Politics and high school football shouldn’t mix, KY education agency investigation finds

A former football coach at Pike County’s East Ridge High School must receive extra training by December after he violated district policy last year regarding political activities by school employees, a report from Kentucky’s Office of Education Accountability said.

The Herald-Leader obtained the Oct. 1 investigative report through the Kentucky Open Records Act.

It said that in May 2018 when he was East Ridge football coach, Bradley Allen violated Pike County school district policy by “encouraging the football team to support a candidate by having them wear... shirts advocating for the election of a particular person.”

The report also said Allen violated district policy when he used school district property to print the endorsement for the candidate on the T-shirts.

David Wickersham, deputy director for the Office of Education Accountability, said Friday that violations regarding political campaigns and high school sports are “not a common thing that we deal with.”

“In the universe of things that we get, its pretty rare. It’s probably not in the top five,” Wickersham said.

Pike Superintendent Reed Adkins told the Herald-Leader Friday that although Allen resigned as East Ridge’s football coach, he continues to teach in the Pike County school district and is now an assistant football coach at Pikeville High School in the Pikeville Independent school district.

“Brad’s a great guy,” Adkins said. “He didn’t realize he was making a mistake, but he did. He was fully cooperative with the OEA recommendations and he’s willing to do whatever needs to be done to rectify the situation.”

“He’s going to do the right thing,” said Adkins.

Allen declined to comment to the Herald-Leader Friday.

The OEA report said in May 2018, a photo appeared on social media showing the football team, Allen and a candidate for public office at East Ridge’s football stadium. The report does not name the candidate. The football team was wearing T-shirts that read, in part,”re-elect” the candidate. The candidate is shown handing a check to the football coach, and Allen thanked him for the donation in the caption, the report said.

The candidate made a donation to a weightlifting competition intended to be a fundraiser for the football team, and the T-shirts purchased with the donation were going to be sold at the competition, the report said. Allen used a school printing machine to print a message for the re-election of the candidate on the T-shirts, according to the report.

Adkins asked an assistant superintendent to investigate when he found out about the photo, and Allen was directed to destroy the shirts. “Coach Allen later resigned,” the report said.

According to the report, Allen told OEA investigators that he was not acting under the direction of any other school employee when he appeared in the photo and printed the shirts. He said his motivation was to raise money for the football team by selling the shirts at the weight lifting competition, which he ultimately canceled.

Principals in the district were then told in an e-mail from the assistant superintendent not to allow political candidates to use school facilities for rallies and similar functions and that if candidates purchased signs or T-shirts for sponsorships, those should say, “compliments of” and not “re-elect,” the report said.

The report noted that Superintendent Adkins “took prompt action” to have the shirts disposed of and to notify principals of policies regarding political activities.

Allen must obtain three hours of training by a person approved by the Kentucky Department of Education on the topic of prohibitions against political activity by school district employees, the report said.

Kentucky high school football and politics have been in the news lately. In September, a banner with a Donald Trump slogan written on it held by Anderson County High School cheerleaders prior to their school’s football game led to a social media debate.