High School Basketball

Kentucky man masterminded delivery of illegal recruits to school, lawsuit alleges

File photo: Pike County Central girls’ basketball uniform circa 2007.
File photo: Pike County Central girls’ basketball uniform circa 2007.

A civil lawsuit filed in Pike Circuit Court by the former assistant principal and boys basketball coach of Pike Central High School has revealed details of alleged recruiting being orchestrated by a local business owner. The filing has helped to shed light on allegations of recruiting and placement of high school basketball players by Kentucky BCI Basketball owner David Clevenger, of Brushy Road in Varney.

For this story, the News-Express attempted to reach Clevenger at a number provided for Kentucky BCI Basketball without success. Additionally, school officials were not made available to speak with the News-Express due to the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit filed by Keith May, former assistant principal and basketball coach for the Pike Central Hawks, his reporting of violations to his superiors led, first, to his not being retained as the basketball coach and, then, him not being retained as assistant principal for the high school.

May was the boys’ basketball coach at Pike Central for two seasons, 2014-15 and 2015-16, before the hiring of now-head coach Ryan Whitaker in the summer of 2016. May served as assistant principal at the school through the 2016-17 school year and was informed he would not be retained in May 2017. He now serves as an Algebra teacher at Belfry High School.

In his complaint, May, through local attorney Larry Webster, alleged that, while assistant principal, he “observed, brought to the attention of co-employees, and to the superintendent of schools, various violations of the Bylaws of KHSAA including Bylaws relative to improper games, dead period violations, eligibility rules for players, recruiting violations, school attendance policy violations and other violations of the regulations of the KHSAA.”

KHSAA officials said no action has been taken because no official complaint of allegations has been received, with the exception of one sworn statement by one third-party parent of a Floyd County student, which is not part of an open case.

Allegations detailed

In October, May was deposed by Pike County Schools Board of Education Board Attorney Neal Smith, representing the defendant Pike County Board of Education. During the deposition, May detailed his allegations of recruiting and reporting violations which occurred while he was the head coach and following his non-retainment.

According to May, Clevenger is allowed onto the school property despite previous questioning by teachers about his role at the school. Clevenger is not an employee of the school or the school district, but his wife does work as a cook at Pike Central, according to May’s deposition.

May said that while he was coach, Clevenger would attend nearly 90 percent of practices. May said he called Assistant Superintendent Freddie Bowling about Clevenger being at the school and “he said he was going to take care of it,” but that, “Clevenger was on campus pretty much every day from that point on.”

“That’s when (current Pike Central Principal Steven Taylor) came back about a week or two later and told me that (Clevenger) was just considered a good booster for the school,” May said. May quoted Taylor as referring to Clevenger as a “good booster.”

According to filings with KHSAA, Pike Central High School did formerly have a booster club on record for the football program, but no booster club has ever been registered for the Pike Central basketball programs.

According to KHSAA Bylaw 16, booster club parents and members and booster club representatives are considered school representatives. Bylaw 16 reads that, if impermissible recruiting is suspected, “a coach or staff member (paid or unpaid) should immediately refer the person(s) to the school principal.”

Questions arise about ‘Student 1’

In 2015, a former Mingo Central (West Virginia) High School student, referred to in this report as Student 1, enrolled in Pike Central High School with intentions including playing basketball for the school. According to May, when Student 1 arrived, he was contacted about the student being recruited to the school. May called contacts he had at Mingo Central and “was given some stories about some things that happened there.”

“I confronted Mr. (David) Clevenger about it and his comment to me was, ‘The least you know about it, the better off you are,’” May said in his deposition. “I did inform … (former principal David Rowe) at that time that I suspected … the kid … was illegal.”

Things escalated from there, according to May’s deposition.

“(Student 1’s) uncle came to me probably a week, week and a half, into practice and … said, ‘We need to talk.’ I won’t forget it. It was a drizzly day out back of the gym. I said, ‘Okay.’ He said, ‘No, let’s go to your coaching office,’” May said in the deposition. “So we went in there and his first comment to me was, ‘Where’s our car at?’ I said, ‘What do you mean … I don’t know what Dave (Clevenger) has promised you, but I don’t play that way.’”

