Ray Holtzclaw first heard from Roy Johnson when his son, Judah, was a sophomore at Westerville Central in 2018.

Johnson, at the time running a program called COF Academy, was interested in Judah becoming COF’s starting quarterback. But the Holtzclaws were happy with things at Westerville Central, so the conversations didn’t progress.

After COF Academy fell apart, Johnson turned his attention to a new program in the same mold — Bishop Sycamore. Alongside Andre Peterson, the duo continued working on their model for a football program. 

Bishop Sycamore:Director says football program is not a ‘scam’

That model was exposed on ESPN Sunday afternoon, as Bishop Sycamore lost 58-0 to IMG Academy in a game that prompted a national conversation about Bishop Sycamore’s legitimacy and raised questions about how the team came to be highlighted on ESPN. During the game, ESPN commentator Anish Shroff admitted that ESPN had been unable to verify Bishop Sycamore’s claims that they have multiple Division I prospects on the roster, and he and others on air said they worried for the safety of the overmatched players from Columbus.

Since the beginning of the 2020 season, Bishop Sycamore, which is not a member of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, hasn’t won a game and has been outscored 342-49. The team has largely been unnoticed until now, and the reaction has been swift. Already, a game against DeMatha (Hyattsville, Maryland) Catholic High School, previously scheduled for Oct. 1, has been canceled

ESPN also said it was unaware that Bishop Sycamore had played a game on Friday night, as it is unheard of for a team at any level to play two games in 48 hours.

Bishop Sycamore chaos doesn’t surprise Holtzclaws 

There are also questions about Bishop Sycamore as a school. It is not yet registered with the Ohio Department of Education for the 2021-22 school year, though it has until Sept. 30 to do so. And the address on record for last year is the address of Resolute Athletic Training near Easton Town Center. Records show Bishop Sycamore was registered as a non-chartered, non-tax supported school — not the charter school it says it is.

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What is Bishop Sycamore?:What we know about mysterious football team on ESPN

Judah Holtzclaw, here playing for Westerville Central in 2019, spent some time with Bishop Sycamore and is now playing at Youngstown State.

None of this chaos surprises the Holtzclaws.

In Judah’s senior year, with hopes of him playing in college, the Holtzclaws decided he should take a gap year after graduation and play for a prep school to enhance his football opportunities.

“I remembered (COF Academy) and looked them up and they were Bishop Sycamore,” Ray Holtzclaw told The Dispatch. “I called and talked to them and they were like, ‘We’re a totally new program now and things are good’ and all this stuff. We were like, well, you’re local, so instead of us trying to find somewhere, Judah can live at home and


Monday, August 30, 2021 | 3:01 PM

Sto-Rox and Bishop Sycamore both wore black uniforms for their football game Friday at the Wolvarena, but the matching outfits weren’t the most unusual part of the weekend for the online school from Columbus, Ohio.

Less than 48 hours after losing to Sto-Rox in the Western Pa. vs. Everyone Showcase, Bishop Sycamore played again Sunday in Canton, Ohio, on national TV against IMG Academy.

That wasn’t a surprise, said Sto-Rox coach LaRoi Johnson, who knew in advance about the Sunday game on ESPN. But he and organizers of the Woodland Hills event were under the impression Bishop Sycamore had two separate teams, one for high school varsity athletes and another with a prep-school roster suited for a national schedule.

Varsity would play Friday and the prep school would play Sunday.

Yet, on Sunday, much of Bishop Sycamore’s starting lineup was the same as what the team used Friday against Sto-Rox. Offensively, seven of the 11 starters appeared to play in both games, including quarterback Trilian Harris.

After seeing Sunday’s game, “my kids kept saying, ‘I don’t know how their bodies can hold up,’” LaRoi Johnson said.

Harris was replaced at halftime against Sto-Rox but others played the whole game. Bishop Sycamore lost 19-7 to Sto-Rox and 58-0 to IMG Academy, a sports-focused private school in Brandenton, Fla.

During the lopsided loss to IMG Academy, ESPN’s own broadcasters began to question whether Bishop Sycamore maybe exaggerated the program’s stature and talent level in order to face IMG on TV.

Bishop Sycamore coach Roy Johnson, asked Friday at the Wolvarena about the IMG game, said his roster had two teams.

“Yeah, we have the national team that will play on Sunday,” he said.

Asked if there were any overlap between the lineups, he said: “sometimes.”

“They don’t practice today since we’re not all together. Those are the guys you see come in on the first series. They’ll be throwing the ball around and then we pull them out and let the other guys get some film because they need it.”

Roy Johnson admitted both schools wore black uniforms Friday because his team forgot to pack their white set. He’d previously coached Christians of Faith, another startup football program in Columbus, Ohio, that played North Allegheny in 2018.

High School Football America described Bishop Sycamore as “an online charter school helping at-risk youth” in a podcast interview with Centurions coach Roy Johnson from a few weeks ago.

Bishop Sycamore isn’t a member of the Ohio High School Athletic Association but rather the Texas

Father Joseph McCaffrey’s plan to close Holy Spirit Academy and to partner with the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools for students’ continued education is official.

Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh on Thursday announced his approval of the strategy, which includes Holy Spirit Parish providing $2,000 in tuition aid for each student going to Hermitage’s St. John Paul II Elementary School, which is in the Diocese of Erie.

The strategy is a departure from the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s efforts to regionalize struggling Catholic schools within its own borders. Under those guidelines, Holy Spirit students likely would have had to travel to Butler or Beaver County — much further destinations than Hermitage — to continue their education.

In granting his permission for Holy Spirit Academy — formerly St. Vitus School — to close at the end of the 2020-21 school year, Zubik said that he wants “to recognize the wonderful contributions of teachers and staff at Holy Spirit Academy who dedicated themselves to educating our children in the Catholic faith, and the many school families and parishioners who have worked diligently over the past number of years in support of the school.”

The bishop said that he is granting permission for the school to close “with the clear understanding that the children of parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish will be encouraged and assisted in every way possible to attend another available Catholic school,” whether that be St. John Paul II or other Catholic elementary schools within the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

However, a news release from the diocese did note that there already are 40 students from Holy Spirit Parish who are attending Kennedy Catholic schools.

McCaffrey and Mark Ferrara, president of Kennedy Catholic schools, have worked to establish a partnership between their two schools.

Under McCaffrey’s plan, the $2,000-per-student tuition assistance would be taken from funds assessed on each parish by the Diocese of Pittsburgh for the support of Catholic education and provided to St. John Paul II, even though it is in a different diocese. Money over and above the tuition aid would be sent to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Holy Spirit Parish would continue to participate in the regional elementary schools governance structure being established in the diocese’s northwest region.

Ferrara said last month that clergy from Holy Spirit Parish would be welcome at St. John Paul II, and he plans to add representatives from the parish to his oversight councils. Holy Spirit teachers also would be considered for staff openings.

“I’m glad that the bishop saw the wisdom in it and is allowing for it,” McCaffrey said Thursday. “Times are different. We can’t live in the past. We have to live in the present. The people who built that parish and that school, and all the other parishes and schools that we’ve had, they were perfect for their time. We have to do what’s right for our time.”

Holy Spirit Academy has struggled for several years to keep its enrollment and funding up, even cutting