COLUMBUS, Ohio — Andre Peterson acknowledges the optics are bad, but he is defending Bishop Sycamore High School.
Following a lopsided loss during a nationally televised game on ESPN, Bishop Sycamore High School’s legitimacy has been called into question.
Coach Roy Johnson has been dismissed from the team against the backdrop of ongoing court cases that allege he has hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid debts and an outstanding bench warrant for a separate criminal case.
State records show the school doesn’t have a physical address.
RELATED: Bishop Sycamore: Here's what we know about the Columbus-based school and its football program following blowout loss
Governor Mike DeWine is calling on the Ohio Department of Education to investigate.
Against all of that backdrop, founder and director of Bishop Sycamore Andre Peterson defended the program in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with 10 Investigates.
Records submitted to the Ohio Department of Education show Bishop Sycamore is a non-chartered, non-tax-supported school.
It has at least three addresses associated with the school and the school’s foundation is tied to Peterson’s address.
The school’s website appears to be more focused on football recruitment than academics.
When asked about this – if this is a shell corporation to play football, Peterson said: “No sir it’s not. We have someone working on the website right now because I understand that and that’s one of the things that we talked about. So we do have somebody working on the website to correct those issues. But I understand that that’s what it would appear to be as far as website is concerned.”
Peterson told me he was hurt and shocked by the online backlash against his school, which he said was developed to help boys in need find a school and a platform to play football.
He said the school is mostly online.
When 10 Investigates asked about current enrollment, Peterson said there are 60 students.
Records submitted to ODE show last year the enrollment was 3. Peterson said he wasn’t sure about if that was simply a discrepancy on the paperwork but said there were certainly more than three students enrolled last year.
A woman, who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal, was listed as being on the school’s staff and advisory board. The woman told 10 Investigates that she was asked two years ago to tutor some students. She said she tutored one student, one time and was not affiliated with Bishop Sycamore.
When asked how he would respond to someone saying Bishop Sycamore is not a legitimate school, Peterson said:
“That they’re wrong… because I believe that we’ve done what we needed to do as far as making sure that these young men are educated.”
Peterson called the decision to dismiss head coach Roy Johnson was a mutual one given the controversy from this weekend.
Peterson also acknowledged that Bishop Sycamore morphed out of the ashes of Christians of Faith Academy, a school once run by now-former Bishop Sycamore coach Roy Johnson.
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
But online court records show a now-dismissed lawsuit filed in Delaware County alleged that he owed more than $110,000 in unpaid hotel fees when players lived here temporarily a few years ago. The case was dismissed without prejudice because they couldn’t find Johnson.
Franklin County court records show a judge has issued a summary judgment in favor of a bank who alleged Johnson and another man took out a loan claiming a connection to an AME Church on Jefferson Avenue that has remained unpaid.
Peterson said he couldn’t comment on those issues or other legal matters involving Bishop Sycamore.
Peterson said while other schools on their schedule have canceled, he plans to move forward with school resuming in the coming days and hopes to play games in the future.
Online backlash after the loss was swift with commenters wondering how the school was selected or alleging that the school “duped” their way into a national game.
Peterson said Bishop Sycamore wasn’t the first choice but they ended up agreeing to play in Canton against IMG Academy.
Peterson claimed they were paid by Paragon to play in the game but would not say how much – stating that they signed a non-disclosure agreement. He did say it wasn’t enough to cover the travel expenses. An email message was left with a Paragon spokesman Wednesday seeking comment.
“It is kind of shocking and upsetting. The main focus of the school has always been to help young men and whether it was grades or anything like that to help them get into school. It’s just – it’s just honestly been a shock,” Peterson said of the online criticism of his school.