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Investigation finds potential violations by Bellevue High’s successful football program

By Mike Baker Seattle Times

An independent investigation of the storied Bellevue High football program has found that its boosters paid for athletes to attend an alternative private school and that false addresses were used to help players gain eligibility, officials said Thursday.

In a news release, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and the Bellevue School District laid out a series of potential violations that investigators had found during a review that lasted six months. The organizations didn’t immediately release a copy of the investigative report or discuss penalties.

Along with the booster payments, the investigation found that Bellevue coaches had directed athletes to attend the alternative Academic Institute in Bellevue, and that coaches coordinated tuition payments for athletes there. The rules of the WIAA, which govern high school athletics, prohibit programs from giving athletes special privileges or inducements.

In a statement Friday, the the Bellevue Wolverines Football Club said it has given money to a variety of community organizations, including the Academic Institute. The donations to the private school were not earmarked for anything in particular, it said. The club contended that “there are strong indications” that the WIAA investigation was “fatally flawed.”

“We strongly disagree with the notion that the (booster club) violated any WIAA rules,” the club wrote. The club said it has not seen the WIAA report.

If the findings are confirmed, penalties could possibly range from probation to forfeiting state championships.

The school district requested the independent probe after stories last year in the Seattle Times, including one that found 17 Bellevue football players had attended the Academic Institute, an obscure program at a Bellevue office park that two former teachers had labeled a diploma mill. Among the players who attended Academic Institute were stars such as Myles Jack, projected to be one of the top picks in the NFL draft later this month.

Students who attend a private school without a football team can play for a public-school team in their home district. Student-athletes at Bellevue High, a school regarded for its strong academics, need a 2.0 grade-point average and no more than one failing grade to be eligible to play.

The investigation found that false addresses for athletes were used to gain eligibility, according to the Thursday news release. In one case last year, the Times reported on a player who used his uncle’s Bellevue address while living in three other cities: Sammamish, Auburn and SeaTac.

The investigation also looked into whether players and their families had housing costs subsidized by others, but did not find sufficient evidence to support it.

The school district said it was preparing “a timely response” to the information in the fact-finding report. Following the process of the WIAA, the school will report on the findings to the KingCo League and have the option of proposing sanctions for itself.

“Our mission is to ensure that all students in the state are competing on a fair and level playing field,” said Mike Colbrese, the WIAA’s executive director, in the news release. “The Association provides structure and process for schools and districts to ensure there is accountability.”

A school district spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday. Head coach Butch Goncharoff did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Over the past 15 years under Goncharoff, the Bellevue Wolverines became the most dominant team in the state and were ranked No. 1 nationally. The team has won 11 Class 3A state football titles since 2001.

Goncharoff was suspended for two games last season after officials found that coaches had encouraged players to participate in out-of-season workouts and, against the rules, had provided cash to a player.

With a group of wealthy supporters, the team’s booster club raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and its annual fundraiser has benefited from such top musical acts as OneRepublic and Kelly Clarkson.

Last year, records show, one family complained that an assistant coach threatened to revoke their son’s financial aid at Academic Institute if the student didn’t continue playing football at Bellevue.

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