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Tuesday, June 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sealth's district titles yanked

Seattle Times staff reporters

The Sea-King District board voted Monday to strip the Chief Sealth High School girls basketball team of its past two district titles because of repeated recruiting violations — a move that could force the nationally ranked powerhouse to forfeit its 2005 and 2006 state championships.

The sanctions are the most severe penalties imposed so far in the largest high-school recruiting scandal in state history, and athletic officials believe they may be the toughest ever against any team in Washington.

"I think this vote indicates that we want athletics to be run fairly," said Tom Doyle, the district secretary. "We advocate sportsmanship. We advocate fair play. We advocate level playing fields.

"When we see things that violate those principles, we want to take a stand on it."

The Sea-King board decided Chief Sealth must forfeit all its district tournament games from 2005 and 2006, and banned the school from playing in the district tournament in 2007. It also recommended that the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which oversees high-school sports in the state, take away Chief Sealth's state titles.

Chief Sealth has five days to give notice it will appeal. It could ask the Sea-King District for a more thorough review of the case, or it could appeal directly to the executive board of the WIAA.

The Sea-King board's decision supersedes lighter penalties imposed by the Metro League and the Seattle School District. Chief Sealth, a West Seattle public school, plays in the Metro League — one of five athletic conferences that make up the Sea-King District.

The school district in April found that Chief Sealth head coach Ray Willis and assistants Laura Fuller and Amos Walters lured five players to the school 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.

That investigation was prompted by a Seattle Times story Feb. 15, which detailed how the coaches recruited girls for more than three years, sometimes providing fake lease agreements so parents could enroll their daughters at the school without having to move from the suburbs.

Some of the recruited players were instrumental in helping Chief Sealth win 56 of 58 games the past two years, including two Sea-King district titles and two Class 3A state titles. The Seahawks were undefeated this season and crushed most opponents, winning one game 87-3.

The school district decided to dismiss the coaches, who are appealing the non-renewal of their contracts. But administrators opted against penalizing the team beyond a two-year probation, during which Chief Sealth could play without restrictions unless coaches recruited again. That decision was upheld last month by the Metro League principals.

Al Hairston, the Seattle School District athletic director and Metro League supervisor, said he will support Chief Sealth if it appeals the Sea-King District's decision. Chief Sealth principal John Boyd could not be reached for comment.

"I was surprised that [the Sea-King District board] went as far as they did," said Hairston, who attended the Sea-King meeting as an observer. Banning Chief Sealth from participating in postseason play in 2007, he said, is "particularly harsh and unfair to kids still in the program."

The Sea-King board, meeting at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, voted twice: first to overrule the Metro League principals' decision, and then to adopt the harsher penalties in addition to those upheld by the Metro League. The more severe punishments were proposed by Sammamish athletic director Jim Judson.

The first vote was 10-2, with Dan Jurdy, the athletic director from Rainier Beach High School, and Ed Putnam, the athletic director from Lakeside School, voting no. Both schools are part of the Metro League.

The second vote was 9-2, with Jurdy and Doug Bruketta, the athletic director at Ballard High School, voting no. One member, Jan Woldseth, who represents the state's school-board members, abstained, saying she has a child who attends Issaquah High School and felt that could be considered a conflict of interest.

Issaquah lost to Chief Sealth in the 2005 and 2006 Sea-King district title games and the 2006 state title game. River Ridge High School of Lacey, Thurston County, lost the 2005 state championship game to Chief Sealth.

If the Sea-King District board's decision is upheld on appeal, Issaquah would likely be named the new district champion for both years, Doyle said.

At that point, the WIAA, which runs the state tournament, would have to address the issue of how Chief Sealth can hold a state title if it never won a district title. In effect, the team would not have qualified for the state tournament the past two years.

Issaquah girls basketball coach Kathy Gibson agreed with the penalties and said many people have known for years that Chief Sealth coaches recruited athletes. "Finally justice is served if the decision is upheld," she said.

Gibson said she will accept the state championship title if it is given to Issaquah. But she said she has mixed feelings about doing that.

"We had our chance in districts and state and fell short," she said, referring to two agonizingly close games lost to Chief Sealth by a total of four points in 2006.

"I wish we would have won on the court," she said. "I think there [would] always be an asterisk with the title. The asterisk would be we didn't win it on the court, but we played a team who cheated and had players they shouldn't have had."

Bill Kelley, Bellevue High School girls basketball coach, attended the Sea-King meeting and said the board's decision was a strong message to the local basketball community.

"I know that Sealth is probably not the only school that violates the rules," he said. "Hopefully, everybody gets the message."

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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