It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a chilly Saturday, and the doors to Milestone Christian Academy are open. On this day, anyone can walk through the lobby, past the mauve sofa, just beyond the cafeteria, and into the little gym that resounds with the usual clatter of high school basketball practice.
Inside, a grown man is trying to guard a 7-foot teenager. He is sweating profusely and yelling out plays. He looks tired. On this day, Peter Flournoy has to be more than a head coach; he’s filling out the roster. Not long ago, Milestone Christian was Missouri’s most enigmatic and intriguing high school team — a private-school program that inspired public whispers of awe.
Four months later, only eight players remain on the varsity boys team.
“We’re smaller now, but we’re better off,” says Flournoy, the 28-year-old boys’ basketball coach, teacher and dean of Milestone, as he takes a breather. “We’re going to be better now than we were in the beginning of the year.”
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When Milestone opened in the fall of 2006 with seven students — all refugees from the Kansas City School District — no one around town expected much. But somehow, the tiny school quickly developed a reputation for basketball, and soon, tall and athletic students from as far away as St. Louis flocked to the two-story recreational building on East 12th Street. Just one year later, Milestone had attracted about 65 students, including three Division-I scholarship players.
They came, some of the players’ parents say, because Flournoy promised them a new school campus opened by fall 2008, an elite schedule of games, shoes and new Adidas uniforms, laptops and tutors for road trips, along with the kind of national publicity they could not get at any other Kansas City-area high school. Two of the city’s best players, Willie Reed and Elyseia Dunn, made the jump for their senior years.
But several parents and former players say Flournoy did not deliver on those promises. And, it appears the man they trusted has a past they knew little about.
Records obtained by The Kansas City Star reveal Flournoy has pled guilty to writing bad checks in Alabama and still has warrants pending. There are also inconsistencies in his educational background. One college he says he graduated from may not exist and another school can find no record of him in their database. And according to Army personnel, Flournoy served in Texas before going AWOL.
Flournoy says he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Christian schools. He says he was the victim of check fraud in Alabama that wreaked havoc on his checking account. He says he left the Army under good terms. Flournoy has continued to enjoy the support of Milestone administrators. Executive director Michael Bobbitt says he wants Flournoy to pay the outstanding amounts on the bad checks, but he also talks about forgiveness and how Flournoy is a “person of character.”
“If I felt he was doing something immoral, I would let him go,” Bobbitt says.
Today, the Milestone varsity girls team no longer exists. Neither does the junior varsity boys team. At least a dozen players have transferred since the start of the season. Most are now ineligible to play basketball at their new schools, including Reed.
“It hurts, “ said his father, Willie Reed Sr. “It’s a sad story. I feel bad for the kid. I know it’s his life and he has some dreams and aspirations about how his senior year should be.
“You go from being one of the top 10 players in the city to being a ghost.”
Second Mile Ministries had been invisible for 19 years. Nestled between a tire store and an abandoned building with a “Se Renta” sign out front, it’s still easy to miss. No one seemed to care about the little ministry trying to help poor black and Hispanic kids. That’s how Bobbitt saw it.
Bobbitt ran Second Mile as a non-profit, faith-based community outreach but struggled to attract qualified workers to his inner-city mission. Especially since he had no money to pay them. Second Mile could barely keep the lights on but still provided clothing giveaways and Thanksgiving dinners. And nobody seemed to notice.
“I thought, ‘Does anybody care if you do good?’” Bobbitt said. “They care if you do bad.”
In the winter of 2005, a young Pentecostal preacher found Second Mile. He appeared to be more than qualified. The man said he had an accredited bachelor’s degree in Christian studies — and a master’s as well.
Flournoy had a certain charm — maybe the Alabama twang helped — even if every smile he flashed showed his decaying front teeth. He wore the girth of an offensive lineman even though he was once a promising high school running back at Coosa Christian School in Gadsden, Ala. Within two months, Flournoy said he wanted to volunteer at Second Mile.
He said he left a good job in Aliceville, Ala., where he pastored a church and ran its school for what Flournoy called “an equivalent of a six-figure annual salary.” Flournoy picked up and moved to pastor a church in Kansas City, where he learned about Milestone from a church member.
