Report: High Schooler Received $30K In Benefits

In the past week Brent Schrotenboer of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE has uncovered an almost incomprehensible scandal involving athletes at an evangelical high school in San Diego.

Chen Cai San Diego Scandal

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6-8 Maranatha Christian star Chen Cai, who moved to the U.S. four years ago primarily to play basketball, averaged 26 points and 17 rebounds last year at the school as a junior. But following the season, the San Diego Section of the California Interscholastic League hired a private investigator to look into claims that Cai was receiving illegal benefits from two sports marketing agents.

Schrotenboer reports:

The report says Terry Rhoads and Frank Sha, former Nike employees who helped bring Yao from China to the NBA, “spent more than $30,000 on this kid (Chen), not to mention paying his living bills, paying the training, paying the parents to come to the U.S. three times.”

Meanwhile, according to the report, documents in Chen’s Maranatha file said a 2007 form indicated that $7,000 in tuition was received “from unknown sources.” Later Lydia Clark said she witnessed Chen’s mother, who does not speak English, handle “wads of cash” according to the report.

Clark is a teacher at the school and wife of former San Diego Padre Jerald Clark - who Cai has lived with the past three years.

Also implicated in the wide-ranging scandal is the coach of the team, Rle Nichols.

The report said Nichols was looking for a job in 2005-06 and told an official at La Jolla Country Day School that if he were hired, he would “bring a big 6-8 Chinese kid with him.” La Jolla Country Day confirmed this, according to the report. An official at Country Day declined comment.

Nichols reportedly worked intimately with the two marketers to place Cai at the San Diego school, and allegedly executed an earlier, similar deal as coach of NBA player Yao Ming. (It’ll come as no surprise that investigators also think Cai is 20, not 17.)

The fallout of the P.I. report is massive. Marantha Christian has already declared Cai ineligible for his senior year and offered to forfeit all of the school’s victories the past three seasons in which Cai played.

Schrotenboer’s first break on this story is bad enough, but his followup about the school’s improper activities is a nuclear bomb.

It turns out the “pastor” running the evangelical school not only knew that Cai was getting his $8,200 yearly tuition improperly paid, but also took money from his own Marantha Chapel church to pay the tuition of scores of other Maranatha athletes.

Additionally, other Marantha athletes not covered by the church had their tuition paid for by a dubious “non-profit” organization setup by Coach Nichols himself.

A number of high school basketball players at Maranatha Christian Schools had their tuitions paid by its affiliated church, Maranatha Chapel, at the direction of Pastor Ray Bentley and basketball coach Rle Nichols, the documents said. This happened despite misgivings by school officials, including the superintendent, Dennis Frey, who stated to the investigator that he was “clearly bothered by the situation” and “near tears” when talking about it.

Some athletes previously also had all or part of their tuitions paid by a nonprofit business started by Nichols’ son despite being told not to by the local governing body of high school athletics, according to the documents. Additionally, star basketball player Chen Cai from China “was the only student at Maranatha that does not pay tuition,” the report said. The same report said Chen also was the beneficiary of funds provided by sports marketers in China who formerly worked at Nike.

“No other students benefited from the extra money given by the Church, other than those… connected to the athletic program,” school officials said in the report made for the San Diego Section of the California Interscholastic Federation. The report said Frey recently learned that Bentley had an agreement that Chen would not have to pay tuition. The agreement “apparently goes back to Chen Cai’s eighth-grade year,” the report said.

“Mr. Frey stated that Pastor Ray justified it by stating that he hoped to make some in-roads into China and maybe one day establish a mission there,” the report said. “Frey stated, ‘I think Rle (the coach) just sold him a bill of goods, and he was trying to put a good spin on it.’ ”

Would’ve loved to have seen the double-take at the collection plate at Marantha the Sunday after Schrotenboer broke this story.