Ex-Sandburg Coach's Claims Of Unethical Behavior Unfounded: District

December 2, 2023 0 By JohnValbyNation

ORLAND PARK, IL — As some of Illinois’ top high school football programs prepare to vie for state championships this weekend, officials at Carl Sandburg High School say that allegations over how the school’s varsity football program operates and the players it allegedly recruits are unfounded.

Yet, issues raised by a former varsity assistant coach into what he claimed were recruiting strategies that violated the Illinois High School Association’s bylaws led to an internal investigation that ultimately determined that Sandburg football coach Troy McAllister did not cross a line.

The investigation, which was launched in January and eventually turned over to IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson, centered around allegations made by former Sandburg defensive coordinator Andrew Gerhardstein, who alleged that the program wrongfully targeted prospective players out of the Orland Pioneers youth football program and that varsity coaches violated other IHSA bylaws by opening school gyms up to players to practice when the state says they are not allowed.

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Gerhardstein, a Sandburg alum who also played football at the school before joining the varsity staff in 2006, detailed what he characterized as unethical measures taken by McAllister that he says also led two other varsity assistants to resign from their coaching jobs after the 2021 season.

One of the two coaches declined to be identified by Patch and declined to comment, directing Patch to a district spokesperson. The other did not respond to a text message sent by Patch. Despite standing alone in the matter, Gerhardstein says he is not backing down despite the backlash he has faced in moving ahead with allegations against the Sandburg varsity coach.

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“The whole message of why we have athletics and the lesson they’re supposed to teach have been lost through all of this,” Gerhardstein told Patch. “The true message of how to work hard, overcome adversity — all those messages — have been lost.”

Gerhardstein, who served as Sandburg’s varsity defensive coordinator between 2009-15 and again from 2020-22 after a brief stint working on Homewood-Flossmoor’s football staff, said he has taken concerns over how McAllister runs the varsity program to several of District 230 officials, including building principals, athletic department officials, union representatives, and school board members.

He told Patch that he initially brought his concerns to McAllister only to be told that there was nothing to worry about. McAllister took over the Sandburg varsity program in 2021 after becoming the first Chicago City League coach in state history to lead his program (Phillips) to a state championship — which he did twice in three years, in 2015 (Class 4-A) and 2017 (Class 5-A).

“It was a unique opportunity at Sandburg,” McAllister told the Sun-Times in 2021 when he was hired in Orland Park. “It’s a Class 8A program playing in what is probably the toughest public-school conference in the state. There’s never a good time to leave, but for me, it felt like the right moment to make a move and push my professional career.”
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At issue, the district said in regard to its internal investigation that took place earlier this year, are allegations that McAllister illegally recruited players from the Orland Pioneers football program as a means to gain a competitive edge over rival schools — and namely private Catholic schools — all in the name of putting a winning product on the field.

In a series of emails, text message exchanges, and other correspondence compiled by the former varsity assistant, Gerhardstein maintains that his attempts to bring what he characterized as improper behavior on the part of McAllister essentially went nowhere. Gerhardstein said that he first took concerns to McAllister only to be told that no wrongdoing had been committed.

Gerhardstein told Patch that he continued to climb the chain of command and was told that his concerns over possible IHSA bylaw recruiting violations would be investigated. Gerhardstein said when his concerns over his allegations were either ignored or dismissed, he began to send his concerns to the IHSA, including to Anderson and to the athletic governing body’s Board of Directors.

In a statement to Patch, Anderson said that District 230 “self-reported” the bylaw violation allegations made by Gerhardstein. At that point, the IHSA and District 230 officials decided that an internal investigation would be launched, which took place in January, a District 230 spokesperson told Patch.

“I reviewed the findings of that internal investigation and spoke directly with the administrative team at Sandburg High School regarding their findings,” Anderson said in a statement provided by Patch. “I could not substantiate that any IHSA by-laws were violated that required any disciplinary action from the Association.”

Yet, Gerhardstein alleges that the IHSA and District 230 officials have partnered together to essentially turn a blind eye to the allegations. What he said started as concerns over “a lot of unethical behavior” on McAllister’s part, has turned into more claims on the former varsity assistant’s part that the powers that be both at the District 230 and IHSA levels are using a “very calculated” “one hand washes the other” approach to the allegations.

He also claims that the District 230 Board of Education has failed to keep District 230 Superintendent Robert Nolting accountable in terms of the school’s core values and mission.

“I don’t believe cheating is one of (the core values),” Gerhardstein told Patch, “and basically, they’re condoning it.”

Yet, through a district spokesperson, district officials said that after looking into concerns raised by the defensive coordinator — specifically the claims that McAllister used various methods to steer Orland Pioneer players to Sandburg’s program — officials who were part of the investigation did not find any evidence that McCallister broke any rules.

“Specifically, as these student-athletes were residents of our community, had older siblings at Carl Sandburg High School, and were provided information and opportunities afforded to all incoming students, there was no violation found by the IHSA,” the district said in a statement “We did learn some best practices in communication and how to work in collaboration with community athletic programs in the future to assist all our athletic programs create greater continuing among our youth athletic programs who have been amazing partners for many years.”

Gerhardstein has continued to press on despite the district and IHSA finding no evidence of wrongdoing. He told Patch that he has filed a complaint with the Illinois Inspector General’s Office, but has not yet received a response.

Despite the school and the state athletic association moving on from his allegations, Gerhardstein said he feels compelled to raise concerns over what he feels is improper behavior on the part of Sandburg’s varsity coach. As a graduate of the school, a former football player and now as the parent of students in the district, the former varsity coach says that it hasn’t been easy airing his concerns.

He says that he has been warned about putting himself as a whistleblower on what he maintains is the improper recruiting of prospective varsity players from Orland’s youth football program. He says that he has been told by friends to keep his head down and that he may be risking his employment as a teacher in the district if he makes too much noise in regard to his allegations.

Yet, so far, he has pushed ahead, saying that the moral code he lives by dictates his actions.

“Unfortunately, students are paying the price and the adults who are supposed to be advocating for and protecting them are not,” Gerhardstein told Patch. “They’re using students as pawns for their own professional gain and protecting their own self-interests.

He added: “What message are we really condoning in our district? That it’s OK to cheat as long as you don’t get caught? And even if you do, if you have the power to basically work the system (nothing will happen). What are we teaching to our future leaders?”

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