Dylan Jacobs,Frank BodaniChambersburg Public Opinion
The prep school touted as a national rising power, the one whose baseball team was coached by a former Major League Baseball pitcher, couldn't so much as pay to use a practice field.
At the same time Scotland Campus in small-town Franklin County was adding teams and promising new facilities and luring student-athletes from all over the world, it was falling apart.
According to interviews with parents, players and former employees, it couldn't afford to compensate its coaches.
It cut road trips, then regular-season schedules.
Its players went hungry.
Even more critical, parents say these student-athletes were living in unsanitary, if not dangerous conditions for more than a year. From broken asbestos floor tiles in classroom buildings, to neglected ceiling leaks and peeling, lead-based paint, to inadequate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Students even went without heat and hot water for stretches this past winter and spring.
A gas leak this past winter threatened the welfare of an on-campus daycare.
It all became too much for many parents, such as Greencastle’s Jeff Cassera, who were paying $1,000 and more each month to educate their children and facilitate their athletic dreams. His son Chase, the youngest of four boys, wanted an intense, elite baseball experience to prepare to play in college.
Despite top-shelf coaching, the overall athletic experience deteriorated rapidly over the past two years, according to parents and former staff members.
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On baseball game days, for example, “they were feeding these kids with a piece of bologna and two slices of white bread, chips and a bottled water. Big kids. It was atrocious,” said Cassera, who pointed out that most of Scotland’s students came from other states and countries and had no local family support.
“I felt like I had to buy these kids food because they’re starving. They’re playing doubleheaders and had no access to food."
Even more, “the fact that they got kids living in unsafe conditions and no one does anything about it, all for the sake of the dollar? It (became) obvious" that parents were not receiving what they had been promised, what they were paying for, Cassera said.
Why Scotland Campus shut its doors
The Scotland Campus sports programs, which boasted a national-caliber boys’ basketball team just two years ago, withered away before shuttering for good this spring.
Scotland Campus Development Inc. defaulted on its tenant agreement with property owners — not paying its most basic bills, including insurance, rent and sewer, since the beginning of 2023, according to Montgomery County lawyer Kerry Schuman. He represents the property’s owners, a Florida-based real estate investing couple.
After repeated warnings to Scotland officials, Schuman said he filed an ejectment action with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in mid-April. The campus was cleared of its remaining students over spring break, and the school officially closed.
However, up to 10 on-campus cottages are still being occupied by school officials and others, Schuman said. Those people — currently living rent-free — must leave by mid-June or have their locks changed and be removed by law enforcement, he said.
A hoped for agreement to allow Scotland's international students to finish their semester work on campus could not be worked out between the owners and Scotland Campus and the education arm of the school (First Love Christian Academy of Washington, Pa.), Schuman said. Liability and transcript issues were the biggest roadblocks, he said.
“We wanted to help out the kids if we could (this spring). We understood the hopelessness of those families and what was occurring,” Schuman said.
But, “There’s no playbook out there for failed private schools and what to do.”
The property owners, Neil and Mayda McGowen, all but rescued the financially distressed Scotland Campus from foreclosure a year ago by purchasing it for $5.8 million and allowing the school to continue to operate as a tenant, Schuman said.
Now, the McGowens intend to market and sell the property, though they have no intended future use for it, Schuman said.
For now, the owners are attempting to gradually secure and "seal-up" the campus, which has already experienced vandalism to its numerous buildings, Schuman said.
Neither school president David Newell nor vice president Mitchell Johnston would comment.
This school's swift, final-stages demise ruined a grand transformation, as hailed by its former leaders. Over the past seven years, student-athletes came to these nearly 170 sprawling acres a few miles from Chambersburg with promises of the best coaching, recruiting exposure, academics and new facilities. They would be part of a hopeful rebirth — a prep school sports power emerging from the abandoned foundation of one of the most revered institutions in the state.
The campus was created in 1895 to house the Scotland School for Veterans' Children. It was the only school in the state designed to both educate and care for the children of military members. (Despite impressive athletic success through the 1990s, the school suffered from declining enrollment and closed its doors in 2009 because of budgetary cuts.)
Scotland's most recent reincarnation, led by school president Newell, attempted to create a money-making educational and sports partnership. Former pro baseball draft pick Todd Weldon and former MLB pitcher Josh Edgin led the baseball program. Former national prep-school-coach-of-the-year Chris Chaney, who helped 36 Scotland players earn college scholarships just in 2020, quickly built the boys' basketball program.