May said the student remained at Pike Central for the next three or four days before he left the school, “without withdrawing or anything.”

According to May’s deposition, he cited his inquiry into Student 1’s alleged recruitment as one of the reasons he was not retained. May said his concerns with the alleged recruitment played a “big role in it, yes, because I wouldn’t keep the kid.”

He received a letter detailing his non-renewal on April 1, 2016, according to the complaint and May’s deposition, which is a standard procedure for high school coaches who coach on a one-year retainer and are evaluated following the season. The coaches, typically, receive letters of hire sometime soon after the first. May did not, he said, and his former job was posted to the KHSAA website by April 12. So, he said, he sought out Rowe and Pike Central Athletic Director Eugene Lyons about why he was not being asked back.

He first approached Lyons, who, according to May, said he was doing “what his boss told him” and declined to say which “boss” had told him. Rowe, likewise, according to May, stated he was “doing what he was told to do,” without elaborating further.

Rowe did tell May he could re-apply for the position, according to the deposition, but following a meeting of the Pike Central Site-Based Decision Making Council (SBDM), the school decided to hire Whitaker. Admittedly without evidence, May said in the deposition he spoke with members of the SBDM, who told him they also were doing as they were told. Smith questioned May about any evidence he had to back the claim up, but, he said, “They are not going to talk because they are afraid of retaliation.”

Despite the loss of the position as basketball coach, May remained at the school as an assistant principal. But, on May 4, 2017, he received a letter that he would not be retained in that position, resulting in a musical chairs of sorts where he was first named as a classroom instructor for Northpoint Academy, for one week, before heading to teach math at Belfry.

Smith asked May if he “had any notion … why (Superintendent) Reed Adkins would not bring you back as an assistant principal?” May replied that, in his opinion, it was because he had “try to do things the right way” referencing rules violations he said he reported to Taylor. Earlier in the deposition, Smith asked a similar question and May answered that he believed it was because he “questioned” some of the kids being brought to the school by Clevenger.

Student 2 arrives

The first encounter in his role as assistant principal, according to May, was questions surrounding the 2016 arrival and living arrangements of a international student we will refer to as Student 2. Student 2’s arrival preceded the arrivals of Student 3 and Student 4, another international student.

May said that, when Clevenger brought the students, May, in his role as assistant principal, began to receive calls with complaints. During the summer of 2016, Rowe had retired and the school brought Phillip Birchfield in on an interim basis until the SBDM decided on hiring Taylor to the position of principal.

In July 2016, during the KHSAA dead period, May said in the deposition, he was helping to go through a new camera system which had been installed at the school when he noticed at least one camera in the gym was not working.

“I walked down to the gym and found out they were taped up,” May said.

According to May, he reviewed the film and reported to Rowe that Whitaker, Student 2, Lyons and Clevenger had been in the gym. May said that, on the film, the three adults had the student climb and put tape over the top of the cameras. May said he was told “we couldn’t take some kind of CD and do it with the new camera,” so he took pictures of the still-frames and provided those in his report.

“I had several coaches in the area calling and saying, … ‘These kids are illegal … we are going to report you.” I thought, as administrator, it’s my job to make sure the school is not going to be punished along with the county athletics,” May said in his deposition.

Student 2, according to May and a letter obtained by the News-Express, was supposed to be enrolled at a prep school in Gary, Indiana, called Lighthouse College Prep Academy. The school sent a later to then-Principal Rowe on Aug. 11, 2016, detailing that the student was on a F-1 class visa admission for academic and language purposes.

According to May and the letter, Clevenger intercepted Student 2 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The customs agent who received the student upon his arrival placed him in a lobby in the airport to await a doctor with whom he was to be living in Indiana, the letter said. When the doctor and school officials arrived at the airport, they searched for Student 2 for several hours, which included help from the Chicago Police Department, the letter said. The doctor filed a missing persons report, and after two months of searching for Student 2, according to the letter, he was located at Pike Central through social media.

A search of the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System shows no filings in Kentucky, Indiana or Illinois that references any iteration or combination of the student’s name.

