Pa. prep school disputes racist recruiting claim
PITTSBURGH — One of the nation’s oldest prep schools on Tuesday disputed a lawsuit brought by a former basketball coach who claims he was forced to quit after complaining that the school told him he was recruiting too many blacks.
Anthony Cheatham sued The Kiski School, an all-boys institution founded in 1888, on Monday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. He seeks unspecified damages for mental anguish, loss of income and humiliation, and wants his job back.
But the school said that race is not the issue, that Cheatham was recruiting from the wrong league and that he quit voluntarily.
The school has about 200 students in grades 9-12. Students come from 15 countries, and about one-third are of color, headmaster Christopher Brueningsen said.
Cheatham was hired as a consultant in the spring with the expectation that he would become an employee in July, Brueningsen said Tuesday. He soon began recruiting.
According to Cheatham’s suit, school officials became “uneasy” when the races of many of his recruits became public. Administrators told him that “the school could not tolerate a basketball team with 5 African American starters,” the suit said.
Brueningsen disputed that anyone would have said that.
“I never had a single conversation with (him) where any concerns about race or ethnicity were raised,” he said. “The charges are just so inconsistent with the facts.”
Instead, Brueningsen said, officials told Cheatham he had to follow regulations of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.
The school in Saltsburg, about 35 miles east of Pittsburgh, is not a league member but follows its regulations governing recruiting because its teams mostly play schools in the league, Brueningsen said.
School officials told Cheatham that league officials were concerned he was recruiting from member schools, Brueningsen said.
The league indicated that if Kiski was recruiting its players, then its member schools would no longer play Kiski, he said.
Brueningsen said the lawsuit surprised him because he thought the recruiting concerns were smoothed over after talking with Cheatham.
But last week, the school’s associate headmaster went to talk with Cheatham and found that items in his office had been packed. Cheatham said that he was quitting and that the school would hear from his attorney, Brueningsen said.
Athletics are part of Kiski’s mission but are secondary to academics, Brueningsen said.
“We had no desire to be defined by our basketball program,” he said.
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