Friday, April 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Obscure panel now in thick of Sealth recruiting scandal

Seattle Times staff reporters

Metro 3A League

Founded: In 1914 by Seattle public schools. Many of the private schools joined in the mid-1970s.

Members: 13, including seven public schools and six private schools. Class 3A schools generally have 922 to 1,287 students, though nine of the Metro League schools are smaller and have opted to play in the higher classification.

Public schools: Cleveland, Nathan Hale, Ingraham, Rainier Beach, West Seattle, Bainbridge and Chief Sealth.

Private schools: Bishop Blanchet, Seattle Prep, O'Dea and Holy Names, all Catholic schools in Seattle; Eastside Catholic in Bellevue; and Lakeside School, a prep school in North Seattle.

Under its bylaws, the committee has the authority to fine Chief Sealth, expel or suspend it from the league, ban it from future postseason play or force the team to forfeit past league games. Forfeiture ultimately could lead to the West Seattle school having to surrender the two Class 3A state championships it won this year and last.

All that responsibility falls to a committee that has never faced a scandal of this magnitude before. Beyond that, members represent vastly different interests and haven't even met for most of the past decade.

The almost-100-year-old league consists of perhaps the most unusual athletic partnership in the state: seven public schools, five Catholic schools and Lakeside School, the exclusive prep school that produced Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. The league stretches across neighborhoods from Bainbridge Island to Seattle and Bellevue.

Previous forfeiture cases

Garfield High School (Seattle), 2006 This winter, the KingCo 4A Conference ruled that the girls basketball team had to forfeit eight games because one girl had not properly filed her eligibility paperwork. The ruling was upheld by the conference's principals association. But Garfield appealed to the SeaKing District, which overturned the decision. Garfield self-reported the violation, calling it a clerical error.

Meadowdale High School (Lynnwood), 2005 The girls basketball program is currently on probation for allowing players to appear in paid advertisements in the team's basketball guide. In February 2005 the team was placed on two years probation for violating rules that prohibit students from appearing in commercial endorsements. The Edmonds School District self-reported the violation and recommended the probation to the league.

Tyee High School (SeaTac), 2004 The baseball team forfeited a game in April for using a pitcher who had played two days earlier. State athletic rules require two complete days of rest for a pitcher who has thrown three or more innings. The forfeit dropped the school into a three-way tiebreaker for the league's final playoff berth. Tyee lost the tiebreaker, ending its season.

Kamiak High School (Mukilteo), 2004 Late in the football season, the team was ordered by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) to forfeit two games for using an academically ineligible player. The Knights' record dropped from 7-1 to 5-3, and they slipped from first place in the WesCo South Division to a tie for fourth with one game to play in the season. Kamiak won its last game and made it to the postseason.

Cascade High School (Everett), 2003 The girls soccer team voluntarily forfeited two games for playing an ineligible player. Because of an administrative oversight, a player's physical had expired during the season, violating WIAA rules.

What happens next

Monday: Principals from every school in the Metro 3A League, of which Chief Sealth High School is a member, will meet to weigh penalties against the school. The meeting is closed to the public.

Previously: The Seattle school district ruled April 7 that Chief Sealth girls basketball coaches committed recruiting violations. The coaches have been notified that their contracts will not be renewed. But the district recommended that the team be allowed to keep its two state titles.

After the Seattle school district concluded that coaches at Chief Sealth High School improperly recruited girls-basketball players, it decided to dismiss the coaches but opted against forcing the team to forfeit any past games.

Now Chief Sealth's peers will get their say.

A decision on whether to punish the nationally ranked, two-time state champions could be made Monday at a special meeting of the Metropolitan Activities Executive Committee, a little-known group of principals from each of the 13 schools in the Metro 3A League, to which Chief Sealth belongs.

"Our meetings and our discussions together don't happen naturally," said Kent Hickey, principal at Bishop Blanchet, a North Seattle Catholic school. "Leagues are built on relationships. Not to say people dislike each other [in the Metro League], but we don't know each other."

In part, that's because they simply haven't met.

Principals delegate role

Principals have handed over league responsibilities to their athletic directors, who meet monthly. Only in the past two years, with athletic issues becoming more frequent and complicated, has the executive committee resurrected enough interest to convene quarterly. Still, members can't recall the last time that all 13 principals were present.

