The investigation into the Bellevue High football program and allegations of illegal recruiting and off-season training emerged after an incident in which a volunteer trainer allegedly swore at players and challenged a student to fight, according to Bellevue School District documents.
The documents cite a December 9, 2014 incident when Tracy Ford is alleged to have called students “bitches,” challenged a student to fight and had to be separated from the student. Ford says the allegations against him are false, and that the incident did not get heated until the student lashed out when Ford told him he was a good player, but a bad teammate.
“There was never any bullying or harassment,” Ford said. “I’ve never done that, ever, in my professional career or as a player. That’s just not how we do things.”
Players, who were present at the meeting, said coaches did give constructive criticism to certain players, and the situation has been blown out of proportion.
The district had previously investigated the incident and allegations of unauthorized facilities, that Ford has represented himself as a coach with Bellevue High School and that he directed athletes toward Bellevue High School on several occasions over the past two years. District Athletics and Activities Director Jeff Lowell initially prohibited Ford’s access to district property for a year beginning on January 26, 2015.
In one incident recorded in Bellevue School District emails, an administrative assistant wrote that she had received a call from the parents of a Lakeside School student who wished to speak to a Bellevue coach about their son potentially playing football at Bellevue.
“He told me Tracy Ford said he should check out Bellevue because they are looking for some big players,” Senior Administrative Assistant Tanja Jones wrote in an email to Bellevue High School Principal Scott Powers, Lowell and others.
“It’s absurd that someone would say that,” Ford said. “I train kids from Odai, Newport. If we did that, no other school would allow us to train their kids.”
Ford appealed the decision, and it was modified by Executive Director of Schools John Harrison on March 30.
But, at the same time the district looked into the allegations Tracy Ford, lawyer Shawn Ann Flood began a third-party investigation of Bellevue football coaches and volunteers, including Ford and Marc-Avery Airhart, head strength coach at Ford Sports. The investigation concluded that the program had violated WIAA and district rules against recruiting and off-season training.
The Bellevue Football program was put on three years’ probation, and Head Coach “Butch” Goncharoff and another coach were handed game suspensions on June 3, after investigations into illegal recruiting and off-season training.
Off-season training was found to have been conducted by a private company, Ford Sports, and players were encouraged and directed to participate in the training, according to a district statement. Both Ford and Airhart were prohibited from renting any district facilities or accessing district property, and Ford Sports’ relationship with the district was terminated, according to a letter they received on June 4.
Ford and members of the football team said that no students were told to report to Ford Sports for off-season training. Several Bellevue players did workout at the gym, but paid out of pocket and did so out of choice, he said.
The investigation also found Goncharoff gave money for food and rent to the family of a long-time player that was undergoing financial hardship, according to Bellevue School District spokeswoman Elizabeth Sytman. That action is in direct violation of WIAA regulations, which define illegal recruiting as including special inducements such as money offered to a student athlete by anyone connected with the school.
Neither the other coach who was given game suspensions nor what role he played in the violations has been made public at this time. Flood did not returned multiple requests for comment.
Members of the football team said they felt Goncharoff and Ford’s names were being dragged through the mud.
“We’ve always looked up to Butch (Goncharoff), and to his name and Tracy (Ford’s) name get dragged through the mud like this … They work really hard to better our future, and this is really hard to watch,” said Bellevue senior Jack Michaels.
Bellevue football alums have taken to social media to express support for Goncharoff and Ford.
Former Bellevue football player Mike Chan (Class of 2012) said in an interview that he is in disbelief of the investigation and its findings.
“I would never think coach Butch would be that kind of person, and I still don’t,” he said. “Entering that program was like entering a family.”