ROANOKE, Va. – Since our 10 News investigation into the South Forest Community Christian football program began two weeks ago, there has been more fallout.
The investigation began with a tip about questionable housing for the team’s student-athletes.
Out-of-state players paying a $500 deposit for what they thought were hotel accommodations ended up being a personal payment made to head coach Pope Mitchell to live in his home.
“We sent the money in May to reserve the house. Since then, he blamed it on the school. Saying ‘the school is waiting for this, the school is waiting for this,’” said Jawaan Griffin, one of the players who paid the housing deposit. She left the program and went home within 48 hours of moving into Mitchell’s house.
Those $500 deposits have not yet been refunded.
And these players aren’t the only ones who feel taken advantage of by the SFCC program.
[Dream turned nightmare: Local football program plagued with broken promises]
Austin Wilhelm, a former Alleghany High School wide receiver, was originally sold on the idea of playing in college.
“I heard coach Mitchell was putting it out there and trying to get the kids here noticed by the big colleges, not just in Virginia but all over,” Wilhelm said.
In 2020, he accepted Mitchell’s offer to join the Bobcats program and, at Mitchell’s request, enrolled at Community Christian College, an online school in California that Mitchell said was affiliated with SFCC.
Wilhelm saw his first red flag when he applied for financial aid.
“They had me do a FAFSA and after the FAFSA, they asked me if I played sports for them. And I said: ‘Yes, I’m playing sports for them.’ So they went ahead and added this sports fee,” Wilhelm said.
A $1,500 sports fee Wilhelm said CCC added to his bill. Caught off guard, he asked Mitchell what this money was being used for and where it was going.
[‘They need to shut that down’: Former players blow the whistle on Roanoke football program]
“Once you paid for that, he said they would send him the funds for your football helmet, your cleats, things like that,” Wilhelm explained.
But Wilhelm said the team never offered any of that.
Due to his early skepticism around the program, Wilhelm quit before even playing a game.
However, two years later, Wilhelm said CCC is still asking to collect his tuition and athletic fees starting in 2020, even though he stopped taking classes and left the football program.
“All in all, $4,500 I owe them and I went to college thinking I was going to play football, but I never ended up doing it, because I never followed through. It seemed crazy, so I never did.” Wilhelm added.
Now Wilhelm questions this sports fee even more. Because, as we reported, CCC sent this statement to 10 News denying any affiliation with SFCC: “There is no association, sports or otherwise, with the entity, corporation or business located in Roanoke, Virginia.”
However, it was Community Christian College that was listed in the contract between the Roanoke team and an assistant football coach, who asked to remain anonymous.
[Head coach of South Forest Community Christian football program resigns]
“The deal was for me to train for $6,000 a year, the first year. We had discussions about going up from there,” the assistant coach said.
That’s the stipend the assistant coach said Mitchell told him he would pay. The memorandum of understanding that appears to have been signed by CCC, also reviewed by 10 News, reflects that the assistant would receive 2% of the actual tuition amount received by CCC’s Financial Aid Department per student and any cash collected by to each student.
The second base coach said that after being with the team all of last season and this year’s preseason, he hasn’t received any money. He said that every time he asked Mitchell about the payments, Mitchell blamed CCC.
“Whenever they told us this payment would be this month, this month would come and I’d say, ‘Where’s the payment?’ Eventually, they’d say, ‘We’re in talks again. It’s going to be this month instead. And it got pushed back every time,'” the assistant coach added.
The assistant coach said that after our story exposing the Christian management of the South Forest community, he confirmed his suspicions that something was wrong.
“Basically the program itself I think is terrible, I think it’s been run very, very terribly and I think it should be shut down,” the assistant coach said.
While the assistant is still frustrated that he wasn’t compensated, he feels worse for the players who rely on his program.
“You’re talking about children’s lives here. You’re talking about big life decisions. And for you to play with that, with people’s lives, it’s not good at all,” he added.
Since our interview with the assistant coach, Mitchell has resigned as head coach and athletic director.
10 News spoke off-camera with players who were still on the team, and we’re told they’re now being told their point of contact is the CCC athletic director, raising even more questions about their affiliation.
10 News contacted CCC about our findings. They tell us that the contract is done.
We’ll have the rest of their response as our investigation continues next week.
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