Scotland added boys' soccer in 2019, and girls' basketball and soccer in the fall of 2021.
But the overall operation came under heavy fire in recent months by players, parents and former employees. More than 10 spoke out, some of whom asked to not be identified.
Some of their complaints and issues with school officials include:
- Failure to pay its employees. Since the beginning of 2020, 17 wage complaint forms were filed to the Pa. Department of Labor on behalf of Scotland employees.
- Failure to pay local services, including a van company used for travel to games.
- Periodic stretches without heat and hot water in dorms; uncovered asbestos tiles; peeling lead-based paint in dorms and class buildings; neglected ceiling leaks and mold; inoperable toilets and sewage backups in kitchens and bathrooms.
- Food service options closed or reduced operating hours, forcing athletes to pay out of pocket for food delivery.
- A lack of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in dorms.
- The number of campus security staff dropped after many weren't paid.
- Inefficient academic curriculum.
A search warrant, signed by District Judge Kristin D. Nicklas and filed by Robert Clem Malot, Code Enforcement Officer, was served on Scotland Campus officials on March 29, 2023.
The warrant details a history of buildings being deemed "unfit," and makes note of a list of complaints made to the Building Code Office in March 2022.
An inspection of the school in April 2022 resulted "in a very extensive list of hazardous and/or dangerous items to be corrected," according to the search warrant.
A second list of complaints that detailed living conditions was sent to Code officials in January 2023. One parent complained of a mouse infestation and a "Bat in Dorm preventing use of entry-egress northeast side of dorm."
Malot wrote in the warrant that "the current conditions … are believed to exist that are affecting the health, safety and welfare of the occupants and users of the facilities.
"The property … is therefore unsafe and being used illegally."
Erik Nordberg's son, Nik, was a Scotland basketball player who stuck with the program until it was finally, once and for all, canceled this spring.In late February, Erik said Scotland's trip to the semifinals of the Elite Prep League Championships in Richmond, Virginia was canceled. Head basketball coach Tony Bergeron confirmed that the local van company that provided transportation for the team pulled the van because of late payments.
“Somebody needs to be able to come in and look under the hood and say, ‘What's the money trail?’” Nordberg said. “‘What is happening with the money? Why is there such a deficit? Why are the kids living in these conditions? Why are the referees not getting paid? Why can’t the kids, who are supposed to be getting seen (by college coaches), not be able to travel and go to these places to be seen?’”
Cassera said he was banned from the campus a year ago by former Scotland vice president Johnston after repeated inquiries and demands about the tuition process. Cassera said Scotland abruptly dismissed his son from the school last spring, without giving him a reason, before he could officially pull him.
After several attempts to reach him, Johnston wrote in an email on May 4:
"Scotland Campus has closed, and the property is being sold by the owners. I no longer work there, and there are no other employees."
Newell agreed to an in-person interview on May 8, then told a reporter that he would not speak without his attorney present. Newell did not reschedule the meeting.
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Scotland staffers weren't paid, some for months
Bergeron said he has not received a paycheck since November.
Other former staff members who asked to not be identified also did not get paid, and that took a toll on campus services and employees.
"Across the board," Bergeron said. "Security at the front gate, they're owed a great deal of money. Their (numbers were) down. Cafeteria, coaching staff, teachers, administrative assistants, like across the board. And there are a certain amount of people when they stopped getting paid, they stopped working. Unfortunately for myself and my staff, we (didn't) have that luxury because there (were) still kids here."
Bergeron said he and his staff made sure the kids on campus were taken care of, even stepping in to assist in classes as teachers left and more full-time staff wasn't hired.
Nordberg's son, Nik, was a senior on the basketball team. They are Fairfield, Adams County natives, so while Nik didn't live on campus and attend full classes, he went there almost nine hours a day for workouts, practices, and when conditions were better, games.
He said students, who paid for meals as part of their room and board, were having to order delivery out of their own pockets to get a good meal.
According to Nik Nordberg, there was a breakfast and lunch spot, and there was a pizza shop that were alternatives for students, but due to staff shortages, they were closed.
That left just the dining hall, which saw its hours cut to only 3 hours and 15 minutes across three different mealtimes during the week, and only three hours, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekends, according to a sign posted outside the hall.