“Some people said that I was crazy,” Flournoy said. “I had a heart for the inner city. We were in this real small town. We were blessed there, but I wanted a bigger city. Just more potential for growth.”
Soon after volunteering at Second Mile, Flournoy began coaching an 18-and-under boys recreational basketball team in the same gymnasium where charity dinners were usually held. The team was filled with neighborhood kids who went to other schools but would come in off the streets to play.
The players’ parents liked Flournoy right away. Two mothers even asked him to home-school their children.
Bobbitt had a bubbling vision for Second Mile: He wanted to start a school. He wanted to offer an alternative to the much-maligned Kansas City School District, to give urban-core kids a college preparatory education for free. Donations would keep the school running.
Now, after watching Flournoy and those kids, he believed he had confirmation. He said God told him to name the school Milestone Christian Academy. In some cases, Milestone’s impact was immediate.
“It was safe, I never felt like I was threatened at all, “ said Gary Wortham, who played on the Milestone varsity team and graduated in 2007. “When I got there, I started doing my work and I made up all the classes that I had failed.”
Wortham had a 1.9 grade-point average while attending Paseo Academy; a year later, he graduated from Milestone with a 3.2 GPA.
Milestone also performed miracles outside of the classroom. In November 2006, in its first season playing organized high school-level ball, the boys team won a national Christian school tournament and the calls flooded in afterward. Enrollment expanded to 30 students by the time the Bulldogs won the National Association of Christian Athletes championship tournament in Dayton, Tenn.
Suddenly, the little school on East 12th was the city’s best-kept secret.
Flournoy said he had a spiritual awakening before his junior year at Coosa Christian. For most of his life, sports had ruled his thinking. It was an escape from a tough life at home, where he had never known his father and his mother had married several times. He grew up dreaming of one day wearing a uniform for the University of Georgia.
That scholarship letter never arrived, and he said he passed on an opportunity to play at a small Alabama college. Instead, he would pursue the ministry.
Flournoy said he graduated from Emmanuel University in Columbus, Miss., after taking Internet classes and occasionally attending in person. But an Emmanuel University does not show up on the U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. A Columbus Chamber of Commerce official points out that the town is home only to a Christian K-12 school named Emmanuel.
Flournoy also said he has a postgraduate degree from Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, Okla. But the school’s registrar, Jean Perdue, said last week she has no record of him attending Southwestern Christian. She said she tracked his name as far back as 1997.
Flournoy maintained that he has bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He offered to provide copies of his degrees to The Star, but after repeated requests, he did not.
A month before his 21st birthday, Flournoy enlisted in the U.S. Army. After basic training, Flournoy said he failed a hearing test in his right ear — an injury that dated to childhood — so he was sent to work at a Fort Hood, Texas, welcome center while the Army prepared his exit. He said his last day was September 10, 2001. However, according to Fort Hood spokesperson Nancy Bourget, Flournoy served as a Fire Support Specialist and went AWOL. Master Sgt. Keith O’Donnell of the Human Resources Command in St. Louis said his records also indicate Flournoy went AWOL. Eventually, O’Donnell said, Flournoy was dropped from the Army’s rolls.
Flournoy denies that he went AWOL, blaming the events of September 11, 2001, for slowing his exit. Again, Flournoy said he would show The Star documents to prove he took the proper steps in leaving the Army. He did not.
Before coming to Kansas City, Flournoy also had a run-in with the legal system.
In 2003, the same year he took over as pastor in Aliceville, Flournoy was arrested in Etowah County, Ala., for writing 12 checks that bounced, according to court records. He pled guilty to “Negotiating Worthless Negotiable Instrument” and was sentenced to one year of probation, a 30-day suspended sentence and ordered to pay fines and restitution.
Flournoy recently said the bad checks were not his fault.
“Had a guy pay me,” he said. “He paid me a check for, I don’t remember the exact amount now, but we do have a copy of it. But it was 20-something hundred dollars. It was an out-of-town bank, we wrote checks off of it ... and then about 13 days later it came back.”
According to Etowah County court records, Flournoy made restitution on most but still has outstanding warrants on three bad checks. Bobbitt, the executive director at Milestone, said the school has given Flournoy 90 days to settle the matter in Alabama or face termination.
