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Thursday, March 2, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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District declares Sealth player ineligible

Seattle Times staff reporters

The investigation continues


Wednesday: Chief Sealth starter Valerie Cook was ruled ineligible to play in the state tournament because she and her family lied about her residency.

Today: Chief Sealth plays Burlington-Edison High School of Skagit County at 3:30 p.m. at the Tacoma Dome.

Up next: The Seattle School District is beginning a 30-day investigation into broader recruiting allegations against Chief Sealth.

Ultimately: The team could be forced to forfeit games in which Cook, a regular starter, played.

The Seattle School District ruled Wednesday that a senior starter on the Chief Sealth High School girls basketball team is ineligible for this year's state tournament because she and her family lied about where they lived.

The ruling raises the possibility that the defending Class 3A state champions will have to forfeit every game in which she played, although that determination almost certainly won't be made until after this year's tournament, which ends Saturday.

While the district did not identify the student in its ruling, Valerie Cook did not play in Chief Sealth's first-round win Wednesday against Lindbergh High School of Renton. Chief Sealth coach Ray Willis said Cook sat out for administrative reasons related to the district's investigation.

A four-page report released Wednesday by the school district concluded that the ineligible player (Cook) used the address of a friend who was "unrelated to [Cook] or her mother and who was not her legal guardian."

But Cook has lived with her mother outside the school district during the three years she has attended Chief Sealth, the report concluded. An online database lists a Federal Way address for Cook's mother, Dee Snow. And a man who answered the door there confirmed Snow lived at the residence.

Except in rare circumstances, a student may play athletics at a school only if the family lives in the school district or the student passes an eligibility hearing after transferring schools.

District investigation

The district began its investigation after The Seattle Times, on Feb. 15, reported numerous recruiting violations by the coaching staff at undefeated and top-ranked Chief Sealth.

More than a dozen parents, players and coaches independently described to The Times how girls were recruited to play at the West Seattle public school, some as early as the sixth grade, with promises of college scholarships, spots in the starting lineup and other enticements. Four parents said coaches even provided bogus lease agreements so their daughters could enroll in the Seattle School District.

Rules governing high-school sports in Washington forbid coaches from recruiting or attempting to recruit athletes.

The coaches — Willis and assistants Laura Fuller and Amos Walters — have denied any wrongdoing.

The Times found that six girls from last year's championship team, including Cook, had been recruited by coaches at Chief Sealth. Three of them play on this year's team.

Cook's mother, Snow, earlier told The Times that Willis convinced her that her daughter had a better chance of getting a college scholarship if she attended Chief Sealth.

As the district began looking into the allegations detailed in The Times, it discovered the "falsification" of Cook's residency, said district spokesman Peter Daniels.

Cook, who has played in every game this year, averaged 6.5 points. She has been ruled ineligible for one year but is set to graduate this spring. All the other girls on the current roster are eligible for the state tournament, according to the district's report.

The district failed to complete its investigation by today, as required by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which oversees high-school athletics in the state. After looking at the immediate eligibility issues for all 13 girls on the current Chief Sealth roster, the district asked for — and received — a 30-day extension to look at the broader recruiting violations reported by The Times.

The report issued by Ammon McWashington, Seattle School District director of secondary education, states that any penalties will be handed out after the district completes its 30-day investigation.

WIAA rules state that if a school uses an ineligible player for a team sport such as basketball, the school must forfeit all contests in which the player is involved; give up its place in league and/or tournament standings; and return team and individual awards.

Cook began playing at Chief Sealth as a sophomore, after starring at Saghalie Junior High in the Federal Way School District as a ninth-grader.

If Chief Sealth is forced to forfeit games, the team could lose this year's undefeated regular-season record, this year's Sea-King District crown and last year's Class 3A state title. Cook scored 12 points in the 2005 state championship game against River Ridge High School of Lacey.

Forfeiture of games, even retroactively, also could affect this year's state tournament.

Still favored

Chief Sealth remains the favorite to win this year's Class 3A girls championship. Even without Cook, the team beat Lindbergh 67-34 Wednesday.

Bishop Blanchet High School principal Kent Hickey said he is frustrated that the investigation hasn't been completed. Hickey co-wrote a complaint letter Feb. 15, citing the Seattle Times findings.

Hickey said the purpose of the letter, co-written by administrator Than Healy of Lakeside School, was to resolve the issue before the tournament started Wednesday. Now, he said, "The state tournament has a cloud over it.

"It would have been a benefit to Chief Sealth if it had completed the investigation prior to the tournament because when they cut down the net, those girls would then have a sense of joy and freedom knowing it's theirs to keep," Hickey said.

"Do you think the second-place team wants to get the net and trophy in the mail? My guess is they don't. They want to earn it on the court," he said.

District administrators also consider the investigation a personnel matter that could result in penalties as serious as the firing of Willis, Walters and Fuller. Daniels said the district is looking at whether the school or coaches knew any player, including Cook, had used a false address, or whether they helped with the deception.

Times staff reporter Sandy Ringer contributed to this report.

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

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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