10 NEWS INVESTIGATES: Financial burdens left in the wake of Roanoke football team fallout

Former player, assistant coach say they’re facing financial woes at hand of South Forest Community Christian football program

ROANOKE, Va. – Since our 10 News investigation into the South Forest Community Christian football program began two weeks ago, there’s been more fallout.

The investigation started with a tip about questionable housing for student-athletes on the team.

Out-of-state players paying a $500 deposit on what they thought were hotel accommodations, ended up being a personal payment made to the head coach, Pope Mitchell, for them to live in his home.

“We sent the money back in May for the housing to be reserved. Ever since then, he blamed it on the school. Saying ‘the school is waiting on this, the school is waiting on that,’” said Jawaan Griffin, one of the players who paid the deposit for housing. He left the program and went home within 48 hours of moving into Mitchell’s house.

Those $500 deposits have still not been refunded.

And those 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 wide receiver from Alleghany High School, was originally sold on the idea of playing in college.

“I heard that Coach Mitchell was putting it up and trying to get kids around here noticed by the big colleges, not just from Virginia but all around,” said Wilhelm.

In 2020 he accepted Mitchell’s offer to be part of the Bobcats program and at Mitchell’s request, enrolled in 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 got me to do a FAFSA and after the FAFSA, they asked me if I was playing sports for them. And I said, ‘Yes, I’m playing sports for them.’ So they went ahead and added that athletic fee,” Wilhelm said.

A $1,500 athletic fee that Wilhelm said CCC added to his invoice. Caught off guard, he asked Mitchell what that money was used for, and where it went.

[‘They need to shut that down’: Former players blow the whistle on Roanoke football program]

“Once you paid that, he was saying that would be sent to him for the funds for your football helmet, your cleats, things like that,” Wilhelm explained.

But Wilhelm said that the team never provided any of that.

Due to his early skepticism surrounding the program, Wilhelm quit before he even played a game.

Yet, two years later, Wilhelm said that CCC is still calling to collect his tuition and athletic fees from 2020, even though he stopped taking classes and left the football program.

“Altogether, $4,500 that I owe them and went to a college thinking I was going to play football but never ended up doing it, because I never followed through. It sounded crazy so I never did it,” Wilhelm added.

Now Wilhelm is questioning that athletic fee even more. Because as we’ve reported, CCC sent this statement to 10 News denying any affiliation with SFCC: “There is no partnership, athletic or otherwise, with the entity, corporation or business located in Roanoke, Virginia.”

However, it was Community Christian College listed on the contract between the team in Roanoke and an assistant football coach, one who asked to remain anonymous.

[Head coach of South Forest Community Christian football program resigns]

“The agreement was for me to coach for $6,000 a year, for the first year. We had talks about it going up from there,” the assistant coach said.

That’s the stipend that the assistant coach said Mitchell told him he’d be paid. The Memorandum of Understanding appearing to be signed by CCC, also reviewed by 10 News, reflects the assistant would be paid 2% of the actual tuition amount received by the CCC Financial Aid Department per student and any cash collected for each student.

The assistant coach said after being with the team all last season and the preseason this year, he hasn’t received any money. He said every time he asked Mitchell about the payments, Mitchell blamed CCC.

“Whenever they would tell us it would be this payment on this month, that 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 each and every time,” the assistant coach added.

The assistant coach said after our story exposing the South Forest Community Christian Management aired, it confirmed his suspicions that something wasn’t right.

“Basically the program itself I believe is terrible, I believe it’s ran very very terribly and I believe should be shut down,” the assistant coach said.

While the assistant is still frustrated he hasn’t been compensated, he feels worse for the players who put their trust in his program.

“You’re talking about kids’ lives here. You’re talking about big life decisions. And for you to play with that, with people’s lives, is not right at all,” he added.

Since our interview with the assistant coach, Mitchell resigned as head coach and athletic director.

10 News has spoken off-camera with players who were still on the team, and they tell us that they’re now being told their point of contact is the Athletic Director of CCC, raising even more questions about their affiliation.

10 News reached out to CCC about our findings. They tell us that the contract is made up.

We’ll have the rest of their response as our investigation continues next week.

About the Author

Alyssa Rae grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Virginia Tech. An avid sports fan, she spent her first 8 years in TV as a sports anchor and reporter.

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