A fact-finding investigation into the Bellevue High School football program uncovered various “significant and long-standing violations of Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules,” including some that were identified, but went unreported last spring — charges that the school district says it is taking very seriously, but about which it has reservations.
“The WIAA report obviously contains information that requires immediate action. At the same time, there are areas that we will look into more thoroughly as recommended in the report,”Bellevue School District Superintendent Tim Mills said during a press conference regarding the report’s release on April 26.
The report — the fruits of a six-months-long investigation — finds evidence backing several allegations. There are several examples of football players using false addresses or providing false information to register at Bellevue High School, direction to attend the Academic Institute and coordinate tuition payments at said institute.
The investigators also found limited evidence that football players or their families recevied subsidized housing or direct payments from football coaches or others, and stated that although there is no evidence that any coaches or administrators were linked to the falsified addresses, the “systemic deception suggests a lack of oversight that allowed or tolerated such cheating.”
Additionally, the report also identifies WIAA violations uncovered, but not reported by the district back in June 2015, as well as rule infractions not included in the district’s intended scope of the probe, but unveiled during the investigation.
The report investigates the actions of Mills, Executive Director of Schools John Harrison, Athletic Director Jeff Lowell and head coach Butch Goncharoff. But one of the main culprits questioned is the Bellevue Wolverine Football club, which has denied any wrongdoing.
It was revealed in the report that more than $300,000 in payments made by the booster club to football coaches between 2008 and 2012 were not approved by the school board, in violation of WIAA rules. The club also paid for a roughly $80,000 retreat at Ft. Worden each year that also violated WIAA rules.
It was also inferred that the booster club and the Razore family played a hand in substantial tuition discounts at least seven football players received at the Academic Institute. Jennifer Vice, the Institute’s director, reportedly sent an email to the father of a former player who attended the school indicating that “the booster club has to agree” to pay his son’s tuition, according to the report.
Both Vice and the booster club denied the club paid any player’s tuition, but both parties admitted that the club made financial donations to the Institute.
In a statement Vice released this week, she said that the Institute’s work with Bellevue High School was within WIAA rules.
“In no way does the source of the funds dictate which student will be the recipient. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, we provided scholarships to 20 of our students – and only six of those were players associated with Bellevue High School football. On average, we have about 35-50 students at any given period and only about 10 to 15 percent have been athletes with BHS football,’ she stated.
The investigators pointed to the lack of oversight of the booster club. as well as from the district and school administration, as a problem.
“The Booster Club, which provides enormous sums of money to support the football program, is an extremely well-funded organization that is unregulated and uncontrolled by the District and BHS administraion. It operates with virtually no oversight and no direction from District or BHS administrators,” the report reads.
However, the district pointed out and the investigators themselves admitted that the report is in part based on inferences rather than direct evidence. The investigators also chastized what they called the District’s interference with and attempts to control the investigation.
Seven days after the investigation began, Harrison told the investigators that he was seeking clarification on the scope of the investigation from the WIAA and that no district employees or documentation would be made available until that scope was defined. Following parents complaints about the investigators tactics, Harrison sent another email outlining the five charges that the district was asking to be investigated.
“This restrictive view of the investigation’s scope was not only inconsistent with the direction given to us by the WIAA, but also with our general understanding that the District was interested in getting to the bottom of the endless allegations and insinuations about the BHS football program,” investigators Carl Blackstone and Bob Westinghouse wrote in the report.
The WIAA, they said, placed no limits on the scope of investigation and told them to follow the facts and “look under rock, under rocks, under rocks.”
The district stood by its actions, and said it did so to protect students and their families. They also said they were disappointed in the manner in which the investigation was conducted, the condemnatory tone of the report and the numerous inaccurate or misleading statements in the report.
Regardless, Mills said the district is taking the report very seriously.
Despite allegations of racial bias raised throughout the six-month-long investigation, the third party investigators and WIAA stand by the report.
“The Association has thoroughly reviewed the independent fact-finding report, including more than 1,000 pages of supporting documentation detailing the investigation, and has no doubt that the fact-finding process was completed professionally, respectfully and thoroughly,” the WIAA said in a statement.
Reiterating a statement made by WIAA spokesperson Conor Laffey earlier this month, the report acknowledges that a disproportionate number of students of color were interviewed during the investigation.
Approximately 35 of the 42 players who had transferred to Bellevue High School from outside the district since 2008 were students of color. According to the report, “every BHS football player who attended the Academic Institute and we believe received financial assistance or reduced tuition was a person of color.”
The school district launched an investigation into the alleged harassment, intimidation and/or bullying by the investigators. Still, Mills said he was concerned his actions did not go far enough to support students who felt the investigation was biased.
“This is a somber day,” he said. “I want to acknowledge the unintended, but very real impact the WIAA investigation has had on individuals and members of our community.”
The football team had been put on three years of probation last June for off-season training and illegal recruiting.
What consequences the program may face after this report are unknown at this time. Mills stated that the district is reviewing pertinent documents and will report the findings to the KingCO conference for review and action.