High School Football

Blythewood coach tried to cover tracks while recruiting, messages to players show

The Blythewood High School football coach in trouble for violating no-recruiting policies sent social media messages to multiple students about playing for the Bengals and asked at least two of them to keep quiet about his efforts to persuade them to transfer.

A review of the Twitter direct messages believed to be at the heart of the investigation into Blythewood head coach Jason Seidel shows one exchange where he asks a student to delete the conversation. In another message related to a possible meeting between a student and his parent, Seidel wrote, “You and your mom can’t say we met.”

Richland School District Two officials won’t say what that discipline for Seidel is — or was — only that it has taken “appropriate personnel action with the coach for violations of the district’s position on recruiting.”

Seidel did not respond to The State’s request seeking comment.

Rumors of high school coaches trying to lure players to their schools to gain a competitive advantage are not uncommon, but Seidel’s case is unique because evidence has been presented against the coach that not only did he break the rules, but he also tried to cover up his behavior. The findings now raise questions about how rules should be enforced for coaches who are leaders in their community, faces of their schools and in a position of public trust with teenagers.

Blythewood athletics director Barry Mizzell, when contacted by The State, referred all questions to the school district. The State left a message Tuesday with Blythewood principal Matthew Sherman seeking comment.

The State has asked the district to provide a copy of Seidel’s personnel file and any disciplinary records against him — all of which are public records. That request has been forwarded to the district’s attorney, a Richland Two spokesperson said Tuesday.

Seidel attempted to persuade students from other schools in the district to transfer to Blythewood and play football for the Bengals, a Richland Two investigation showed. The Twitter messages in question were all made in January and first reported last week by WIS TV.

The practice of recruiting “for athletic purposes is a serious ethical violation” and against the rules, according to Richland Two’s athletics manual and is against Section 15 in the South Carolina High School League by-laws. No possible punishments for recruiting violations are mentioned in the SCHSL by-laws.

In January, according to the district, Ridge View High School principal Brenda Mack-Foxworth reported to Richland Two officials the possible recruitment of three current Ridge View football players by Seidel and a Blythewood parent, who the coach’s Twitter messages identify as Craig Smith.

A report by WIS TV identified Smith as the parent of a Blythewood football player who told the Columbia news station that he is a mentor to “a lot of kids, some student athletes and some who are not student athletes, in and out of the Midlands. Some include Ridge View student athletes who reach out to me for guidance, for an ear that they can bend about life and growth as young men. That is still the case. This has apparently created some angst with the Ridge View head coach and the principal. That’s who I am. I’m a really big believer in the village. I’m a really big believer in being a mentor for kids, in particular, young black men. And that won’t stop.”

None of the three players ended up transferring to Blythewood. A district administrator conducted an investigation and met with officials from Blythewood and Ridge View before the district took what it called “appropriate personnel action.”

Blythewood and Ridge View play each other Friday in their season openers.

The case was reviewed in April by the S.C. High School League, according to a school district statement.

“At that meeting the SCHSL confirmed that due to the fact that the students who were contacted did not transfer, no violation with SCHSL occurred,” the Richland Two statement said. “Any consequences issued to the coach would be left to the district and not the SCHSL.”

S.C. High School League Commissioner Jerome Singleton told The State he was satisfied with Seidel’s punishment and didn’t think the league needed to hand out any more. Singleton also wouldn’t say what the punishment was.

“It didn’t require for us to do more than what we did,” Singleton said.

Singleton said he trusts each individual school district to try and police these types of allegations and that the SCHSL only gets involved when there is evidence presented to the league. There are more than 200 high schools and 83,000 athletes playing high school sports in the state, Singleton pointed out.

On Monday, SCHSL associate commissioner Skip Lax spoke at the inaugural Richland 2 Coaches Convocation about the topic of recruiting and reiterated the league’s stance on the topic.

According to the High School League’s own rules related to recruiting, “a student may not be subjected to undue influence or any special inducement by any person, or group, in any attempt to entice him/her to transfer for athletic purposes.” An example of “undue influence,” according to the SCHSL rules, is the “promise of help in securing a college scholarship.”

Seidel doesn’t directly promise anything specifically about a scholarship but does mention two colleges, a review of the Twitter direct messages showed:

Seidel wrote one player from another school: “The quicker you guys get here the more I can do with you in the weight room. Let the guys know that. Whoever is coming, now is the time. I don’t play when it comes to the weight room.” He then followed with: “And guess who just called me. Wake Forest is coming tomorrow at 3.”

In another exchange with a player, Seidel says: “Just sold you to Wofford. You need to DM [direct message] the Wofford coach. Let him know you’re coming here.”

Richland One and Lexington One school districts don’t have policies written in their athletics handbooks that address recruiting.

Lexington One Athletic Director David Bennett said he has talked about this topic with coaches and athletic directors in his district.

“We try to communicate to coach the kids you got, and don’t go down that rabbit hole,” Bennett said. “You want to build a culture where you have respect. You compete hard and you have love and respect for another (in the district). You’re pulling for all the kids. You want to win, but at the end of the day the type of person you are is better than the type of coach.”

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Lou Bezjak is the High School Sports Prep Coordinator for The State and Island Packet. He has covered high school sports in South Carolina for 16 years and is a two-time South Carolina Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association.