Bull City Prep uses charter school to educate players
PACE Academy, a charter school in Carrboro, has a talented pool of basketball players but most of them don’t suit up for the school.
Instead, the best ball players at PACE are members of a club team called Bull City Prep Academy (BCPA), which, contrary to its name, is not a school.
It’s a for-profit organization run by Darryl Harris, a Durham native who previously coached basketball at Durham’s Greater Emmanuel Prep Academy, also not a school and Body of Christ Christian Academy, a school that operates in Raleigh.
Harris now coaches two teams under the Bull City Prep banner.
One is a post-graduate prep team for players who have completed high school but still have not landed a college scholarship.
The other team is made up of high school students, and those are the ones who attend PACE Academy.
Bull City Prep bills itself as a program “designed to aid student/athletes in the areas of academics and athletics.”
But Harris isn’t in the education business, at least not in the traditional sense.
He relies on PACE Academy, a school that could lose its charter this year due to financial and other concerns, to educate the players he’s landed for his club team, some of which are being recruited by college coaches.
“I’m offering a service,” insists Harris. “My high school coaches, it wasn’t in their job description to get me recruited.”
A review of team rosters shows 21 players – nine on the post-graduate team and 12 on the regular prep team.
Players on each team list hometowns from as far away as Nigeria and as close by as Durham.
The team with PACE Academy student includes two from Jamaica, N.Y., one from Queens, N.Y., and one from Lancaster, Pa., as well as one from Nigeria.
For some of the students, Harris said parents have given him temporary guardianship of their child, a necessary step so players can attend PACE Academy.
North Carolina charter school rules require students to be residents of North Carolina, and Harris’ out-of-state players became residents the moment he became their legal guardian.
State charter school officials said there doesn’t appear to be anything illegal about the arrangement, but it does raise questions about the appropriateness of North Carolinians paying to educate kids from out-of-state brought here for the sole purpose of playing basketball.
PACE receives funding from the state, and because students from Durham, Orange and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools attend the school, it also receives local dollars from those school districts.
“It gets to be a fine line,” said Alexis Schauss, a fiscal analyst at the state Department of Public Instruction.
Harris vehemently denies that his players, particularly those from out-of-state, are brought to North Carolina just to play basketball.
“This ain’t about basketball, sir,” Harris said in an interview last week. “I cannot, will not ever agree to that.”
Harris noted that one of his out-of-state players had season-ending knee surgery but chose to remain in Carrboro, where Harris provides housing for some players, so he could continue to attend school.
“He’s here for way more than basketball,” Harris said. “He’s trying his best to get a scholarship so his mom and dad don’t have to pay for him to go to college. If that kid is just here for basketball, do you think he would have stayed?”
In addition to enrolling players in school and providing housing, Harris said he chauffeurs kids to doctor appointments, helps find tutors and works to put them on the radar screens of college coaches.
“For those services, Harris charges local ball players $300 to $350 a month.
He charges non-local players between $500 and $700 a month.
While it’s widely believed Bull City Prep is affiliated with PACE Academy, Jane Miller, an assistant principal who specializes in exceptional children, said there is no formal relationship between Harris’ team and PACE.
She said the Bull City Prep players do not play for the school’s basketball team, which Miller acknowledged isn’t as talented as Harris’ club team.
“Our regular players wouldn’t have the opportunity to engage in sport at the school [if Harris’ players were on the team],” Miller said. “That’s why they don’t play for PACE.”