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Thursday, May 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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League won't make Chief Sealth girls forfeit any games

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Sea-King District 2, which includes the Metro 3A League and four other leagues, will review the Chief Sealth case at the June 5 meeting of its executive board.

Chief Sealth background


In April, the three coaches of the Chief Sealth High School girls basketball team were found to have improperly recruited players for several years. The finding came after a Seattle School District investigation, which followed a Seattle Times story detailing how coaches recruited girls with promises of starting spots, college scholarships and other benefits to create a team of all-stars.

School-district officials decided not to renew the contracts of head coach Ray Willis and his assistants, Laura Fuller and Amos Walters. All three are appealing. The district recommended two years' probation rather than forcing the team to forfeit any games.

The Metro 3A League approved that recommendation Wednesday.

The Metro 3A League ruled Wednesday that the Chief Sealth High School girls basketball team should not have to forfeit any games for repeatedly violating recruiting rules.

In a 9-2 vote, a committee of principals from each of the league's schools accepted the Seattle School District's recommendation that the team be placed on probation for two years — but decided against imposing other penalties such as forfeiture of games, fines or expulsion from the league. Forfeiture could have led to the nationally ranked school losing the state titles it won this year and last.

In the largest high-school recruiting scandal in state history, the school district found that Chief Sealth head coach Ray Willis and assistants Laura Fuller and Amos Walters had recruited five players with promises of starting spots and college scholarships, all in violation of state high-school athletic rules, which don't allow recruiting of any kind.

In the meeting of the Metropolitan Activities Executive Committee, two principals — from Lakeside School and Nathan Hale High School — dissented without explaining why. Chief Sealth was not allowed to vote, and Eastside Catholic High School, where Willis used to coach, abstained from voting but provided no explanation.

The Sea-King District 2 will review the Metro League's decision in June and decide whether to approve it or impose penalties beyond the recommended two-year probation. School officials last month notified the three coaches that their contracts will not be renewed. The coaches have appealed.

Al Hairston, Metro League supervisor and Seattle Public Schools' athletic director, said the decision not to force Chief Sealth to forfeit games was influenced in part by the league principals' fear of being sued by parents or the coaches and by a reluctance to "drive a wedge" between the six private and seven public schools in the league.

Hairston did not elaborate, except to say, "We've worked very hard for a number of years to try to ... keep the league together. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do."

Some principals also believed the players shouldn't be punished because the wrongdoing was perpetrated by parents and coaches, and because the violations had happened a few years ago, Hairston said. The school district investigation revealed girls were recruited in the 2002-03 and the 2003-04 seasons. Some of them, however, remained on the team and helped it win the state championships.

The school district began investigating 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.

Before voting Wednesday, the Metro League committee discussed the case behind closed doors for more than two hours before voting, citing the potential for litigation. However, the group said there had been no specific threat of a lawsuit and The Times objected to the closed-door session, citing the state Open Public Meetings Act.

Attorney Bruce Harrell, who was retained by the Metro League and attended the executive session, said "nobody wanted to be sued for anything."

The principals rushed out of the meeting and refused to comment after voting, saying Hairston, who had no vote, would be the only one to speak about the group's decision.

"I think the idea was to try to give a unified voice to what the committee decided to do, rather than six or seven different people commenting on what happened," said Hairston.

Hairston wouldn't describe in detail how the principals came to their conclusion.

"Some people voted in terms of what they thought was best for the league, some people voted in terms of what they thought was best for the general public," he said.

Don Alexander, an activist involved in other Seattle school issues, sat outside the closed meeting, frustrated that the principals were discussing Chief Sealth's recruiting in private.

"It should have been open, and then questions wouldn't be lingering," he said. "They duped us."

Alexander said he agreed with the committee's decision "not to punish the kids, but that doesn't excuse the process."

The principals discussed the fact that the rules of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which governs high-school sports in the state, don't provide a timeline for punishing a team for past violations, Hairston said.

"Where do you draw the lines?" he asked. "So, if you proved a kid was ineligible 10 years ago, could you go back 10 years ago and take championships away?"

He said the principals didn't talk about forfeiting games from the 2002-04 seasons, during which the girls were recruited to play on the team. He didn't explain why.

While the district and Metro League decided not to punish the girls for the actions of adults, Hairston acknowledged there are no rules that allow for such leniency. But he said the committee made its own assumptions and determinations.

Other schools in the state have had to forfeit games for violations such as using a player with an expired physical exam; failing to give a pitcher enough rest between games; and playing an academically ineligible student.

In those cases and others, schools have had to forfeit games due to the actions of adults.

Sandy Rick of SeaTac, who had hoped to testify but found out about the meeting too late, was stunned by the Metro League's decision, saying, "I just can't imagine the other principals going along with it."

Rick's son, Bruce Rick, once coached football at Kent-Meridian High School and had to forfeit five games in 1997 — during an undefeated season — because the team inadvertently used an ineligible player. The senior, who had transferred to Kent-Meridian, had been in high school and played athletics for five years. As a result of the forfeiture, the team missed a shot at the state playoffs.

The South Puget Sound League made the ruling in that case, concluding, "The handbook is pretty specific as to what happens when you use an ineligible player."

Given that decision, Sandy Rick said, Chief Sealth should be held accountable for cheating.

"If they get away with it, then it's going to continue," said Rick.

"People who do bad things just keep getting rewarded. What does this tell all the other girls? It's disheartening for anyone who plays by the rules."

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

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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