3 Coaches Sue School, Allege They Were Told Not to Recruit Black Players

A small Kansas community college is facing a lawsuit from three coaches who alleged that they were told not to recruit Black athletes for their sports teams, KCUR reported.

The recruitment allegations are part of a larger effort by Highland Community College to intimidate Black students into leaving the school and discourage others from attending, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, last week.

This is the same school whose president reportedly compared a Black football player to Hitler, whom she allegedly touted as a "great leader," KCUR reported. The president, Deborah Fox, is named in the lawsuit, in addition to athletic director Bryan Dorrel, board of trustee member Russel Karn and the school at large.

The three coach plaintiffs in the lawsuit are B.J. Smith, the former women's basketball head coach, and former assistant coaches Bradford Zinn and Jered Ross.

William Odle, the lawyer who is representing them, told WCUR that the school's administration "acted in a concerted fashion to discriminate against Black student-athletes, and when challenged by coaches trying to do the right thing, reacted by smearing the reputations of those coaches, depriving them both of due process and future work possibilities."

The complaint said that of the school's student population of just over 3,200, 87 percent are white and less than 6 percent are Black. In the 2010 census, the population in the rural community of Highland where the college is located was 84.7 percent white and 10 percent Black.

"Notably, the vast majority of the HCC's student-athletes in recent years have been African American," the complaint said.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants made efforts to transform the college into "a racially homogenous campus with fewer African American athletes" and to "make Highland white again," KCUR added.

Smith, the former women's head basketball coach, told KCUR that after Dorrel became the school's athletic director, "He told me I had to recruit more players the culture of our community could relate to. And I actually said, 'I don't think I understand what you mean.' And he very aggressively said, 'You know exactly what I mean.'"

"And that's when I went, okay, hold on. I think they want to change the color of our school. And I don't mean the colors on the uniform," Smith added.

Fox said in a press release that the college denies the allegations, including the accusations that the school "reduced its minority population in what is alleged was a discriminatory manner."

"Of the sports Highland Community College offered during Coach Smith's last year at the College, 48 percent of the athletes on the roster were African American. Forty-nine percent of the current rostered students, in the same sports now offered as in 2019, are African American. Students identifying as white make up about 30 percent of the rostered athletes," the release said.

"Plaintiff Smith, Zenn, and Ross's lawsuit in federal court paves the way for Highland Community College to explain the circumstances surrounding the departure of Smith, Zenn, and Ross; to explain the diversity of the student athletes, and the current coaching staff; and it will give Highland Community College the opportunity to demonstrate how proud the College is of the student athletes that have chosen HCC," Fox added.

The lawsuit was not the first time Fox has made headlines in recent days. The Kansas City Star posted an editorial on February 8 calling for Fox to resign over an audio clip allegedly of her talking about Hitler and leadership.

"You know leadership, I mean for certain people that emerge as leaders, good or bad. You know, even though we don't like it, Hitler was a great leader. I mean, I'm not saying…I don't, to emulate in any way, but he somehow, even for evil, moved and were able to do these things, and, you know, it's terrifying. But that's what can happen when leadership isn't acknowledged and goes untapped or undirected," the clip said, according to KCUR.

Fox, who said that she made the reference during a conversation where she questioned a Black football player's leadership skills, said that she later apologized to students for her "poor choice of words," KCUR reported.

Newsweek reached out to Dorrel for comment on the allegations.

Update 2/11/22, 4:50 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional background information on the lawsuit and defendants.

A small Kansas community college is facing a lawsuit from three coaches who alleged that they were told not to recruit Black athletes for their sports teams. Above, a gavel is seen on May 8, 2021. Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images