Key Coverage

An Unseen Victim of the College Admissions Scandal: The High School Tennis Champion Aced Out by a Billionaire Family

On a Monday morning in April 2017, students at Sage Hill School gathered in its artificial-turf quadrangle, known as the Town Square, to celebrate seniors who were heading to college as recruited athletes. The 10 honorees lined up behind an archway adorned with balloons. One by one, they stepped forward as their sports and destinations were announced. Patricia Merz, the head of the private high school in Newport Coast, California, placed a lei in the appropriate college’s colors around each student’s neck.

Most of the students were recruits to low-profile Division III programs. Only three had committed to play Division I college sports. Two were the captains of Sage Hill’s girls’ volleyball and girls’ soccer teams, bound for Columbia University and the University of Denver, respectively. The other, Grant Janavs, played tennis. As his shirt and blue-and-gray lei both showed, he would attend Georgetown, the elite Catholic university in Washington, D.C.

As Adam Langevin watched the ceremony with other seniors, sitting on four rows of steps at the quadrangle’s open end, across from the archway, he was stunned. Adam had been Sage Hill’s top tennis player for four years, and he had lost only three singles matches as a senior. He had trained long hours with renowned coaches, hit with college stars and budding pros, and acquitted himself well in regional and national tournaments.

Nearly two years later, in March, 2019, the actual explanation emerged. An independent college-admissions counselor named William (Rick) Singer pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to fraud, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice in a case known as Operation Varsity Blues. Singer’s clients had paid him more than $25 million to help their children enter an array of selective colleges with bogus credentials. He bribed college coaches and athletic officials to misrepresent students as recruited athletes, and he paid proctors at testing sites to improve their scores on the SAT or ACT by secretly correcting wrong answers.