The school then sent the letter, but, due to the dating, there remains questions about who at the school in fact ever received or saw the letter. May had received “numerous” calls from the “principal” at Lighthouse, he said.

“He called me numerous times and one day actually called and Mr. (Reed) Adkins was in Mr. Taylor’s office, and I told him. I said, ‘This guy has called me back again.’ I said, ‘Here is his number.’ (Adkins) took the number and said, ‘I will take care of this,’” May said. “That’s pretty much the last I kind of dealt with that issue.”

But it was not the last issue to arise in reference to Student 2.

What happened next, May said in the deposition, is what he believes one of the reasons he was not retained as assistant principal. There was an incident later in the school year, near March, when Student 2 visited May in his office.

“(He) came to my office … and asked if I could get him out of the Clevenger’s house,” May said in the depositions. “I told him I would try to do what I could, but I was told not to deal with any kids in the sports at Pike Central, and that I would report it to the next proper authority which was with Mr. Taylor. It was a couple of days later the kid refused to go back to the house. Mr. Taylor ended up calling Social Services.”

May alleges he was told to ‘stay out of sports’

May said in the deposition that, in reference to previous reports with two other students (Student 3 and Student 4), Taylor had told May “to stay out of it because it was dealing with sports” and “not to deal with anything dealing with any kids with sports.”

Smith questioned May about what he reported to Taylor and May said he reported “That this kid did not want to go back to the Clevenger’s house, that he come in, said he was hungry, they don’t have much to eat.”

Student 3 arrived at Pike Central, but, according to the deposition, after a few months, the student “got in more trouble, so Clevenger sent him back to somewhere in New York.” Another family at Brushy, according to May, brought Student 3 back to Pike County and attempted to enroll him at Pike Central, but were denied.

May said Student 4 was the one player he got “a majority or a lot of calls on from several coaches.”

Student 4 arrived as a transfer from Galilean Christian Academy in Liberty, Kentucky, after playing there for at least one season, in addition to two seasons at St. Louis Christian Academy in Missouri and one year at a prep school in Dallas. According to May, when Student 4 went from Dallas, Texas, to St. Louis, Missouri, he was reclassified as a freshman, played two seasons and went to Galilean, where he was reclassified as a sophomore.

On Feb. 5, the official website of the government of Student 4’s home territory issued a statement and congratulated Student 4 for his successes on the basketball court and in the classroom. But, included in the statement was the revelation that Student 4 also attended a high school in the territory before he “transferred to the United States to pursue his basketball dreams.”

When he arrived at Pike Central from Galilean in the 2016-17 school year, Student 4 was enrolled into the school as a sophomore based on the records received from Galilean, May said.

Appalachian Newspapers sent a reporter, Trevor Thacker, to speak with Galilean coaches at a contest this season.

An assistant coach joked to Thacker, after Thacker identified himself, that Student 4 “should have graduated a while ago.” But, when Thacker began to ask questions, the coach went into the locker room and closed the door.

According to May, the student spent a ninth grade season in Texas, was reclassified and played two years as a ninth grader and 10th grader in St. Louis, was reclassified and played as a 10th grader at Galilean, played seven games last season at Pike Central and is now playing at Pike Central this season.

According to May, when he was alerted to that information, he approached Pike Central Guidance Counselor Heather Birchfield to bring it to her attention.

Heather Birchfield called the school, received additional paperwork and then reclassified Student 4 as a junior, May said. That incident occurred in late January, early February 2017, May said.

May claims other violations reported

May said he reported other violations to Taylor, which Taylor handled, in an effort to save the school money for which, May claimed, the boys basketball program would have been responsible.

That included being 22 games late on statistics reporting during this past basketball season. The KHSAA imposes a $100 fine for any stats not reported within 72 hours of completion of a contest.

May said in the deposition that he alerted Taylor that they may be responsible for $2,200 in fines, because the stats were reported and put onto the KHSAA website, May said. Additionally, May reported that Whitaker and an assistant coach had not completed a safety and rules clinic during the previous basketball season. May said that, when he learned of the failure to complete the mandatory sessions, he knew Whitaker would be ineligible to coach in postseason play and alerted Taylor so the coaches could get it done. Whitaker and his assistant completed the clinic in time, but the school had to pay a late fee.

