Attorney files injunction, parents fume over Renaissance hoops job

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Venias "Vito" Jordan Jr. has spent the last five seasons as the Detroit Renaissance boys basketball coach.

Detroit — The attorney for Venias "Vito" Jordan Jr., whose position as the Detroit Renaissance boys basketball coach was reopened, filed a preliminary injunction Thursday in an attempt to keep school officials from conducting interviews with potential coaching candidates.

Federal judge Gershwin Drain has ordered a teleconference for all parties to discuss the "emergency motion" 4 p.m. Friday, Jordan's attorney, Andrew Paterson, said in an email to The Detroit News.

Jordan, who has been the head coach at Renaissance the past five seasons, was told by new principal Verynda Stroughter last week she was opening the position to interview other candidates.

Jordan guided Renaissance to consecutive Detroit Public School League championship game appearances in 2015 and 2016, then to a 15-7 record last season. He owns a 68-43 record in his five years at the school, but has been eliminated by U-D Jesuit in the districts each season.

Renaissance is The News' preseason No. 1 team in the state with a strong nucleus consisting of the PSL's top two players in 6-foot-7 Carrington McCaskill, a Florida Atlantic commit, and 6-5 senior guard/forward Chandler Turner, along with 6-6 senior forward Kylin Grant.

Stroughter interviewed candidates Monday and offered the position to River Rouge coach Mark White, according to district spokesperson Chrystal Wilson. White accepted, then withdrew his name from consideration.

“(Stroughter) called me in her office last Tuesday," Jordan told The News for a story posted Tuesday, "and said, 'I’m going to be evaluating all my programs, but in my brief evaluation I’ve heard some bad things about the boys basketball program and with that said I’m going to open the job up for interviews.' She said that she had to find the right candidate who could lead these young men on and off the court.

“I had never met her before, never talked to her before last week, and when I asked her, 'What bad news would you hear to make you want to do something like that when I’ve never been in trouble,' she said, 'I can’t tell you that, you’ll have a chance to address that later.' I had to go in for an interview (Monday) and was never told again what the so-called bad news was. I’ve already heard she’s offered the job to someone, just know it’s not going to be me. The parents are upset. They’re all saying if he’s out we’re leaving."

More: Jordan files suit to keep job as Renaissance basketball coach

A dozen parents showed up at Renaissance on Thursday afternoon, hoping to meet with Stroughter, who was unavailable. The News made multiple attempts to get Stroughter to comment on the coaching situation through emails, phone calls and even a trip to the school Thursday, but failed to get a response.

Parents and players were upset with Jordan's ouster, feeling Renaissance had a chance to win the PSL and challenge for the state title this season. And now parents have big decisions to make, knowing a transfer to another school would have to take place by Oct. 3 for their son to be eligible to play for the second half of the season.

Multiple prep schools have contacted Karen Wilson, mother of McCaskill, who would more than likely be a Michigan Mr. Basketball candidate if he stays at Renaissance.

"He has been contacted by prep schools out of the state and as it stands right now we haven't made any decisions with regard to him leaving Renaissance," Wilson said. "Probably within the next 24 to 48 hours we'll come to a decision.

"It's very stressful for my son right now. His coach has invested so much time, energy and commitment to him. I remember back when he was in the eighth grade and wasn't getting any notoriety his coach was probably one of the main people who believed in him and stayed by him. He's arguably ranked No. 3 or 4 in the state and a possible Mr. Basketball candidate. He just can't understand why this principal is making a change. He should be enjoying his senior year, especially since he committed to Florida Atlantic, but it's been overshadowed by the issue at hand."

Said McCaskill: "Honestly, if Coach Vito isn't here I don't want to be here. I've known him since before freshman year and he's a nice coach, and he's more than a coach. I don't even see him as a coach unless it's on the floor because he's done so much for me. I see him as an older brother to me. I understand there is a new principal coming in, but where is the bad things coming from? I don't know where she is getting the information from because she's not telling us anything. I never thought this would happen. We were predicted to be No. 1. I thought my senior year would be all smooth, but I guess not."

