Chief Sealth appeals to WIAA
Seattle Times staff reporters
RENTON — Chief Sealth principal John Boyd came to the defense of his school Monday, asking the executive board that oversees Washington high-school sports to not strip away its two state girls basketball titles.
Boyd's emotional appeal in a packed, sweltering conference room was accompanied by several legal arguments from the Seattle School District's lawyer. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association was to rule today on the biggest known recruiting scandal in state history.
"It's generating a lot of fervor. It's generating a lot of anxiety, and people just want to draw blood," Boyd said. "The fact is our kids have suffered. Our school has suffered."
The WIAA's 10-member board must decide whether to let Chief Sealth keep state titles won in 2005 and 2006 using players recruited in violation of state rules.
"What faces us collectively is whether there was deliberate cheating and how to deal with that," said Art Jarvis, WIAA executive board member and superintendent of the Enumclaw School District.
A Seattle School District investigation in April found that Chief Sealth coach Ray Willis and assistants Laura Fuller and Amos Walters lured five players to the school with promises of starting spots and college scholarships.
The investigation was prompted by a Seattle Times story Feb. 15 that detailed how the coaches recruited girls for more than three years, sometimes providing fake lease agreements to parents so they could enroll their daughters at the school without moving from the suburbs.
Some of the recruited players were instrumental in helping Chief Sealth win 56 of 58 games the past two seasons, including two Sea-King district titles and two Class 3A state titles. The Seahawks became a national powerhouse, going undefeated last season.
After more than five months, the issue has finally reached the level of the WIAA, which puts on state tournaments and must address the question of how a team with no district titles can be a state champion.
On June 5, the executive board of the Sea-King District voted to force the team to forfeit its two consecutive district titles and to ban the team from playing in the district tournament in 2007.
The Sea-King District also recommended that Chief Sealth be stripped of its two state titles.
"We feel the decision made by Sea-King District 2 is harsh and draconian and doesn't meet the spirit of the infractions that happened," Boyd said Monday. "We remain hopeful that we'll be able to come here and get a fair and impartial hearing and a decision that's rendered on facts, rather than media hype."
Tom Doyle, Sea-King District 2 secretary, responded at the meeting by saying the district board believed there were three key facts in the school district's investigation: recruiting occurred, the school used ineligible players, and there was a lack of institutional control.
Monday's appeal by Chief Sealth was the West Seattle public school's last chance to argue its case, short of taking the matter to court.
In addition to Boyd, John Cerqui, the school district lawyer, laid out two other arguments for Chief Sealth:
• The recruiting occurred during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, so punishing the current group of players would be unfair. He said if Chief Sealth has to be punished, the WIAA should force it to forfeit games from those seasons, when the Seahawks finished 11-11 and 25-6, respectively.
• The WIAA handbook contains no specific punishment for recruiting violations, unlike other infractions. Because no specific penalties exist, Cerqui argued that the board must look at related rules, such as a student-athlete's eligibility.
He referred to a rule that states: If a student transfers to another school and plays sports continuously for one year, he or she is considered eligible, and no punishment should be meted out.
The WIAA handbook lists a variety of penalties for violating rules, such as forfeitures of games, fines, restriction of play and loss of membership.
Boyd and Cerqui want the WIAA to overturn the Sea-King District's decision and uphold the school district's original recommendation of two-year probation.
The school district also dismissed all three coaches, who are challenging their dismissals in court.
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