May also referenced the fact Clevenger would host tournaments, including tournaments with regional high school players, on the campuses at Pike Central and Mullins. According to a letter provided by an official with the Floyd County Schools District, a 2017 tournament was the site of Clevenger attempting to recruit a Floyd County basketball player.

The parent wrote that, on April 8, 2017, her son, along with friends from the former South Floyd and Allen Central high schools, attended a tournament hosted by Clevenger at the Pike Central gym. While there, the parent wrote, Clevenger approached her to “ask me what it would take to get (her son) to come play at Pike County Central the upcoming season.” The parent reported she told Clevenger there was “no way” she could drive to Pikeville every day and “could not afford to live in Pike County.” Clevenger, according to the letter to KHSAA, stated, “I know a place that you can stay at and you wouldn’t have to pay anything to live there for free.”

The parent told Clevenger she worked for the Floyd County Schools District, to which, she wrote, Clevenger replied “well, there might even be a job to go alone (sic) with the house.” Clevenger said if the student were to come to Pike Central, “the regional title would belong to Pike County Central.”

May claims reporting caused issues

According to May’s complaint, he was retaliated against for his disclosures of the violations, resulting in him being removed as basketball coach in April 2016 after the reporting of the Student 1 violation, and as track coach and assistant principal in 2017 for his continued reporting of violations to his principals.

Smith asked May if he had ever reported the violations to the KHSAA.

“So you have never snitched or called KHSAA and said, ‘Hey, they are doing this. They are doing that. You need to come up here?’” Smith asked.

May said that he had not, “as much as I wanted to … I’m not going to do that.”

“There’s too many good people there and there’s too many good kids to punish the whole school for what a few adults are doing,” May said.

The board of education, for its part, denied each allegation of reprisal by May. In addition, the board filed a counterclaim saying that May had, inadvertently, been paid more than $7,500 for school year 2016-17 after the school district’s payroll department continued to pay him as head basketball coach for that season. May said he did not deny that allegation and said he had not paid attention to his pay stubs, so Smith said he had a signed affidavit from Director of Finance Nancy S. Ratliff about May being overpaid.

That affidavit, though, does not state that May was overpaid for the 2016-17 school year. The affidavit, which was signed and attested to by Ratliff, states, in part, that “due to an inadvertent error in the payroll department,” May received checks paying him for the basketball position in the 2015-16 school year, when he was, in fact, the coach of the boys basketball program.

Smith also stated during questioning that, with the school district, “Sometimes payroll misses these letters that come across their desk and they don’t realize what they have done at Pike Central.”

Case continues to move through system

As part of the case, in December, Webster filed a request for productions of documents, asking for, among others, documents related to the SBDM in relation to the non-renewal of May as assistant principal.

In relation to documents showing Taylor being notified Superintendent Reed Adkins and Personnel Director Danny Adkins of funds available for Pike Central resulting in two non-tenured certified employees, including May, to not be renewed, the board responded the notification from the central office was “verbal.” The board responded the communications of determination by the SBDM to Reed Adkins was also “verbal.”

Webster requested any correspondence “from any other schools, board of education or regulatory bodies relative” to the four individual student athletes. The board said the “documentation is not readily available and will be supplemented as soon as possible” in its response dated Jan. 4, 2018, but, those documents have yet to be produced and have not been included in the case file. Webster said, as of Wednesday, those documents had yet to be produced.

Reed Adkins was set to be deposed in the case by Webster on Jan. 19, but that deposition was canceled, according to Webster. Another deposition for Adkins will be scheduled in the case, Webster said.

Following the canceling of the deposition for Adkins, Smith filed a “Motion for Summary Judgement” against May for the payroll error and that his case of reprisals be dismissed, which included filing the aforementioned affidavit from Ratliff as evidence in the summary judgement, court documents show.

The case is set for motion hour in front of Pike Circuit Judge Eddy Coleman at 1:30 p.m on Friday, Feb, 23.

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