In August 2005, Flournoy moved to Kansas City to become pastor of Gospel Lighthouse. But he only lasted six months at the Pentecostal church. “Our disciplinary actions were taken because of biblical views, “ church official District Bishop Ronald D. Mosier said.
But soon after, Flournoy found a new home at Second Mile, and last fall, it seemed his salvation would come through two Kansas City area basketball stars.
Willie Reed committed to Saint Louis University on June 12, 2007. He felt comfortable with the Catholic environment Saint Louis offered. Just like Bishop Miege. But after Reed’s junior year, his mother, Cortasha Miller, said she owed thousands of dollars to Miege. There was no way she could afford to send him back. A friend told her about a new place called Milestone, which had already lured several local and St. Louis players.
Like Miller, Kansas Citian Dee Williams was interested in moving her son to Milestone, so she visited Flournoy last June.
“My first reaction when I came in, I said, ‘This is just a building.’ I guess he looked at my face and he told me that someone donated $250,000 to purchase another building,” Williams said. “My main thing was the school, the location and the curriculum. Then he started talking about basketball.
“He told me that they didn’t have to pay any tuition, and meals, hotels and airfare would be taken care of. ... I was like, ‘No cost?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, we’re sponsored by Adidas.’”
Adidas official Kendall Whitley said recently the company has never had a sponsorship arrangement with Milestone.
When Reed visited in August, Flournoy delivered a similar pitch, so the big kid enrolled in his fourth school in four years.
“He came to my door,” Flournoy said recently. “You don’t get a lot of 6-foot-11 kids waiting at the door. I thought it was too good to be true and some of the other stuff it brought with it, maybe it was.”
When Willie Reed transferred, Elyseia Dunn noticed.
Nobody believed she was leaving. Dunn had attended Pembroke Hill for three years, had led the Raiders to two Missouri state championships, and earned all-state and first-team Kansas City Star All-Metro honors and a scholarship to Arkansas State. Of course, she wouldn’t dare transfer now. Not three days before the start of her senior year. But she did.
Dunn and her mother, Donna, along with Pembroke Hill coach Mark Spigarelli, will only describe her departure as a family decision shared by both sides. The Dunns searched for a new home and found Milestone.
On Nov. 14, the Division-I scholarship athletes at Milestone dressed up for signing day, the first ever at the school. Media were invited and classes put on hold. According to a school schedule, at 11 a.m. students were supposed to be learning geometry, biology and algebra II. Instead, several young men were practicing their dunks in the gym that also served as the school’s biggest classroom. A group of girls were giggling on a sofa while others chatted on cell phones.
Several former students say this scene was an average school day at Milestone, which holds classes Monday through Thursday.
“After the beginning of the season, he stopped making us do work, then he stopped coming to school or he’d come to school and sit in his office,” former student Widgett Washington said of Flournoy. “We were in school but nobody was doing their work because we didn’t have no teacher.”
Flournoy said he only missed eight to 10 days because of illness during the school year and that students worked hard. Bobbitt also defended the school’s academic standards, saying Milestone’s environment is no different than other private schools.
“We are like a lot of small Christian schools around America,” Bobbitt said. “As far as I know, the system is good, students learn by it.”
Before signing day, the Milestone boys team had already played five dates. The new jerseys and shoes Flournoy said were coming had yet to arrive so the team wore reversible tops and their own mismatched shorts. Weeks into the season, a box of jerseys finally arrived, with the name on the front incorrectly identifying the team as “MILESTONES.” The jerseys did not come from Adidas.
“We were playing Oak Hill, “ former player Darryl Hollinshed said of the prominent prep school from Virginia. “They’re sponsored by Jordan and we go in there looking like trash.”
Not every opponent Milestone played had a reputation like Oak Hill. The players first wore the jerseys during a Dec. 21 game against Concordia Seminary, a St. Louis-based graduate school team consisting of 20-somethings studying to become Lutheran pastors. Milestone played most of its games away from Kansas City, and during most road trips, Flournoy and the team crammed into the school van. Several players complained about cheap hotels and being fed Wendy’s or Burger King every night. Several former players said they never saw the laptops they were supposed to receive. They say life on the road was about basketball, not academics.
