The Raytown South High School boys' basketball team was only one victory short of making the state semifinals in Columbia, Missouri. Instead, Kearney High School is on its way there after beating Raytown on Saturday.
Raytown South’s recent success was a lift for a program scorched by unresolved accusations of racial discrimination towards the team.
Back in the day inside Raytown South’s practice gym, there was no mistaking the voice of Bud Lathrop, Missouri’s all-time winningest high school basketball coach. For a team nicknamed the Cardinals, Lathrop laid down the cardinal rules and led them to four state championships.
Three years before he stepped down in 2006, Lathrop said the enjoyment of coaching was taken out because of what he calls outside interference.
“Times change. Things change,” he said at the time.
Since then, the relationship between basketball coaches and the school administration has been rocky. In the last 15 years, three ex-basketball coaches have filed lawsuits against the Raytown school district, including one scheduled to go to trial in November.
“You can’t keep turning your head thinking this is okay because these type of suits don’t just keep happening,” said Jevon Crudup, one of the greatest ever to play at Raytown South before he later played for the Missouri Tigers. “There’s a reason why they’re happening.”
Crudup was fired from his job as an assistant coach in the middle of the 2003 season for using profanity. Crudup, who’s African-American, sued the district for wrongful termination and discrimination, but says it wasn’t necessarily about race.
“Regardless of the race or your gender, it was different sets of rules for different coaches,” said Crudup.
A jury agreed and slapped the district for $250,000 in punitive damages. The Raytown school district appealed, but settled out of court.
Another assistant coach, Phil Morgan, also African-American, filed a suit against the district on the same grounds — wrongful termination and discrimination. He also settled out of court.
Now comes the case of Brad Oestreich, who succeeded Lathrop as head coach. He believes he was ousted unfairly, and it had to do with racial discrimination even though he’s white.
“The termination is based on the discrimination based on the race and based on Brad Oestreich standing up for his black kids while they’re being discriminated against or targets by the Raytown school district principal Kevin Overfelt,” said David Lunceford, Oestreich’s attorney.
Kevin Overfelt, the principal at Raytown South, was also the central figure in the two other lawsuits. When asked about the lawsuit, Overfelt deferred questions to the district's media representatives.
Danielle Nixon, the Raytown School District media contact, said in an email that the school district cannot answer questions regarding legal matters.
Lunceford elaborated on the situation.
“He was going after them based on how they dressed and how they talked and doing things that other kids were doing, but he singled them out for discipline or for things that have consequences,” said Lunceford.
Dominic Herndon played basketball at Raytown South in 2015, the year that Oestreich was suspended from varsity coaching and was moved to teaching only in middle school before he was eventually let go. Herndon said the team knew there was tension between his coach and the principal. Looking back, Herndon said he believes that the boys basketball team had been unfairly singled out.
“We were an all-black team, always been an all-black team, the only sport with an all-black team there,” said Herndon. “That’s mainly one of the reasons why we carried ourselves. How we dressed. We wouldn’t dress up for games sometimes. But that shouldn’t be a reason why we should get singled out. That’s just who we are.”
At the monthly Raytown School Board meeting last week, the 1990 Raytown South boys basketball team, with Crudup and Bud Lathrop among them, reunited to be recognized. That team, which went undefeated, was honored last December by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield. The school board followed suit.
It was an awkward moment for Crudup who saw many of the same faces in the courtroom several years before.
Though he’s no longer a high school coach, Crudup passionately wants to see the Raytown South players do well. He attended their quarterfinal game last weekend. Though disappointed with the game’s final result, it doesn’t compare to Crudup’s simmering feelings about Oestreich’s lawsuit against the school district.
“These things are going on at Raytown South and it’s almost like certain individuals are trying to brush things under the rug,” said Crudup. “It’s not going to go away. Things that are going on need to stop. It’s unfortunate.”
Oestreich hasn’t coached since Raytown South fired him. He now works in pharmaceutical sales.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.