Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Southern Tech Academy
A North Carolina football academy is recruiting Clark County high school seniors for a post-graduation program, saying it can improve their odds of making a college team.
Beyond the Sun
But some local educators have serious doubts whether the new Southern Tech Academy can deliver on its promises.
Southern Tech, in Charlotte, N.C., bills itself as a Christian college prep program for students who have struggled academically or with their football skills but want to play college ball. The new program is recruiting for its first team.
The NCAA requires future college athletes to be high school graduates with at least a 2.0 grade-point average and qualifying scores on the ACT or SAT exams.
Postgraduate programs are typically affiliated with accredited prep schools or military academies, providing supervision and academic support. But Southern Tech has no such ties, which Clark County officials say is one of many red flags.
Bob Gerye, principal of Spring Valley High School, began looking into the academy after two of his students received unsolicited acceptance letters. After hearing students had encountered high-pressure sales tactics and requests for a $5,000 deposit by next month, Gerye sent a letter to other district principals cautioning them about Southern Tech.
Several students were under the impression that Southern Tech was a junior college, which reflected poorly on the recruiter’s presentation, Gerye said.
District educators and coaches told the Sun they were also put off by Southern Academy’s Web site. The text was rife with grammatical errors and the photos of its offices in a Charlotte business park didn’t inspire confidence.
The Web site states Southern Tech is “setting the standards for real Post-Grad Football Programs” and urges, “Before you choose a program research and fine (sic) out what are you getting.”
The academy’s local recruiter, Rick Kranz, a 1994 graduate of Green Valley High School, called Gerye’s letter inaccurate and unfair.
Kranz said he obtained the names of some students from coaches, and others contacted him after hearing about the academy from friends. Kranz, who spent several years coaching in European leagues and has worked locally, said he hasn’t misled students about the program and never implied it was a junior college.
“Right now, I have no credibility with the schools,” Kranz said. “I can’t talk to the coaches. My reputation has been destroyed.”
The confusion about the program, however, appears to extend beyond a few students. As recently as Wednesday, Southern Tech was listed under “colleges” on NVPreps.com, which maintains a roster of local student-athletes who have signed letters of intent to play college sports.
“I’ve already informed our kids that they don’t sign anything until we find out what’s going on with this school, and they definitely don’t give them any money,” said Dave Snyder, head football coach at Legacy High School. “I’d like to find out what the school is all about and either quash it or allow it to flourish, if it’s something positive.”
Snyder said Legacy students recruited by Southern Tech are decent students and good athletes, who at a minimum have a shot at playing for a junior college.
Jacob Henderson, head coach at Southern Tech, said the problem is Las Vegas schools aren’t familiar enough with postgrad athletic programs to recognize the opportunity they offer.
“We are another alternative for guys trying to make it,” said Henderson, who told the Sun he coached high school football in Florida for six years. “It’s not for everybody, but for some guys it’s a good fit.”
The program’s $9,700 tuition covers room and board, football equipment, one online high school academic course and a test preparation class, according to the academy’s Web site. Students will live in furnished apartments in the same complex as their coaches, allowing for supervision and mentoring, Henderson said. Mandatory study halls will help prepare participants for college, he said.
Royale Jones, a Spring Valley High senior who wants to attend Southern Tech, said he wasn’t entirely clear on how the academic program works, but the chance to play college football was too good to pass up. He said he believes Southern Tech is his best path to a college team.
Jones’ mother isn’t as sure. The tuition is beyond her means, Tamika Jones said, and she’s not comfortable with her son essentially repeating a year of high school.
“I know he’s really trying to play football,” Tamika Jones said. “He thinks he can’t play anywhere else.”
Spring Valley is trying to find Jones a spot at a community college, Gerye said. The school tries to place every student graduate in some form of postsecondary education, be it a junior college, four-year university or career-training program.
A number of Spring Valley athletes are excelling in community colleges in neighboring states, Gerye said.
“It might not be starting quarterback for the USC Trojans,” Gerye said. “But if you truly love a sport and are willing to work hard, there’s a place for everybody.”