“When we were out of town, we didn’t do that much work,” former player Eric Austin said, “and my momma didn’t like that.”
“We never had homework,” former player Christian Williams said. “No tutors on the road.”
Flournoy admitted to “dropping the ball” on the uniforms but said he administered test reviews to players while on the road. Flournoy also said he requested, but never saw, laptops that Milestone was counting on the government to donate. As for the new building, Flournoy said the school’s board of directors did not come up with the money.
“I was told that we were going to be in a new building at the beginning of the year,” Flournoy said. “But that’s out of my control. I don’t control that, the board controls that, so I just go off what they say.”
“Promises were given, maybe we were more optimistic than we should have been,” said Bobbitt, who serves on the board. “I think Peter gets too overoptimistic sometimes, and that’s the only problem.”
Nevertheless, many parents and students stopped believing Flournoy.
Exactly two months after signing day, on Jan. 14, Reed began attending classes again at Miege. But the school has not accepted every credit from his Milestone transcript, his father said. Reed is currently working to improve his standardized test scores.
While Miege prepares for the state playoffs, Reed hasn’t played since November. He will never play another high school game in Kansas City. So he waits for his next stop — at Saint Louis, where he’ll have a chance to play for legendary coach Rick Majerus.
Dunn still attends Milestone, even though the girls team disbanded after only eight games.
“I watch some games and I just feel like I want to get out, “ Dunn said. “I didn’t picture it this way. I pictured me playing, but I’m OK with it.”
Even the boys basketball team hasn’t been the draw they were hoping for this year. Last month, the school was forced to cancel a national tournament that would have brought other programs to Kansas City and a substantial amount of money into the school.
For many, Milestone is just a memory, but some former players may face future obstacles related to the school. Prospective NCAA student-athletes must attend schools whose curriculums are approved by the Indianapolis-based organization. Milestone is not accredited in that regard.
“Any Milestone transcript would have had to be handled on a case-by-case basis,” NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn said in an e-mail.
On the morning of Feb. 19, a Milestone school official reported only 19 students in class. On that same day, Flournoy arrived with a student at 11 a.m., nearly two hours after the scheduled start. Also, Bobbitt said that because the school can no longer afford to provide lunch, Milestone now releases students at 1:15 p.m.
Through recent turmoil, Bobbitt remains an ardent defender of his coach and his school.
“There are a hundred schools our size and why are we being targeted?” Bobbitt wondered. “We’re doing a good work.”
The current Milestone boys team consists of five local teens, plus two Colombians and a 7-foot Serbian. Flournoy said he never recruited those kids, they all simply walked through those open doors.
Inside their little gymnasium, a black and white sign reads “This Building is Dedicated to God.” Flournoy promises to bring Milestone back to that principle.
“I’m at fault here because I lost perspective of what was important, “ Flournoy said. “I got too caught up in the preseason hype and the national everything. I got too caught up in that and basketball became too important.
“From this moment on, the most important thing is that God is glorified.”
Since the start of this season, 12 boys basketball players have transferred from Milestone Christian Academy.
Name Hometown Transferred from Current school Status
Richard Anderson St. Louis Beaumont High Nashville (Tenn.) Christian Advancement Academy Playing basketball for school
Eric Austin Kansas City Hogan Prep Hogan Prep Playing basketball for school
Cortez Barrett Kansas City Center Center Ineligible
Darryl Hollinshed Kansas City Hogan Prep Hogan Prep Playing basketball for school
Justin Keener St. Louis Vashon Shawnee Mission West Ineligible
Willie Reed Kansas City Bishop Miege Bishop Miege Ineligible
Leland Smith St. Louis Vashon Shawnee Mission West Ineligible
Marcel Taylor-Smith St. Louis Vashon Shawnee Mission West Ineligible
Ron Waller St. Louis Fort Zumwalt West Webster Groves Ineligible
Christian Williams Kansas City Center Center Ineligible
Nino Williams St. Louis Vashon Leavenworth Ineligible
Widgett Washington Kansas City Center Center Ineligible