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Trick Play: High School Football Program Fools ESPN to Get Showcase Telecast, the Jokes Write Themselves

On Aug. 29, an obscure high school became the target of jokes after what should’ve been an intense game between two elite football teams turned out to be a train wreck social media could not stop talking about before the story got much darker.

On Sunday afternoon, perennial Florida high school powerhouse IMG Academy took on an Ohio-based school Bishop Sycamore in what was billed as a must-see event. However, it ended up being a 58-0 IMG blowout victory. How this could have happened was just one of many questions being asked following the disastrous performance, but the No. 1 query was who is Bishop Sycamore and why did it think it could take on the No. 2 team in the country?  

No one knew why, not even Paragon, the company who coordinated the game. Nevertheless, according to USA Today, the organization accused the institution — whose website currently has a noted marked “Our site is coming soon” — of deliberate misdirection. The school’s players appeared to have little to no experience on the field.

Coach Roy Johnson of Bishop Sycamore High School. Photo: ESPN/ Screenshot

“Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster, and to be frank, a lot of that, we could not verify,” commentator Anish Shroff said during a live telecast of the game. “They did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services. So, OK, that’s what you’re telling us, fine, that’s how we take it in. From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a fair fight, and there’s got to be a point where you’re worried about health and safety.”

Bishop Sycamore quickly took over social media as the jokes began to flood as folks poked fun at the validity of the institution. The Green Bay Packers’ Robert Joseph Tonyan Jr. commented, “I don’t tweet much, but this has been weighing on my heart… HOW DOES “BISHOP SYCAMORE” TRICK ESPN!!!!??? I need answers 😂😂😂.”

“Being 29 and tearing your ACL in a high school game after working a shift at autozone is insanity,” quipped another.

“I don’t think the Bishop Sycamore jokes gon get old to me. What an all time hustle 😂😂,” wrote Ibrahim H.

But even as the jokes were flying on Twitter, reporting about the newly thrust-into-the-spotlight football program quickly began to paint an unfunny picture. After Bishop Academy players looked flat-footed and slow during the game, with at least one carted off for an injury, it quickly emerged that the team had played two games in three days, which was first pointed out by Ben Koo of Awful Announcing.

Koo revealed that Bishop had played Friday night against Sto-Rox in Pennsylvania, losing 19-7, before traveling to Bradenton, Florida, for their viral game against IMG on Sunday. As a result, many players played both ways in both games, giving them one day of rest —instead of football’s typical week off — after playing offense and defense before doing it all over again against one of the most talented high school teams in the country. 

Aaron Boyd, who claims to be the first-ever player recruited by Bishop Sycamore, exposed some of the school’s alleged wrongdoing in an interview with Complex this week. Boyd no longer is enrolled at the school but claims he attended when he was 15 going on 16 and played the 2018-19 season as a junior. “Everybody that knows me already knows this,” Boyd told Complex. “It’s just the fact now it’s on a greater scale, I have to say something.”

Boyd claims the school lied to him and his parents about who they really were. “At first, they had, like, brochures and a plan. N-gga, they sent me books with, like, sh-t on how the school was supposed to look — blueprints and everything,” he claimed. “They told us we was gonna be on Netflix; they recruited us telling us we were gonna be on a show. They told us we’re gonna be the IMG of the Midwest. They lied to me and my mama.”

The young man also said there was no school campus. He continued. “I can’t lie — they tried once. They took us to a community library. One day. It was already October — the season was about to be over. It was like at this point, ‘Well, sh-t, I’m not going to school. Y’all haven’t put me through school this whole time.” He also alleged he lived in a hotel for five months because there was no housing, nor did the school ever pay the facility.

The team’s coach, Roy Johnson, was fired following Sunday’s debacle and the subsequent national scrutiny of Bishop. In a statement to USA Today Sports, the school’s director Andre Peterson said the move was made following Sunday’s game on Aug. 30 despite Johnson still posing as head coach in interviews. Peterson argued, “We hadn’t put anything out. So yeah, I was OK with it.”

Peterson cited a poor track of athlete’s injuries as to what lead him to relieved Johnson of his duties. “There were a lot of things played a part in it,” he added.

According to the Massillon Independent, Bishop Sycamore is described as an online charter school that students can attend. In addition, the school isn’t listed in the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s directory of schools, which leaves more question marks.

The fallout has just started, as every school on Bishop Sycamore’s remaining schedule has canceled its game with the team, effectively dooming it for this year — and possibly forever— as a football program.

Be sure to check out the spectacle Bishop Sycamore put on over the weekend down below.

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