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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Chief Sealth stripped of state titles

Seattle Times staff reporters

How the scandal unfolded


Key dates in the Chief Sealth investigation:

Feb. 15: Seattle Times investigation reveals numerous recruiting violations by the coaching staff for undefeated and top-ranked Chief Sealth. The Seattle School District says it is launching its own investigation.

March 1: Seattle School District rules that Sealth senior Valerie Cook cannot play in the state tournament because her family lied about living in the district.

March 4: Sealth defeats Issaquah 44-43 to win its second consecutive Class 3A state girls basketball title.

April 7: Seattle School District says it will not renew the contracts of head coach Ray Willis and assistants Amos Walters and Laura Fuller. It also recommends two-year probation for the program but says it does not believe games should be forfeited.

May 10: A committee of Metro League principals rules that Sealth should not have to forfeit any games, and accepts the two-year probation.

June 5: Sea-King District board votes to strip Sealth's last two district titles and bans the school from playing at district in 2007.

June 7: Sealth assistant coaches file suit to get their jobs back. Willis files suit June 30.

June 12: Sealth announces it will appeal the district's penalties to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

July 25: WIAA's executive board rules that Sealth must forfeit all its games for four seasons, strips its 2005 and 2006 state titles but decides it is eligible for districts in 2007.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association stripped the Chief Sealth High School girls basketball team of its two state championships and forced it to forfeit all of its games for the past four seasons for illegally recruiting players.

Tuesday, the WIAA executive board responded to the recruiting scandal with one of the strongest penalties in the history of high-school athletics nationally. Chief Sealth, a public high school in West Seattle, will have to return the Class 3A state-title trophies for 2005 and 2006.

No team will be declared state champion for either year.

"It's just kind of bad when you look up there and you see no state champion for two years," said Bill Wirtzberger, the former coach at Lacey's River Ridge High School, which lost the 2005 state championship game to Chief Sealth. "I wonder if that's why they're not putting it up there — like they don't want anyone to forget."

WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said, "This is a sad day, to be quite honest with you. It really is. No one in the education business likes to see kids have a tough time."

Colbrese said the board decided not to give any team the state titles because it would have been inappropriate to create "mythical" champions. Issaquah High School placed second in 2006.

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 — 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.

The coaches have repeatedly denied that they recruited any players to the team.

The district dismissed all three coaches, who are challenging that in court.

"It is our conclusion that significant recruiting did occur and the nature of the incidents and multiple occurrences cause us to believe they were intentional and egregious," said Art Jarvis, a WIAA board member and superintendent of Enumclaw School District who made the motion for penalties.

After deliberating for several hours, the 10-member board's vote was unanimous.

The board decided the school must forfeit all games for the past four seasons starting with 2002-03 because a significant number of players who were recruited had an impact on the team's victories for each of the seasons, Colbrese said.

The Seahawks won 92 games over the past four seasons, including 56 of the past 58 during their back-to-back championship run.

The WIAA executive board said Chief Sealth must also:

• Return the 2005 and 2006 Sea-King District titles.

• Surrender all state basketball trophies awarded during that four-year period. In addition to the two state titles, the school finished third at the state tournament in 2003-04.

• Remain on probation for two years with additional staff training on rules, a condition self-imposed by the school.

Ken Axelson, principal at Lynden High School and vice president of the WIAA board, said, "We believe we took a look at this and separated out that high emotion that was there."

The recruiting scandal rocked the girls basketball community and led to serious discussions among parents, coaches, school administrators and fans about the value of winning and recruiting in high-school athletics.

Chief Sealth will be eligible to play in district and state tournaments in 2006-07 season after WIAA staff work with the school to monitor student-eligibility issues.

Tuesday's decision by the WIAA, which oversees state high-school athletics, modifies a ruling by the Sea-King District board that banned Chief Sealth from competing in postseason play.

"In this action we wish to offer hope for a clean, new beginning for the school and the district but most of all to the student athletes at Chief Sealth," said WIAA board member Jarvis.

Chief Sealth Principal John Boyd had mixed emotions while hearing the sanctions.

"I am pleased they are going to give us the opportunity to participate in future contests, but I am disappointed that they have upheld a decision to take away the titles," he said.

"I don't feel it's right to punish the students and their accomplishments for the wrongdoing of adults."

Chief Sealth could challenge the WIAA's final decision in court. Boyd said administrators hadn't made a decision whether to do so.

Al Hairston, Seattle School District director of athletics, and Ammon McWashington, director of secondary education for the school district, had no comment.

Willis and his assistants, all hired in 2002, transformed Chief Sealth from a downtrodden program that won only three games the season before their arrival into a nationally ranked powerhouse.

Some of the illegally recruited girls were crucial to the team's dominance.

A former player who was recruited by the coaches said taking the titles away from the girls is unfair.

"It was the coaches' fault, not the athletes who worked for the titles," said Leah Rogers, a 6-foot-2 forward who lived in Renton while playing for Chief Sealth in 2003-04. "It wasn't the coaches out there playing basketball. It was the girls out there sweating on the court. The girls shouldn't have been penalized — we were minors. It wasn't the parents' fault either — they wanted what's best for their kids."

Her mother, Rebecca Rogers, said, "I feel great sadness for all the players of all the teams. They're paying the price of the wrong that's been done. Nobody won in this situation."

Issaquah girls basketball coach Kathy Gibson, whose team lost to Chief Sealth by one point in the 2006 state final, agreed with WIAA's decision to not award a state championship: "I really, honestly, am OK with remaining second place."

"I think had [the WIAA] moved us up, there would have been an asterisk by it ... We had a chance to win that game on the court, and we didn't."

All current Sealth players — including leading scorer and rebounder Regina Rogers, a 6-foot-3 center who was recruited by the coaches — will be eligible to play next season.

Colbrese said the liveliest debate during the board's deliberations concerned the future eligibility of Rogers because there wasn't a consensus on residency rules. The WIAA will review those rules to determine if there needs to be more clarity.

"I don't think they have much of a gripe because they can still play next year," Wirtzberger said of the returning players. "If you ask any of those kids at Chief Sealth, they'll say they're still the state champions, they got to cut down the nets. And you ask the kids from River Ridge and Issaquah, they're not."

There are still some unresolved issues for Chief Sealth. It won the last two Sea-King District titles and this year's Metro League title.

Now with Chief Sealth having no victories on the books for the last four years, the Sea-King District and Metro League will have to decide what to do with those championships. They could vacate them or give them to the second-place teams.

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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