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Thursday, February 16, 2006 - Page updated at 09:04 AM

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District is investigating Sealth

Seattle Times staff reporters

The Seattle School District has launched an investigation into the top-ranked Chief Sealth High School girls basketball program, reacting to a Seattle Times article Wednesday on recruiting violations by the team's coaches.

District administrators began a personnel investigation Wednesday morning and will move quickly because district playoffs are under way, district spokesman Peter Daniels said.

The investigation could result in penalties as serious as the firing of head coach Ray Willis and his assistants, Amos Walters and Laura Fuller, Daniels said. The inquiry will be conducted by Chief Sealth Principal John Boyd and athletic director Mike Kelly, with assistance from the district's legal and human-resources departments, Daniels said.

If the school district finds any rules violations, the Metro 3A League, of which Chief Sealth is a member, could impose other penalties against the school. Those could include fines, forfeiture of games, disqualification from this year's postseason and maybe even taking away last year's state title.

Chief Sealth, 22-0 this season and ranked nationally by Sports Illustrated and USA Today, plays its first game in the Sea-King District tournament tonight against Holy Names Academy, an all-girls private school in Seattle. The state tournament begins in just two weeks.

Any personnel decision made by the district could be appealed to the district's human-resources director. And that decision can be appealed directly to Superintendent Raj Manhas.

Manhas said in a statement Wednesday, "I expect honesty in both the classroom and on the athletic field. The concept of fair play, teamwork and integrity are core values our students need to succeed in school and in life."

Superintendent reacts


"I expect honesty in both the classroom and on the athletic field. The concepts of fair play, teamwork and integrity are core values our students need to succeed in school and in life. It is our responsibility as adults, both in the classroom and the community, to help our students build character and serve as role models for our youngsters."

Seattle School Superintendent Raj Manhas,

in a statement announcing a district investigation of Sealth's coaches

At a previously scheduled School Board meeting Wednesday night, Manhas said: "These [are] wonderful student athletes who have done so well, and in no way are we dishonoring what they do. ... These students are amazing in their accomplishments."

The coaches have denied any wrongdoing.

However, more than a dozen parents, players and coaches independently gave detailed accounts of how girls were recruited to play at Chief Sealth, some as early as the sixth grade. Parents and players said they were promised starting spots and college scholarships to play for the West Seattle school.

Four parents said coaches even provided bogus lease agreements so their daughters could enroll in the Seattle School District without having to move from the suburbs.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which oversees high-school sports in the state, strictly forbids coaches from recruiting or attempting to recruit athletes.

What happens next


The Seattle School District will announce findings of its personnel investigation, as early as today.

The Metro 3A League will review any school-district findings in deciding whether to issue its own penalties.

Possible penalties: Discipline or dismissal of the coaches; school fines, forfeiture of games, withdrawal from postseason play or loss of last year's state title.

Scheduled tonight: Chief Sealth plays Holy Names Academy in the Sea-King District 2 tournament. The game begins at 6:30 p.m. at Bellevue Community College.

Daniels said the district's first priority will be to look at allegations involving current team members to resolve any issues of player eligibility. Then the district will look at the more general recruiting issues, he said.

"We're not going to sacrifice a thorough or impartial investigation just to make sure we do it prior to the start of the tournament," Daniels said. "But obviously, that's the goal."

Jana Kohler, Holy Names athletic director, said she talked with her basketball team Wednesday afternoon and told the girls to play the game against Chief Sealth "pretending that nothing came out in the paper." Holy Names does not plan on lodging a protest before the game, she said.

"What we tell the kids, what I've told parents, is we have no control of the higher beings," she said. "We've got the league office. We've got the district. We've got the WIAA. With everything that was written, they need to act, and we just need to watch and see what unfolds. There's nothing we can do."

In October 2004, Kohler co-signed a complaint letter that was e-mailed to Kelly, Chief Sealth's athletic director, alleging that Willis and his assistants violated rules prohibiting team practices during certain offseason periods. A subsequent investigation by Kelly found the allegation to be unsubstantiated.

The team that lost last year's title game to Chief Sealth, River Ridge High School of Lacey, Thurston County, also has no intention of filing a complaint.

"If people want to take advantage in some way or another, they have to deal with their conscience," said Paul Highsmith, the principal at River Ridge, which lost to Chief Sealth 71-54.

Highsmith, who has also been the public-address announcer at the state basketball tournament for more than 30 years, added, "We have no regrets about what our performance was. This issue that surfaced is not in our hands. That's somebody else's concern."

Highsmith said he and his staff met with the team Wednesday and talked to them about staying away from the controversy and staying focused on the team's district-tournament game Friday.

"If it gets adjudicated in some way, if the allegations are accurate ... we have to rely on the system to deal with that," he said.

Mike Colbrese, executive director of the WIAA, said his organization will look at its own authority to see if there should be more oversight of schools.

The rules state that an investigation can be launched only if a school reports its own violation or if another member school writes a letter of complaint. Even then, the accused school investigates itself. The WIAA has no investigative authority.

"I'm hopeful what will happen here is that the school will take some action and try to get this situation resolved so we end up doing what's best for all students," Colbrese said. "I hope they will look at that information as an objective report of what the concerns are and use that to thoroughly investigate."

Tom Doyle, co-secretary of Sea-King District 2, which oversees the Metro League, said, "It's a sad day for athletics.

"It moves us away from the purpose of competition and that's unfortunate. There are purposes like teaching life skills, how to communicate, how to win and lose and how to be good sports. That's why we play sports — not so we can have a state championship and scholarships."

Times staff reporter Tan Vinh contributed to this report.

Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or mko@seattletimes.com

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or cwillmsen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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