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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ex-Sealth coaches sue to get jobs back

Seattle Times staff reporters

Three former Chief Sealth High School girls basketball coaches are asking a judge to reinstate their jobs after they were dismissed for recruiting girls to the nationally ranked team.

Head coach Ray Willis and assistant coaches Laura Fuller and Amos Walters filed lawsuits in King County Superior Court, claiming that racial discrimination and an inadequate investigation played a role in their dismissals. All three coaches are African-American.

The coaches lost their jobs in May after a Seattle School District investigation determined they had recruited girls to play for their team, which won state championships in 2005 and 2006.

District officials concluded in April that the coaches lured five players to the team with promises of starting spots and college scholarships — all in violation of rules by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which oversees high-school sports in the state. The WIAA doesn't allow recruiting of any kind.

The school district's investigation was prompted by a Seattle Times story Feb. 15, detailing how the coaches recruited girls for more than three years.

District officials declined to renew the coaches' contracts and denied their appeals. Fuller and Walters also lost their coaching positions in track and field at Chief Sealth. Willis will keep his job as a counselor at the school.

State law allows school employees to appeal their dismissals in superior court. In their lawsuits, all three coaches claim a lack of due process and continue to deny recruiting any girls to the team. Fuller and Walters filed jointly, and Willis filed separately. Hearings are scheduled for January.

Mary Ruth Mann, Willis' attorney, said "the information is false that [school officials] are relying on and they need to put these coaches back to work."

Brenda Little, who represents Fuller and Walters, said the Washington Education Association, a statewide teachers' union, hired an investigator to look into the recruiting allegations. The investigator concluded the allegations were unsupported, she said.

Peter Daniels, school district spokesman, rejected claims that the district acted because of a racial bias.

"We did offer due process and allowed for response and felt that the termination action was warranted," he said.

In addition to the coaches losing their jobs, Chief Sealth's team has been penalized.

The board for the Sea-King District, in which Chief Sealth competes, stripped the team of its 2005 and 2006 district titles and recommended that the WIAA yank the two state titles. It also banned Chief Sealth from playing in next year's district tournament. The sanctions are the most severe penalties imposed so far in the largest high-school recruiting scandal in state history.

Chief Sealth has appealed the sanctions. The WIAA executive board will hear the appeal July 24 at WIAA headquarters, 435 Main Ave. S., Renton.

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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