"Every night,” Nik Nordberg said. “I mean all the time, at the front shack, that's where the DoorDash drops off the food and stuff like that. So every time I (drove) by there, there's all kinds of DoorDash, UberEATS, all that stuff at the front gate.”
According to the Nordbergs, living conditions at the school got worse in recent months. They shared pictures of the common areas such as bathrooms and the kitchen. The pictures show garbage overflowing and sanitary conditions not being met.
Cassera filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture in April 2022, alleging that sewage backed up in the kitchen, the ventilation system was outdated and inadequate and that the cafeteria had not been inspected since the former school on the same site closed in 2009.
An inspection was performed in April 2022 in response to Cassera's email, and the kitchen was deemed to be clean and in good standing, according to Department of Agriculture press secretary Shannon Powers.
Prior to the complaint, the cafeteria, which served hundreds of students daily, had not registered with the Department of Agriculture, according to Powers.
At the time of the first inspection, the department provided Scotland with an application to register, but it never did, according to Powers.
The department performed a follow-up inspection in March 2023. The inspection is marked as an opening inspection on the Department of Agriculture's website, even though the campus has been running since 2015.
The school passed the inspection. Two violations were noted relating to insects/rodents/animals and food and non-food contact surfaces.
Nordberg is committed to play basketball at Norwich University. But even with everything going on, he still showed up at Scotland nearly nine hours a day, almost every day of the week.
But he is on his way out. He has his college decision.
“(The younger teammates) were gonna be playing in a big tournament with all these college coaches seeing them, and so this (would) be their chance,” Nik Nordberg said. "There were college coaches there ... could have been their chance to get a college scholarship.
"And then they weren't even able to perform.”
Parents had to help run Scotland Campus' programs
Trace Dockman is a Waynesboro native who bounced around to multiple schools. He transferred to St. Maria Goretti in Hagerstown, Maryland, his freshman year, but when COVID hit and his academic and athletic opportunities were limited, he looked elsewhere.
Scotland Campus presented an opportunity to continue in-person learning and year-round soccer training, which appealed to him and his family.
But cracks began to form last year when it seemed to him that the program and coach Scott Cox weren’t presenting the kids with opportunities promised. It came to a point where Trace’s father, Thomas Dockman, had to step in.
Dockman said he ended up scheduling six of the team's 10 games last year, "simply because (Cox) wasn't doing it,” Dockman said. “He didn't have showcases, he didn't have player cards. He didn't have any of those things for the boys."
Dockman initiated contact with a Maryland coach to schedule a game last spring. In the email thread, the other coach writes that he reached out to Cox but didn't hear back for weeks.
"In all honesty, the training is phenomenal," Thomas Dockman said. "I will never say that Coach Cox is not a good soccer coach in that aspect. But when it comes to the coordinating and exposure and all those things that everybody wants out of a good club team, or even a high school team, he definitely did not live up to the hype.”
Those issues persisted into the fall. Dockman said Cox canceled two games to end the season for reasons that were unclear. One of the games was even a home game, with college coaches scheduled to attend.
Cox could not be reached for comment.
With the lack of quality showcase opportunities, it made the recruiting process difficult.
Trace Dockman, a senior, is committed to play for Randolph College, a Division III soccer program. And while the family is looking forward to that opportunity, Thomas Dockman feels that more could have been done.
“My son's a 6-foot-1 left-footed defensive back, and that's very appealing to college coaches. But when the college coaches can't come and see him play, because they're not given the opportunity to play and get the exposure, that's what's limited him,” Dockman said.
Trace will end up doing what he wanted, playing collegiate soccer. But it was a bumpy road.
“When the boys had complaints and comments about the school being bad, Coach would sit there and say that we were victimizing ourselves, and that we were taking for granted what we had and all this and all that and it was just a mess,” Trace Dockman said. “And we had every right to be upset."
That’s why Thomas Dockman is speaking out, because he believes there should be responsibility for those who made promises they couldn’t deliver.
“There needs to be accountability for the people that took on the responsibility of coaching, teaching, mentoring, supervising, anything that's associated with Scotland,” Dockman said. “That's my biggest frustration."
Dylan Jacobs covers high school sports for the Public Opinion and USA Today Network. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @DylJacobs.
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.