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Originally published February 26, 2014 at 7:15 PM | Page modified February 27, 2014 at 11:13 PM

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Rainier Beach cleared to play in High School National Tournament in New York

Rainier Beach boys basketball team gains clearance from WIAA to compete in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, which takes place April 3-5 at Madison Square Garden.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Executive Board has granted Rainier Beach’s request to compete in the 2014 Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, which takes place April 3-5 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The board had to grant a waiver for rules that limit the number of games played, out-of-season regulations and competing against teams that aren’t members of a state association.

“This is great for those young men because now all of a sudden, they get another stage to be seen on,” Vikings coach Mike Bethea said about the opportunity it gives his players. “The biggest stage yet. It’s great for them.”

Rainier Beach, which has been ranked as a top-five team in the nation by various polls, needs to finish the season undefeated to qualify for the tournament. If it does participate, the tournament will give $10,000 to both the school and the WIAA, as well as cover the costs of the trip for Rainier Beach. The tournament also offered the WIAA $10,000, although the organization made it clear from the outset it would not accept the money. Instead, it will redirect it to two non-profits.

An initial $2,500 will be given to InvestEd, an organization that provides aid to students in need at Washington secondary schools. An additional $7,500 will be available to donate if Rainier Beach remains undefeated and qualifies for the tournament. The WIAA will name another non-profit it will direct money toward if that were to occur.

The board listened to a case presented by Rainier Beach during a teleconference Wednesday afternoon before deliberating and then voting. This was the first time the school had issued a request for a hearing. A tournament promoter had previously contacted the WIAA about granting a waiver, which was turned down, but the organization’s process is for the school to request an appeal.

Two parents of student-athletes had separately filed a complaint in court on Tuesday against the WIAA. It was not immediately known whether it had been retracted.

“Number one, the board listened to the rationale from the school by saying, ‘You know what, this is after the season, it’s actually seven months before the start of next basketball season,’” WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said. “Any advantage that would be gained through participation in this event would be diminished ... because of what happens during the summer. So there’s really no advantage, disadvantage there.”

The school also said it was willing to restrict contact between the coaches and players, and Rainier Beach will be limited to 10 practices between the end of the state tournament on March 8 and the start of the national tournament. Furthermore, only the 12 varsity players will be able to practice during that time.

Rainier Beach will also work with the tournament when it comes to facing prep schools that are not part of state associations. The Vikings will be able to face schools that are not part of a state association if those schools are sanctioned to play against those that belong to one. Colbrese said if a situation arises where Rainier Beach is forced to play an unsanctioned team, a decision regarding the matter will be made at that time.

“The school sold the board on how to make this work,” Colbrese said.

Rainier Beach had held a news conference on Wednesday morning to present its case, and a couple of prominent community leaders spoke on the team’s behalf.

“I absolutely believe that we would be much better off and people in Washington state would be quite supportive if they provide this opportunity to this team and people knew the facts,” King County Councilmember Larry Gossett said.

The WIAA executive board also determined on Wednesday that it will form a special committee to more thoroughly understand how parameters will be set for similar instances in the future. A deeper discussion will take place at the board’s next meeting in March.

A similar situation arose after the 2012 football season when an idea for Bellevue and Skyline, the state title winners in 3A and 4A, respectively, to face off two weeks after the Gridiron Classic gained momentum. The WIAA ruled against a potential game because it would give the teams an unfair advantage with extra practices and set a bad precedent.

“This isn’t about Rainier Beach; we’re happy to be the ones who basically blaze the trail for this, but this is good for Washington, period,” Bethea said. “People know Washington is on board. We know what great football programs we have, now this paves the way for teams like a Bellevue and all our good baseball teams. So I think this is good all around for Washington athletics.”

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