About half the members come to most meetings, said Bainbridge High School Principal Brent Peterson. League rules require nine voting members for a quorum.

The committee has addressed administrative and policy issues such as updating the league's bylaws (last revised in 2002), dealing with the problem of limited practice fields in the city, and discussing recent changes in the state guidelines that divide schools into groups based on their size.

Most principals declined to say how they intend to vote on the recruiting case. But privately, some administrators worry that the vote will fall along public-private lines. Chief Sealth Principal John Boyd will not have a vote.

The school district began looking into Chief Sealth after a Seattle Times story Feb. 15 detailed how the coaches recruited girls with promises of starting spots, college scholarships and other benefits, including offers of fake lease agreements so parents could enroll daughters at the school without having to move from the suburbs.

Chief Sealth finished this year undefeated, trouncing opponents by scores as lopsided as 87-3. The team was ranked No. 9 in the nation by USA Today.

Prompted by the story, two administrators — Hickey from Blanchet and Than Healy from Lakeside — wrote the Metro 3A League and the Seattle school district requesting an investigation into The Times' findings.

The Seattle school district released its report April 7, finding widespread recruiting by head coach Ray Willis and assistants Laura Fuller and Amos Walters. The district found that the coaches recruited five players and offered three parents bogus leases, all in violation of state high-school athletic rules.

District officials decided not to renew the coaches' annual contracts, pending appeals that will be heard by the district's human-resources director.

The Metro League was founded in 1914 by Seattle public schools. Many of the private schools joined in the mid-1970s.

The disparate backgrounds of schools in the league have long been touted as an advantage. Communities that otherwise might rarely interact have the opportunity to compete against each other regularly in sports.

Kids from Lakeside School, for example, where tuition is more than $20,000 per year, play against kids from Cleveland High School, where about two-thirds of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

"You have a league that has students and parents whose backgrounds are totally opposite," said Robert Gary Jr., principal at Rainier Beach High School. "We hit everybody, as far as logistically, socially, racially."

But tensions in recent years have surfaced between the "publics" and the "privates."

Seattle public schools, for example, are given first priority by the Seattle Parks and Recreation department in scheduling practice times on limited fields. People at private schools, who feel they are just as much a part of the city's fabric, have started to feel slighted.

On the other hand, public schools have at times resented private schools' athletic success.

For 18 straight years, O'Dea — an all-boys Catholic school on Seattle's First Hill — has won the boys all-sports trophy, which goes to the school with the highest cumulative team success each school year.

A public school hasn't won the all-sports trophy for boys or girls since the 1980s, with the exception of the Bainbridge girls in 2004.

The level of play in most sports was so lopsided that the league split into two divisions in 2002, one with all the public schools and the other with all the private schools and Bainbridge, which entered the league in 2001.

The thinking at the time of the split was that if the public schools had a division title to play for, a public-school championship of sorts, it would increase morale and participation at the public schools.

"There's a public sector and there's a private sector," said Al Hairston, the Seattle Public Schools' athletic director and Metro League supervisor. "Obviously there are times when [with] those two philosophies, there'll be some kind of confusion or confrontation."

"Here to serve students"

Now facing one of the biggest challenges in league history, committee members — public and private — say they believe they can stay collegial and make the right decision for the league's best interests.

"As long as we, as a league, keep in mind that we are here to serve students," Hairston said, "then we can resolve any situation that comes up."

Athletic directors will also attend Monday's meeting to advise their principals.

If the committee forces Chief Sealth to forfeit any league games, a decision then would have to be made on whether the school could keep its district championship. If it loses the district title, Chief Sealth's state titles could be in jeopardy because without those victories the team never would have qualified for the state tournament.

Whatever decision the committee makes, it will be made in private. The committee intends to close the meeting to the public, at the request of Chief Sealth. The Seattle Times, citing state law governing meetings of public agencies, has asked the committee to open the discussion.

The SeaKing District will review the Metro League's decision and decide whether to approve it, ease any penalties or impose stiffer penalties.

A decision on whether to give the titles to the runner-up teams ultimately must be made by the executive board of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which oversees high-school sports in the state.

"To take away games, you really, really need to examine the specifics and wrestle with it," said Dan Jurdy, Rainier Beach athletic director. "This is a really big deal. It's something that none of us should take lightly."

Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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