By now, you may have read our feature on Bishop Sycamore, the school that played on ESPN Sunday despite a glaring amount of red flags about the school’s origins, operational history, and mounting legal problems.
On Monday, we spoke to Ray Holtzclaw, the father of former Bishop Sycamore quarterback Judah Holtzclaw. Judah is now a freshman listed at tight end at Youngstown State, but spent much of his winter, spring, and summer hoping to earn a college offer to play quarterback. He spent much of that time attached to Bishop Sycamore hoping to play more either in a spring football schedule, 7-on-7 camps, or attending college camps with the program.
Ray tweeted the following Sunday:
My son was going to be the premier QB for Bishop Scyamore until negative stuff started happening. I would be happy to go on record with what we went thru before leaving the program this summer. They need to be shut down. Feel for the kids & families that r caught up in the scam.
— Ray Holtzclaw (@rh1869) August 30, 2021
On Monday, he shared his story with AA. Below are some of the highlights with some edits for clarity.
Initial red flags came early
They assured me everything would be taken care of, and then we were supposed to start playing football for them in the Spring. They had a schedule they put out. About two, maybe three weeks before the game was scheduled to play, I said ‘Where is the rest of the team and where are the uniforms? Where’s all the stuff?” They were like ‘Well, the first game may get cancelled because of COVID’… it was a Canadian team from across the border. Whatever. So I said, ‘Even if things haven’t gone according to game schedule, we aren’t ready. We don’t have uniforms, we don’t have all this stuff.’ He’s (Coach Roy Johnson, seen above) is like ‘It’s all coming.'”
“There was another game that was supposed to be scheduled to play. Again, it was the same story. Spring of this year, spring 2021. I said, ‘Look, Judah is not playing in any games until we have at least a couple weeks of practice before getting on the field, and I don’t care who it is.’ We kinda left it at that.”
Startling travel issues quickly emerged
“Fast forward a little bit and he’s like ‘We’ll do some 7-on-7.’ The 7-on-7… We’re supposed to do 7-on-7 and supposed to order uniforms, but that never came about. I said ‘Look, we’re just gonna go ahead and schedule our football camps series and do camps at the colleges that we want to go to.’ He’s like ‘Okay, we’ll follow you guys wherever you go.’ So we did our camp thing and our first camp we did as a ‘team’ was Georgia. We’re gonna go from Georgia to Clemson and a camp that was in La Grange.
“We were at a hotel… we got it and the first night we stayed there, it was, he said we couldn’t get anything close to Clemson the next day so they were going to stay and we said ‘We’re checking out and we’re gonna go to the next hotel that’s closer,’ because I didn’t want to have to drive two and a half hours to a camp where Judah was going to be at all day. We called the front desk and said we’re checking out, and they said the rest of the team is staying and I said ‘Just make sure we’re checked out and it’s all on Bishop Sycamore and whoever the school affiliation is, is supposed to be paying for all the players rooms.’ They said okay, and we left.”
“I got a phone call later that day and they said we’re charging you for that room, you didn’t pay. I said it’s supposed to be paid by the team and long story short it never got paid. I had my credit card on file, I paid for the room, and the next day goes by and I get a notification by my CC company that I’ve been charged $2,500 on my CC. It was from the same hotel so I call them and I’m like ‘what are you guys doing?’ They said none of the rooms are paid for. You had 15 rooms and you were here three nights and nothing got paid for. I said ‘Whoa whoa whoa, we were there 1 night. You can take my room out of there, I’m not a coach. I’m just a parent of one of the players. We’ll be happy to pay for our room.’ So they refunded my money and took the money out for my room and we went on.”
“We left Georgia and flew to Dallas for our next camp. The mega camp at SMU. We got in town about five or six hours before they did. They were driving a bus. He asked me ‘Can you pick up the keys for all the rooms’ and I said ‘Sure.’ I got there and checked in and was supposed to pick up keys for all the rooms. It was about 11 o’clock and the night person said ‘Yeah, I’ve got your keys.’ The next day my son gets a phone call in his room and they said we need payment for your room. So we came back to the hotel and talked to the hotel and they said nothing’s been paid for. So this whole process started again at the second hotel we were at with them. We ended up leaving the hotel… I think a portion of that hotel got paid for, but the hotel was like ‘You guys have to leave, you are not welcome here anymore.'”
What drew Holtzclaw to Bishop Sycamore and how did they handle him leaving the program?
“It was so appealing because you know, like the IMG game, he’s like he was telling me about the line he was going to have for Judah. These are the linemen and they’re going to be here. We met a couple of them but then I never met anyone after that. I’m like where’s the line at? When are they going to start practicing? Where are the coaches at? None of this manufactured. No coaching staff ever appeared.”
“Then he was like ‘Well, do you think your older son would like to coach? Or your nephew?’ And I’m like ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ He’s like ‘Yeah, but they have D-1 experience.’ And I’m like ‘Yes, my older son has D-1 experience, but he’s not a coach. Big difference.’ So we decided to part ways, and he checked out some other prep schools, and we found a prep school that was legit in Georgia. So we were going to go there, but Judah was in a camp in Cincinnati and Youngstown was there and offered him for this year, ’21, because he had already graduated. He was a qualifier, so they offered a full scholarship and we ended up taking that for ’21.”
On how the program explained how they would play two games over the same weekend (which they have done before).
