumni or ... pretty much anything you might expect from a real high school website.
Additionally, Bishop Sycamore was not listed as a charter school for 2021-22 by the Ohio Department of Education, according to USA Today Sports. It was listed as a "non-chartered, non-tax supported school" last year by the Ohio Department of Education. The school chose to be non-chartered due to "truly held religious beliefs."
Where is Bishop Sycamore located?
The exact address is not known. Bishop Sycamore — which has been described as "an online-only charter school" — currently lists a P.O. Box as its address. It does this to protect its students, who were reportedly harassed before the COVID-19 pandemic, founder Andre Peterson told USA Today Sports.
Peterson claims Bishop Sycamore rented out building space prior to the pandemic.
“Prior to COVID, the design of it is they go into the building, they have their computers, they sit down, they do their classes, we have some (adults) that are there that monitor what they do,” Peterson said.
Doesn't that entire quote sound extremely weird and suspicious?
It does! To make things even more weird, a player who was reportedly a member of Bishop Sycamore's football team went private on Twitter. That player, quarterback Jailen Knight, is listed as a student at Perry Hall High School in Maryland on the website hudl. Another player, Trilian Harris, also claims to play for Bishop Sycamore after three seasons at Colony High School in Ontario. Harris is listed as a senior at Mission Viejo High School on 247Sports.com.
Bishop Sycamore launched a GoFundMe Aug. 21 seeking $20,000 to fund its football team. It made $140 before the fundraiser stopped accepting donations.
Also, there's evidence the team played a game just two days before taking on IMG Academy on ESPN.
ESPN really got duped, huh?
They did, but they aren't the only ones. ESPN put the blame on Paragon Marketing Group, an organization responsible for securing the matchup, in a statement to Yahoo Sports.
"We regret that this happened and have discussed it with Paragon, which secured the matchup and handles the majority of our high school event scheduling. They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening moving forward."
Anything else I need to know about this fiasco?
Bishop Sycamore fired head coach Roy Johnson on Tuesday.
Johnson was reportedly fired by Peterson, who — aside from founding Bishop Sycamore — coaches the offensive and defensive line for the football team. Peterson informed USA Today Sports of the change, and insisted Bishop Sycamore is not a scam.
"If it’s a scam and the kids are not going to school and not doing what they’re supposed to do, then I’m literally scamming myself," Peterson told USA Today.
What's the deal with Roy Johnson?
Sigh. Nothing good.
Is this about to get sad, gross and potentially predatory?
It is. Johnson faces an active warrant in Ohio "for failure to appear in a domestic violence case that was eventually dropped to a criminal mischief charge," according to Fox News. The warrant was issued July 2 and remains active.
In addition to that, Johnson will go to trial after defaulting on a $100,000 loan from First Merchants Bank. Johnson used that loan to operate Christians of Faith Academy.
Johnson also faces a civil lawsuit after he allegedly did not pay a hotel over $100,000 to house football players in 2018.
How is he dealing with those serious money problems?
You probably will not be shocked to hear that "Bishop Sycamore football" seems to be the answer, according to a former Ohio High School Athletic Association investigator who had this to say to Awful Announcing when asked about the purpose of the program:
"It’s just for Roy Johnson to make money. I know he is, because it can all be proven via court records. Schools… like he will call up a powerhouse school in Maryland and say “We will come play you but golly gee, we are this struggling organization, so you need to pay us money to pay us to get there.” And the school in Maryland will say no problem. Then all of a sudden, hey, there’s a lawsuit in Delaware County, Ohio because Roy Johnson never paid the busing company. Ok. So where did that money go? Maybe it went to the hotels? Nope. There’s a lawsuit, he never paid the hotels. Maybe it went to the helmet manufacturers? Nope, there’s a lawsuit. Never paid them. So, maybe it went to the banks where he took out loans? Nope, there’s lawsuits. He never paid the banks where he took out the loans. He just pockets the money."
That investigator also said some schools in Ohio openly ignored his warnings about the shadiness of Christians of Faith Academy and Bishop Sycamore and proceeded to play games against them.
Wait, what is Christians of Faith Academy?
Christians of Faith Academy is another "school" that sounds eerily similar to Bishop Sycamore. Christians of Faith Academy was another football-forward school that had its school registration revoked by the Ohio Department of Education in 2018, according to This Week News.
The more you read about Christians of Faith Academy, the more it sounds like the exact same thing as Bishop Sycamore.
Are Christians of Faith Academy and Bishop Sycamore linked?
It's possible. Complex spoke to a former player at Christians of Faith Academy, which the site describes as the former name of Bishop Sycamore. That player — Aaron Boyd — paints an awful picture of what occurred at Christians of Faith Academy.
Boyd claimed he was the only 15-year-old on the team, and that the rest of his teammates were 19 or 20. He also said he never went to school while playing for Christians of Faith Academy.
"We didn’t go to school. We never went to school. I can’t lie, they tried once. They took us to a community library. One day. It was already October—the season was about to be over. It was like at this point, “Well, s***, I’m not going to school. Y’all haven’t put me through school this whole time.”
Boyd also claimed all the players stayed in a hotel and that the school kept writing checks that would bounce to cover the stay. For the last month and a half Boyd was with the team, Boyd said the team moved to a different house and all the players slept on the floor. Boyd added the players were given little, and "had to go rob Meijers, Krogers, Walmart because that’s the only way we can eat."
Boyd said he left the team and returned to his high school after his junior year.
Awful Announcing spoke to Ray Holtzclaw, father of a former Bishop Sycamore player. Holtzclaw painted Bishop Sycamore as completely disorganized and unprofessional.
All of this sounds awful and possibly illegal. How can Bishop Sycamore still exist?
It might not for long. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a statement Tuesday asking for an investigation into Bishop Sycamore. DeWine questioned whether the "school" was meeting Ohio's standards.
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.
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) August 31, 2021
What's next for Bishop Sycamore?
Incredibly, Bishop Sycamore was still expected to play its next game until late Tuesday, when Duncanville High in Texas canceled the contest.
BREAKING: Duncanville — one of the top HS football teams in Texas — has cancelled its game next week with Bishop Sycamore.#txhsfb @wfaa
— Jonah Javad (@JonahJavad) August 31, 2021
At this point, it's tough to see a situation where the team is allowed to play another game.