Ohio officials investigate if high school football team that played on ESPN is from real school

Ohio officials investigate if high school football team that played on ESPN is from real school

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday ordered state investigators to investigate a mysterious high school football team that played on national TV over the weekend, despite having virtually no track record as a school.

Florida powerhouse IMG Academy beat Bishop Sycamore, 58-0, in Canton, Ohio, in a game that was broadcast by ESPN on Sunday and raised immediate concerns about the losing school’s most basic credentials.

The game was part of the sports network’s GEICO ESPN High School Football Kickoff series, and ESPN’s own announcers questioned the matchup on air.

Ohio Education Department records showed Bishop Sycamore as a private school in Columbus with an address at 3599 Chiller Lane.

That’s the location of Resolute Athletic Complex, an indoor sports training facility. The center is not used as a school, according to a man who picked up the phone Tuesday evening.

Education Department records cite Andre Peterson as Bishop Sycamore’s point of contact; he did not answer his listed phone number, and no message could be left for him.

It appears Bishop Sycamore also played Friday, meaning the team had multiple contests in 72 hours — an act virtually unheard of at any level of football.

“Like many Ohioans, I am concerned by the recent reports and questions raised about Bishop Sycamore,” DeWine said in a statement. “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 governor continued: “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.”

The game was organized by a third party, Paragon Marketing Group, based in Skokie, Illinois, and company President Rashid Ghazi pledged that his firm would cooperate with Ohio investigators.

Bishop Sycamore’s opponent Friday was Sto-Rox High School, a prominent prep football program from western Pennsylvania.

“They (Bishop Sycamore) looked real, based on their schedule, based on the fact they were playing legitimate high schools from across the country,” Ghazi told NBC News on Tuesday night. “They passed the muster in terms of state association play.

But the producer said he didn’t know Bishop Sycamore had played two days before IMG Academy game.

Ghazi said he was led to believe Bishop Sycamore is a totally online, but legitimate, academic institution.

And while the producer insisted, “Our vetting should have been a lot better,” he didn’t discount possibly scheduling another all-online school in a future ESPN game.

“The definition of ‘school’ can vary, and that’s why I’m kind careful of what I say because there are lot of legitimate online programs that exist, a lot of kids getting online degrees from colleges,” Ghazi said.

ESPN said it trusts Paragon to be more vigilant in the future.

“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,” the company said in a story posted on its website. “They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening moving forward.”

Bishop Sycamore had been set to play another national prep power, Duncanville HS, just outside Dallas. But that Sept. 10 game has been called off.

A rep for the Duncanville Independent School District said officials “attempted to contact Bishop Sycamore, but has been unable to reach a representative from the school.”

“Student safety is our top priority, and I can’t ask our student-athletes to take the field next week without knowing more about who they will be facing,” said Duncanville ISD Athletic Director Dwight Weaver said in a statement Tuesday.

“Our school district’s core values speak to honesty, integrity, ethics and providing a safe environment for students. This situation calls into question many of those values, so we are canceling this game.”

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