High School Football

Documents reveal punishment for Blythewood coach amid recruiting violations

Blythewood High School football coach Jason Seidel received a one-week suspension and a reprimand from Richland School District Two as punishment for recruiting violations, documents show.

The documents were obtained by The State through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to a Richland Two investigation, Seidel attempted to persuade students from Ridge View High School to transfer to Blythewood and play football for the Bengals. When the news of the investigation was made public Aug. 15, the district did not disclose what the punishment was or whether it involved Seidel missing any games. WIS-TV first reported the investigation into the coach.

“Please understand the District takes these matters very seriously,” Richland Two Chief Administrative Services Officer Cleveland Smith wrote in a letter to Seidel dated March 29 and obtained by The State. “Not only did your conduct jeopardize your program, it also potentially jeopardized the eligibility of the student-athletes involved for the 2019-20 school year. Fortunately at this time, it is our understanding that the student-athletes that you corresponded with ultimately decided not to transfer.”

Seidel’s discipline, according to the letter, included a one-game in-season suspension in which the coach would be “prohibited from any activities with the team during that week, including any games the team has that week.”

The district or school did not acknowledge when the suspension would be served, but it appears to have taken place the week of the Bengals’ Sept. 6 game.

Seidel coached Blythewood’s first two games, including the season-opening win over Ridge View on Aug. 27. Then he wasn’t on the sidelines when the Bengals defeated Fairfield Central 35-21 on Sept. 6. Kevin Rholetter acted as head coach that night.

Seidel returned and coached the following week against North Augusta. The Bengals are 4-2 on the season and are off this week before taking on Irmo in the Region 4-5A opener on Oct. 11.

In the same March 29 letter, the chief administrative services officer said Seidel acknowledged his mistakes to Blythewood principal Matt Sherman and took “full responsibility for not referring these players to the Athletic Director (Barry Mizzell) when they made contact with you.”

Ridge View High School’s principal, Brenda Mack-Foxworth, reported to Richland Two officials on Jan. 23 the possible recruitment of three current Ridge View football players by Seidel and a Blythewood parent, according to a statement released by the district in August.

Twitter messages reviewed by The State also showed that two other players in the district were contacted by Seidel and, overall, he told at least two players to keep quiet about his efforts to persuade them to transfer. No player involved ended up transferring to Blythewood, according to the district.

Richland Two’s athletics manual says recruiting students “for athletic purposes is a serious ethical violation of the philosophy and ideals of interscholastic athletics and will be treated as such.” The district took “appropriate personnel action” against Seidel, according to its Aug. 15 statement.

In that same statement, Richland Two said, “Personnel matters are confidential, therefore the district administrators cannot share details on the personnel actions with the Ridge View High administrators.”

According to the statement and the documents reviewed by The State, Ridge View appealed the district’s ruling and requested the district meet with the South Carolina High School League and that consequences for Seidel “reflect the time and resources spent investigating in the matter.”

The documents show that Cleveland Smith and Richland Two Assistant Superintendent Keith Price met with SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton and associate commissioner Skip Lax on April 12.

According to the documents, the meeting discussed the district’s investigation and ruling, and concluded that “since the students contacted did not transfer, the violation did not occur.” Had a student transferred as a result of recruiting, it could have resulted in a loss of eligibility.

The SCHSL “does not govern consequences given to coaches” and leaves it up to the school districts, according to the Price letter.

“Recruiting is a serious matter and everyone needs to abide by the spirit of the rule in order to remain fair, consistent and honorable throughout the school’s athletic programs,” Price said in the letter.

Singleton told The State last month he was satisfied with Seidel’s punishment. 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.

Last month, Lax spoke at the inaugural Richland Two Coaches Convocation about the topic of recruiting and reiterated the league’s stance on the topic.

Recruiting has been a strong topic of discussion and some school districts might be looking to enact tougher policies. A Lexington Two spokesperson last week confirmed to The State that a school board member asked the district to look at policies regarding recruitment of students for athletic purposes. There have been some early discussions but no actions taken yet by the Lexington Two school board.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

How we did this story

Richland School District Two made public on Aug. 15 a statement that it had punished Blythewood High School football coach Jason Seidel over trying to recruit students from district rival Ridge View High to play for the Bengals, which is a violation of policy.

The State, through a Freedom of Information Act request, asked for documents related to the case and District Two provided them within the law and before the deadline, which was about 40 days from the original request.

Richland Two’s athletics manual says recruiting students “for athletic purposes is a serious ethical violation of the philosophy and ideals of interscholastic athletics and will be treated as such.”

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 was 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.

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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.
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