The organization that regulates high-school sports in Washington state will send an independent investigator to review the athletic program at Lakeside School in Seattle.
Mike Colbrese, executive director at the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), said a former high-school principal with no ties to Lakeside will conduct interviews to produce a report about issues raised in a recent Seattle Times story and whether athletes received special treatment at the school.
“The important part here is to get as much information as possible,” Colbrese said.
He declined to identify the organization’s fact-finder, but he said the person has worked with the WIAA in the past. Lakeside initiated the request for an independent review.
The Times story examined how Lakeside managed to quickly turn around its basketball program from one that finished with just two wins in 2008 to one that nearly earned the state title in 2013. The tactics included a basketball-focused nonprofit run by Lakeside’s coach, special admissions for basketball players and one player who left home to live in the $6 million mansion of a Lakeside supporter.
Lakeside has sought to downplay the story. While the school’s former baseball coach said Lakeside lowered academic standards to accommodate athletes, school leaders said in a memo to parents last week that they had not done so.
Lakeside also distanced itself from the A PLUS nonprofit run by its basketball coach and sought to discredit Steve Gordon, a former friend of billionaire Steve Ballmer who described in a sworn deposition how the nonprofit was designed to support Lakeside. Ballmer has accused Gordon of falsely representing their ties during a business deal and contacted prosecutors about the case.
“A PLUS was not developed to serve Lakeside,” Lakeside wrote in a memo.
But former NBA player Guy Williams said in a recent interview the nonprofit was built to help Lakeside’s athletic aspirations. He recalled a dinner meeting several years ago at Yankee Grill in Renton, where he said Gordon and Lakeside supporters were exchanging ideas on how to design the foundation.
Williams, who played at Washington State University and later got a master’s degree in education, said the idea was to identify talented inner-city kids who were OK in the classroom and “groom them to go to Lakeside.”
He also said the nonprofit was supposed to give Ballmer’s three sons — each of whom became involved in the Lakeside basketball program — an opportunity to play around talented athletes.
The ultimate plan, Williams said, was to transform Lakeside into an athletic powerhouse modeled after Detroit Country Day School, the school Ballmer attended in his youth.
Lakeside and the nonprofit still have strong ties, although the school got some of its top players without the help of the organization. Only one of its current players came to Lakeside through the nonprofit. Three other current players have also joined the nonprofit.
WIAA rules say coaches cannot “sponsor, coach or direct” practice-like activities in the offseason. Lakeside coach Tavio Hobson, who is executive director at A PLUS, has said the organization is in compliance.
Lakeside said in a statement that it welcomed an opportunity for a broader conversation in the coming weeks.
“Lakeside is committed to high standards in all areas of the school and its operations,” Daiga Galins, director of development at Lakeside, said in an email statement to The Times. “We are constantly working to improve in a variety of areas ranging from diversity and academics to programs such as athletics.”