What was supposed to be a lesson in building character and anti-bullying for county students backfired for a growing number of schools when an Annapolis company failed to produce the celebrity guest—a professional athlete—to their planned school assemblies.
According to school officials, as of Wednesday, a total of 17 county elementary, middle and high schools were left with no professional athlete to talk to the students on the topic of character building and anti-bullying—putting the county out $13,000, according to Bob Mosier, Anne Arundel County Public Schools spokesman.
Arundel Middle paid $600 to Odyssey, and had discussed the possibility of Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb making an appearance. Arundel High paid $750 for an unnamed player.
Severna Park Middle School (SPMS) paid $1,950 to have Webb be a guest speaker at their anti-bullying assemblies. The school canceled the assembly a few days before Webb was scheduled to make an appearance on Oct. 11 when SPMS administrators learned that other guest speakers hadn't shown up at other schools as promised by the Odyssey Group.
Former New Orleans Saints player Levar Fisher, who was a partner with Odyssey, did speak last spring at Arundel Middle School for a pep rally to encourage students to prepare for the Maryland State Assessment tests. He also appeared at a Back to School event on Sept 23. Both assemblies were well-received, Mosier said.
In a letter sent to the affected schools on Oct. 7, an attorney for the company offered Fisher as a substitute for those players who did not appear.
"Odyssey can offer a substitute speaker, Levar Fisher, to come and present at your school at a mutually agreed upon time," wrote Matthew Skipper, an associate with Trunnell Law, LLC in Crofton.
But according to a report in the Northumberland Echo in Heathsville, VA, Fisher has cut ties with Odyssey after the company allegedly promised schools he would appear without his knowledge.
"I just feel terrible that this guy is using my name, other players and speakers names, because all you have is your reputation and integrity," Fisher told the Echo. "Right now I don't even know what is going on or where the schools are, or what part of their country they're in."
As of late Wednesday, the list of schools owed a refund was continuing to grow:
Middle Schools: Severna Park, Arundel, George Fox, Central, Crofton and Lindale.
Elementary Schools: Crofton Meadows, Mayo, Rippling Woods, Central, Riviera Beach, Severn, Fort Smallwood, Richard Henry Lee and Phoenix Annapolis.
High School: Arundel High School
"It's not the schools' fault and not the players' fault," said Mosier, adding that the appearances are not booked through nor have any involvement with the Baltimore Ravens organization.
Skipper,of the Trunnell law firm, explained that its client, Joseph Gill of Odyssey Group LLC, was not able to fullfill the obligation. However, the law office is no longer representing Gill.
“We did represent him [Gill] for a short period of time in October. We are not representing Mr. Gill or Odyssey any longer," Skipper said on Wednesday.
According to the letter attached as a PDF to this article, Gill formed a relationship with a booking agent for the Baltimore Ravens but didn't anticipate such a positive response from county schools. The schedule quickly filled up with promises to the schools of Baltimore Ravens players to visit for assemblies—while the working relationship with the booking agent disintegrated.
"We are working now to assess how many schools are involved and the options that are available to help the schools reclaim that money," said Mosier. "That’s where we are at the moment."
Mosier said that some schools were promised Webb while others were promised nonspecific players. Some schools paid first and then were reimbursed by their PTSO, said Mosier.
"This was a venture on the part of the schools to provide character lessons for students. It is very disappointing that it ended up the way it did," Mosier said. "We like to have community partners involved with the students. They were the ones who lost in this situation. Our effort at this point is to examine the ways we can help those schools and parent groups recoup the money.”
“We can’t undo the disappointment of children who have missed out on these assemblies, but our schools deserve to be made whole so that there isn’t a double penalty of losing this opportunity and the funds to put on future programs like it that benefit so many students,” wrote Mosier in an email.
The Board of Education's Office of Legal Services is working on the case.
This article has been updated from a previous version.