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Saturday, September 4, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Teen reinstated to soccer team; was banned after dad's touchy questions

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Jim Harnasch has kicked around soccer balls with his 15-year-old son Julian for almost a decade — but their one-on-one sessions had become increasingly tense.

It started when Jim Harnasch robustly — perhaps rudely — questioned the salaries that the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association was handing out to its managers.

Lake Washington, in turn, took actions that effectively banned Jim, wife Amy and, most importantly, Julian from the organization. For more than five months, Julian couldn't practice with his team. He could only play with his dad, whose actions he began to doubt.

"Our conversations got much shorter over the last five months," said Jim Harnasch of Kirkland yesterday. "That was the hardest part."

All that changed this week when the Washington State Youth Soccer Association took drastic action for what it describes as Lake Washington's "arbitrary and capricious" actions against the teen. The state soccer authorities suspended Lake Washington executive director Robert Young and the entire board for one year.

Julian Harnasch said the last five-and-a-half months have been "really stressful." He could hardly believe it when a letter arrived telling him he was reinstated to his team, Crossfire Premier.

"I was just speechless, I was so happy. It was the best thing in the world," he said.

The state association's actions come just one week before the soccer season begins. But despite the disruption, coaches and soccer officials said yesterday that games for Lake Washington's 6,400 players — including a kickoff jamboree this weekend — are expected to continue without a hitch. A new board was appointed soon after the suspensions were handed down Thursday.

Jim Harnasch, a former president of the Crossfire club, said the events began when he started questioning Lake Washington's player fees.

The association's 2004 fees, at $149 to $177, are between 27 percent and 171 percent higher than fees from eight other clubs in the area, according to figures provided by Crossfire.

Federal nonprofit documents show the organization had a total budget of about $2 million in 2002 for a net loss of $227,000. Young was paid a total compensation package worth $83,000 that year and administrative director Catherine Oles received a package worth $73,000.

Harnasch admits he may have been rude to Young and other staff while raising financial questions. Lake Washington claimed he had "committed wrongful acts," according to the state association's paperwork. Lake Washington asked the father to sign a contract limiting his participation in his son's soccer activities. He refused.

"The LWYSA board of trustee members denied Julian Harnasch participation as a player by attempting to remove his name from the Far West Regional Championships team roster, by denying him travel documents to participate in another tournament competition with his team, by threatening to fire the coach of the team if the coach allowed him to practice or play," the association found at a hearing.

"The actions ... are antithetical to the purposes of the WSYSA: to register and roster players so they can play the game of soccer," the association found.

The association ordered that Julian Harnasch be reinstated to the team and his parents be given ordinary treatment. Lake Washington took some last-minute steps toward complying with the orders this week, but the state association considered it too little, too late.

Dick Mohrmann, chair of the state organization, said last night that Lake Washington never gave the family a fair hearing.

"There is no way of restoring the lost time for Julian," Mohrmann said.

Young could not be reached yesterday.

Mohrmann said it would be up to the new board to decide on Young's future and whether his pay would continue during the suspension. The suspension does not extend to nonsoccer activities, Mohrmann said, and Young could conceivably continue working for the organization in some capacity.

Also suspended are board members John Graham, Jay Caldwell, Steve Webert, Kip Fawcett, Ken Kirwan, Fred Diggs and Kevin Carder.

Bernie James, Julian Harnasch's coach, said he tried to steer clear of the politics but always felt upset that a teen who did nothing wrong was being punished.

"The real issue for us is that kids be allowed to play," James said. "That's the only issue for us."

Julian Harnasch, who also plays for an Olympic development team, said he is looking forward to continuing playing soccer through college and to see where the sport takes him. As for his relationship with his dad?

"We're doing fine now," he said.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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