SEATTLE (CN) — A damning report on cheating by a powerhouse high school football team found boosters paid the head coach $60,000 a year on top of his public salary while the school looked the other way for years.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and the Bellevue School District sponsored an independent investigation of the Bellevue High School football team, winner of 11 state championships since 2011, after a series of Seattle Times articles raised serious ethical questions.
Bellevue, pop. 125,000, Seattle's largest suburb, is across Lake Washington from Seattle.
"The investigation established that for a number of years the actions of BHS coaches, the deliberate ignorance of District and BHS administrators, and the complicity of the Bellevue Wolverine Football Club ('Booster Club') and its members, have unfairly tilted the football field in favor of the Bellevue High School football program to the obvious detriment of opponents. Moreover, the investigation revealed that the Bellevue High School administrators and football coaches, as well as Bellevue School District administrators knew, or should have known, of the multiple violations of WIAA rules and chose to overlook, or not thoroughly investigate, these breaches," the report states.
The heavily redacted 64-page report was released Tuesday.
Some of its findings include:
Multiple players used fake addresses to gain eligibility to play in the district
School and district officials tolerated falsification of player addresses
Coaches and others subsidized players' housing
Coaches directed players to attend The Academic Institute, a so-called "diploma mill," to meet academic qualifications
Coaches and boosters paid tuition for players to attend the Institute
Boosters paid coaches, including $60,000 a year to head coach Butch Goncharoff, in addition to his public salary
The report also found that boosters paid for the team to attend a five-day summer camp, in violation of WIAA rules, and funneled some of the $80,000 cost of the camp to Goncharoff and other coaches.
Also, the high school and the school district repeatedly failed to report known violations and completely lacked appropriate controls and oversight of the football team and booster club.
And though the district hired the independent investigators to look into rule violations, the district deliberately stonewalled the investigative team, according to the report.
"Not only was the investigation marred by the limits the District placed on the investigation, but it was also hampered, almost from the outset, by a lack of transparency and, in some instances, by a deliberate impeding of the truth-finding process," the report states.
The school district would not let investigators directly contact employees and students and offered legal counsel to every employee who was contacted, presumably at district expense, according to the report.
Investigators say they encountered a "culture of fear and intimidation" and that witnesses were afraid of retaliation.
Investigators say the school district went so far as to go on the offensive and discredit them by playing the race card.
"We also have encountered repeated, and unfounded, accusations that we are 'racists,' ostensibly because we have been unduly focused on the addresses given by BHS football players of color. These accusations are absolutely unwarranted and may have been sparked by the strategy that the 'best defense is a good offense.' These accusations, which to our knowledge, initially surfaced at a District school board meeting in early December, have increased in frequency and in intensity as the investigation has drawn to a close. The nature and content of the accusations strongly suggests that there is a concerted, organized campaign to maliciously discredit us and this report," the report states.
The six-month investigation could have been completed much sooner "with even a modicum of genuine openness by the District," the report says.
"What is particularly troubling about the District's lack of cooperation is that the District is a public entity, funded by taxpayer dollars, and purportedly committed to the WIAA code of ethics," according to the report.
The WIAA is reviewing the report and will determine sanctions.
"The WIAA member schools have developed rules and regulations so that all student-participants are treated equally. Independent fact-findings like this are one part of the efforts by the WIAA to ensure that school activities and athletic programs are fair, competitive and safe for every student," WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said in a statement.
The Bellevue Wolverines booster club issued a statement strongly disagreeing with the report.
"From the outset of this investigation, we pursued every possible avenue to vocalize serious concerns about the investigators' extraordinarily blatant bias, coupled with their aggressive and prejudiced tactics used to develop this report. Now we have seen the report, and its contents not only confirm our concerns with the investigation, but they are significantly increased because of the investigators' seriously flawed conclusions and profound misinterpretation of WIAA regulations," the boosters said.
Bellevue Schools Superintendent Tim Mills said at a Tuesday press conference: "I recognize trust was shaken."
Mills said the district will review the report and issue a detailed response soon.