Grant played his first two years at Renaissance before moving to Dallas for his junior year.

"She pretty much made up her mind that she was going in a different direction with a coach, so I'm going to take my son out of this school and go a different direction because I brought him all the way up here for this coach. For him not to coach my son and finish the year out as a senior just don't make no sense," father Kevin Grant said. "He's going to stay in Michigan, stay in Detroit and I have until October 3rd. I'm just going to have to do some research real quick."

Turner has several college coaches wanting to watch him in open gym before offering him a scholarship, but haven't been able to look at him due to the situation.

"The problem that I have is we don't have any communication with the principal or any of the vice principals, can't get any answers," father Charles Turner said. "It's like who is the coach? Oh, he's not really fired. They are like straddling the fence and it's very confusing and frustrating at this point.

"It's hard for me to get my head around because it came out of nowhere. I guess she wanted to go in a different direction, something like that. I really don't understand it because we really haven't got any answers. I think we'd probably be satisfied if we had something, you know somebody did something because obviously we don't want that kind of behavior around our kids. But we haven't seen anything and we've traveled all over with Vito, and he's spent all of his personal money and time with the kids the last four or five years.

"It's morally depleting our kids. They are very disappointed. We're trying to keep them together so they can look forward to playing this year, but it's not looking good at this point. And, this is the worst time for this to be happening. College coaches want to evaluate them playing since they're spending $50,000 or more. The head coach and three assistants from Bowling Green wanted to come Tuesday, but we had to cancel. I had to have the Dartmouth coach come to my house because there was no open gym."

Keon Henderson Sr. felt this was a critical year for his son, Keon Henderson, since he was the starting point guard as a freshman and he had so many great players to work with.

"We have 14 teachers missing, the water don't work and they targeted the basketball coach, and the basketball team is one of the best teams in the school, predicted to win the city and state championship," Henderson said. "We missed quite a few Division I college coaches that were supposed to come here within the last month to see the kids on the basketball team since they were watching them in the summer time at team camp and they were unable to come because of the situation. It's terrible, kids are losing scholarships right now and I thought that's what it's all about."

It's not looking good to Wynter Robertson, mother of senior Angelo Robertson, either.

"It's affecting the kids and what's most important here as a parent is our kids' well-being. I feel they are taking away from our kids' well-being for the simple fact that we're here for one reason, for our kids to succeed, and I think they are taking it for granted at this point and they are not looking at the big picture," Robertson said. "You shouldn't be just walking through the door and making all of these executive decisions without looking first-hand at what's going on with the situation. I think she should have taken a year to evaluate everything and then from there make her own executive decision after that year.

"You can't walk in the door in less than a month and just start making all these changes. I think it's wrong. I think Renaissance has a number of positions open and I think we need to focus more on education as far as getting these teachers in here compared to a basketball coach. I think she's not looking at what's the most important point of us being here. It's not basketball. My son loves basketball and I love it for him, but our main goal is education."

Parents of Jordan's former players also showed up Thursday at Renaissance in support of the coach, including Tony Crawley, father of Justin Turner who starred on Renaissance's 2015 and 2016 PSL runner-up teams. Turner was named Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year this past season at Bowling Green.

"It's petty and personal and I can say that being a coach, being a parent and being outside of the staff, outside of the school," said Crawley, who was a former football coach at Detroit Mackenzie. "When you look at it, it's a great staff and a great program and they are trying to cut it from the inside and that's terrible.

"I'm here to support the coaching staff. Vito's always given his players a fair shot. It's kind of frustrating knowing everyone's not backing the program. Definitely painful because they've raised them right here, raised kids here from boys to men, my son included because he wasn't the toughest here and they raised him right."

In the injunction filed Thursday, Paterson calls it "the unlawful termination of a highly-regarded and respected high school basketball coach." According to the filing, "nearly 8 student-athletes and their parents have expressed their desire to transfer out of Renaissance" if Jordan isn't reinstated as the boys basketball coach.

The deadline to transfer to another school, either within the Detroit Public Schools Community District, or to another district, is Wednesday. Paterson is requesting a hearing on the emergency motion come Monday.