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Friday, February 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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With coaches under a cloud, Sealth girls focus on basketball

Seattle Times staff reporters

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The Seattle School District will continue to investigate. Its findings could prompt personnel action, and they will be reviewed by the Metro 3A League, which could issue its own penalties.

Possible penalties: Discipline or dismissal of the coaches; school fines, forfeiture of games, withdrawal from further postseason play or loss of last year's state title.

Next game: Chief Sealth is scheduled to play again Tuesday. The game, against Mount Si High School, begins at 4:45 p.m. at Bellevue Community College.

There was no jeering from the opposition, no taunting from the crowd.

The Chief Sealth girls basketball team simply took the court Thursday night and won a game, 67-55, against Holy Names Academy.

But the grim faces of some of the Chief Sealth parents, who huddled together in a corner of the gym after the game, told the tale well enough.

Chief Sealth, last year's Class 3A state championship team, was allowed to play its opening district-tournament game Thursday night despite being under investigation for alleged recruiting violations.

The Seattle School District determined Thursday afternoon that the girls were eligible to play for the West Seattle school — for now — because they all currently live in the district. But officials will continue investigating broader recruiting allegations reported Wednesday by The Seattle Times.

The Times reported that Chief Sealth head coach Ray Willis and assistants Laura Fuller and Amos Walters had recruited players for more than three years, violating numerous amateur athletic rules.

With the week's distractions, Chief Sealth struggled to beat a team that it had blown out by 40 points earlier in the season. Thursday's game against Holy Names was tied at 50 with five minutes left. The final 12-point spread was Chief Sealth's second-closest game of the season.

News of the allegations wasn't lost on the Holy Names parents, who said they told their girls to concentrate on their own performance on the court and not on their opponents.

"We're just here to support our girls," said Dianna McCoy, whose daughter, junior Whitney McCoy, plays for Holy Names.

McCoy said she told her daughter earlier to "just stay focused on the game. Play hard and have fun."

The school district's investigation began after The Times reported that more than a dozen parents, players and coaches had said that girls had been recruited with promises of starting spots and help in securing college scholarships. Four parents said coaches even provided bogus lease agreements so their daughters could enroll in the Seattle School District without having to move from the suburbs.

The Times named some former players who lived outside the district while playing for the team, but it did not report that any current players live outside Seattle. The newspaper also reported that three current players — Regina Rogers, Christina Nzekwe and Valerie Cook — were recruited to the team while they were in middle school or junior high.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which oversees high-school sports in the state, strictly forbids coaches from recruiting or attempting to recruit athletes.

Patti Spencer, district spokeswoman, said officials so far had had only enough time to determine if the girls were living in the district. School administrators are just beginning to investigate the broader recruiting allegations, she said.

"We are not speaking to the recruiting issue yet — that needs a thorough investigation," she said. "Our goal is to establish the facts."

The school-district inquiry, which could result in the discipline or firing of the coaches, is being conducted by Chief Sealth Principal John Boyd and athletic director Mike Kelly, with assistance from a school-district investigator and the human-resources department. Boyd referred all questions Thursday to district officials.

If the investigation finds that the coaches violated any rules, those findings will be forwarded to the Metro 3A League, in which Chief Sealth competes. Penalties could include fines, forfeiture of games, disqualification from this year's postseason and maybe even taking away last year's state title.

The coaches have denied any wrongdoing.

"There's a lot of things that haven't been told in the paper. It will come out," head coach Willis said at last night's game. "People who have known me for a long time, they realize that some of the stuff is ridiculous — like promising scholarships, free meals. I've never done that, ever, ever, ever. These players have had to earn everything, every minute they've gotten on the court."

Because it's an ongoing investigation, Spencer wouldn't reveal how officials determined the eligibility of the players or how they will continue to investigate allegations of recruiting.

Eddie Winston, stepfather of Chief Sealth's leading scorer, Regina Rogers, said he received a call Wednesday from Kelly, who asked him just two questions.

Winston said Kelly wanted him to verify his current address and to confirm the statements he made to The Times.

"I said, 'Yes, I live there, and yes, I made those statements,' " Winston said. "That was it."

Winston had earlier told The Times his stepdaughter was recruited by Chief Sealth and he was given a volunteer coaching job to secure Rogers' enrollment at the school. At the time, Rogers had enrolled to enter the ninth grade at Garfield High School. Winston pulled her out and enrolled her at Chief Sealth.

He said his primary concern is preserving the accomplishments of the girls on the team.

"We're definitely going to fight anything that's going to penalize the girls," he said. "We feel that the administration and the coaching staff should be held accountable, not the kids."

One Holy Names fan underscored the notion of fair play, even as he maintained there was no extra intensity to his cheering Thursday night.

"We're here to win against any team," said Tim Riggers, whose daughter attends the all-girls Catholic school but doesn't play basketball. "I think we just want to have a level playing field."

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or cwillmsen@seattletimes.com

Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or mko@seattletimes.com

Freelance writer John Gardner contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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