“He (Coach Johnson) was telling me there was going to be 50 or 60 guys on the roster, and they were going to play all the kids that don’t normally play against this team that was supposed to be a regular high school and then all the “starters” would play against IMG. I saw some of the clips from the game on Friday and was like ‘Those are the same guys.’ And there are a lot of guys… even though there are only 20 or so on the roster, there are some kids I’ve never seen before that they picked up and some kids that were there that are no longer there.”
On the housing situation for the players
“I know one of them, the mom called me asking me how to get a hold of the coaches because they wouldn’t respond. Her son had lost a lot of items at the apartment they got kicked out of. He had come home or something and was going back to get his stuff… I didn’t get the whole story, but he couldn’t get his stuff. It was all gone. They had left the apartment. I don’t know if they were evicted or they left on their own, but there was a reason why they left.”
On where the team practiced
“When we were with them, we practiced everywhere. I personally rented out facilities when we practiced when it was cold in January and February. I kept asking where we were going to actually practice because I couldn’t keep doing this.”
On how the players were fed
“I fed the kids; I went out to dinner with them a couple of times after practice. They would take them to the all-you-can-eat place, and the kids would just eat and eat and eat and then go back to the hotel or apartment.”
Do the opponents know about the state of affairs at Bishop Sycamore?
“I sent IMG a message saying ‘I just want you to know that some of these kids you are playing are 19, some are 20.’ Duncanville High School, I called and talked to the coach there because… I’m from Texas and I played at Trinity High School, which is a big powerhouse in Texas. We used to play Duncanville when I was in school, so I felt like I had a connection there, so I’ll call them and say ‘Do you really know what you are getting into with this Bishop Sycamore?’ He’s like ‘Well, they are a HS out of Columbus,’ and I said ‘No, they are definitely not high school.'”
“I think IMG does know what the deal is, but they look at it like we have to play the schools. They played them last year. So they know. I think IMG’s situation is ‘We don’t care, we are going to beat them anyway.’ They are just trying to put that… what I was told, when Roy would put me on the line on mute and I would listen in to what… the ESPN thing they were pumping Judah as, ‘Hey, we’re not the team that we were last year. We’re a different team because we have Judah Holtzclaw at QB and he’s got really good receivers. Our line is amazing and we think we’re going to beat you.'”
What were the financial particulars for being involved with Bishop Sycamore?
“They told us it was $1,000, because Judah was going to live at home and that was it. So I paid the $1,000 and that was the only thing we were ever charged officially. They were supposed to pay for the camp, they said we have sponsors that are paying for everything. We’ll pay for the hotels, the entry fees, we’ll take care of all that because we are doing that for all the kids. As long as you are doing it for all the kids… I didn’t want to get into that where he got something that someone else didn’t get because that could affect his eligibility. I was like ‘As long as everybody else is getting it, and the school is paying for it, I guess that’s fine.’ But no, I ended up paying for all our hotel rooms, we paid for all of our entrance into the camps.”
Should schools play Bishop Sycamore?
“Don’t. For a couple different reasons. One is you’ve got kids that are… let’s say that at a public school… my kids play for a public school and you have a couple good athletes on your team. An average of maybe two D-1 players on a very good high school team, maybe more. There’s a potential that you’re going to go up to an IMG, like they did to them. What if a 20-year-old hurts a 16-year-old on the field, which with them could happen. “
“There’s that part of it, and then you go, ‘Okay, but it’s not fair.’ If you are playing that poorly, a coach is going to look at it and go ‘I don’t care, you’re terrible.’ Because you didn’t get to show anything. They have some really good receivers on their team, and those receivers didn’t get to show anything because they didn’t have an opportunity because the rest of their team is sub-par and their coaching… they didn’t have at all.”
Biggest takeaway from dealing with the school
“Seeing kids get hurt is the biggest fear I have right now. Probably what’s going to happen is, these kids that have invested time practicing… they are running everywhere to go practice football, their lives are football and that is what they are seeking. They’ve just been misguided in the wrong direction by some people that have, I don’t know, got head games going on.”
“The kids truly just want to play football and go to the next level. They are putting their bodies out there on the line. What’s going to happen is maybe their schedule gets shut down because some of these… HSAA, or Texas, or somebody stands up and says ‘You can’t play that team because they are not sanctioned by…’ They are sanctioned supposedly by the Texas Christian Athletic Association, they are on the website… but how did they get there?”
On how the team wanted them to become the public face of the program
“I got a call saying ‘Hey, would you let ESPN follow Judah? A day in the life of Judah Holtzclaw kind of deal?’ I said ‘That’s fine, Judah will do that if it helps the team.’ And then it was like ‘Hey, could you do the interviews? Could you speak on behalf of the team?’ And I was like ‘I’m not comfortable with that.’ And now I know why!”
How he views the whole experience
“It just doesn’t make any sense. Like I said, I still can’t answer the question truthfully and honestly. What are they getting out of this? I don’t know. Roy Johnson is a master at convincing you that you are doing the right thing. He is a true con artist.
It’s unfortunate. It’s really strange. We had a group chat, and once I made that decision that we were not going to be with the team, I let the other parents in the group chat know. Here’s why. I couldn’t go forward because they weren’t paying their bills. Everything was not like they said it was.”
“I just wanted to give them an upfront warning that they need to check in and do their own research about what’s going on here, because this is your kid and this is your future. You should have heard the backlash I got for throwing out the warning. You would have thought ‘Oh, you are doing this because your son…’ No. We chose to leave. My son… his record speaks for itself. We weren’t going to get to play.”