Thursday, April 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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District abdicates in Sealth fiasco

The Seattle School District abdicated its responsibility to stand up for ethical behavior when it failed to strip the Chief Sealth High School girls basketball team of its suspect state championship title.

The district concluded its investigation into improper sports recruiting at the school by acknowledging what is the biggest prep-sports recruiting scandal in state history. Then officials declined to take any significant action. The district's nonrenewal of contracts for three Chief Sealth coaches is virtually meaningless. The three will simply peddle their wares elsewhere. Two of them, Ray Willis and Laura Fuller, previously coached at Eastside Catholic High School in Bellevue. Willis was fired from that school, for undisclosed reasons, after two seasons.

Superintendent Raj Manhas' handling of this case has been a disappointment. At the outset of the investigation, the School District's chief administrator said he expects "honesty in both the classroom and on the athletic field." But when investigators found that Chief Sealth coaches improperly recruited girls to build its nationally ranked team and encouraged them and their parents to lie and submit false documents to get around eligibility requirements, Manhas blew an opportunity to make good on his words.

The district's tepid action contradicts Manhas' declaration that "the concepts of fair play, teamwork and integrity are core values our students need to succeed in school and in life."

The inaction is a slap in the faces of the girls who failed to make Chief Sealth's basketball team because it was stacked with players from outside the district. It also sidesteps the unfairness meted out to teams that played by the rules and watched Chief Sealth walk away with the championship.

District officials have said they decided not to strip the team of its state titles because they didn't have evidence the girls who flouted the rules actually knew what they were doing.

Horse rubbish. The girls were part of duplicities that traveled downward from the coaches to the parents to the girls themselves. The case now goes to the Metro 3A League. It should do what Seattle school officials failed to do: take back the state championship and award it to a team that truly earned it.

Meanwhile, the schools that make up the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) ought to confer that body with real authority and enforcement teeth. In the face of the Chief Sealth fiasco, the WIAA had no authority to investigate the school or make any recommendations. That ought to change if the public is to have any trust and confidence in school sports.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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