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Kiski School coach sues over black recruits

| Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A coach hired to take the basketball program of an Indiana County private school to national prominence sued Monday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, claiming he was forced out for recruiting too many black players.

Anthony Cheatham, 31, of Edgewood claims administrators at The Kiski School told him they would not tolerate fielding an all-black lineup.

"He was told to recruit scholastic, highly talented basketball players," said Cheatham's attorney Sam Cordes.

Cheatham's claims are fiction, said Christopher Brueningsen, headmaster of the Saltsburg school. He said the only issue was complying with rules established by the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, or WPIAL, which prohibits schools from recruiting students based solely on athletic reasons.

"Honestly, I'm puzzled by his motives," Brueningsen said.

Kiski officials announced April 1 that Cheatham was hired as assistant admissions director and head basketball coach. He started immediately as a consultant, with a contract dated to begin July 1, Brueningsen said.

Cheatham was an assistant coach at Robert Morris University. He opened Across the Boards Basketball Academy in 2006 and trained several NBA players, including Greg Oden and Steve Nash. He is training former University of Pittsburgh standout Sam Young. Cheatham played at Pitt and graduated in 2000.

The lawsuit claims Kiski's admissions director balked at the number of black recruits and claimed Georgetown University's reputation declined after it began fielding all-black basketball teams.

Cheatham, who is biracial, said he was forced to resign May 25 because he objected to excluding black recruits because of their race and because he opposed designating black students as "non-mission appropriates" at the school.

Neither of those things was discussed, Brueningsen said.

"Any of the issues we had with him all grew from the issue of needing to abide with WPIAL rules," he said.

Although Kiski is not a WPIAL member, nearly 90 percent of its opponents are. WPIAL officials threatened to ban members from playing Kiski teams if the school continued to recruit players for athletic skills, Brueningsen said.

Specifically, Brueningsen said Cheatham violated WPIAL rules by sending an e-mail to 800 players and their families inviting them to consider enrolling at Kiski and by paying for an airplane ticket for Isaiah Epps -- a highly touted point guard from New Jersey committed to playing basketball at Pitt -- to visit the school.

"Our intention was never to develop a basketball program so quickly by importing a brand new team," Brueningsen said.

Cordes said his client stands by the allegations.

"It was extremely offensive for him to be told they couldn't tolerate an all-black team," Cordes said.

Cheatham wants his job back along with lost wages and an unspecified amount in damages.

The Kiski School had 205 students enrolled during the 2008-09 school year. Its students came from 15 countries, about 33 percent of them minorities. Brueningsen said 5 percent of students were black.

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