The Bellevue School Board must wrestle control of the football factory at Bellevue High School back from the booster club.
THE well-documented evidence of systemic cheating by the Bellevue High School football program puts the district’s School Board at a fork in the road. It can, as board member Steve McConnell described at a tense board meeting on Tuesday, be “backward-looking or forward-looking.”
To look backward constructively is to accept the basic facts of a thorough investigation by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and hold people accountable. That report found strong evidence that school administrators willfully ignored rules and enabled students to use sham addresses to become eligible. It also zeroed in on an out-of-control booster club paying tuition at a private school for elite athletes whose grades — remarkably! — bounced from failing to high marks.
That backward-looking path should lead to discipline for both football coaches and district administrators who built and enabled a football factory that has won 11 state titles since 2001, even as allegations of misconduct mounted.
McConnell rightly said, “I’ve read enough and know enough. I actually think the facts are pretty clear in this case.”
To look only forward — as at least one board member, Chris Marks, urged — is to respond by merely tweaking policies that, for all appearances in the WIAA report, were trampled like a freshman junior-varsity team on the way to football glory. Not to look back is to discount the damning findings of the report. Marks actually said, “I have a real problem with the board saying this report represents truth.”
Which will it be? After an epic seven-hour board meeting on Tuesday, the board showed promising signs that it will not “coddle the money” — as one Bellevue School District parent put it during public comments — of the high-power, big money Wolverine booster club, the Bellevue Wolverines Football Club.
In a statement, the board acknowledged the obvious — “There is evidence of misconduct and insufficient oversight” — and mandated cooperation with future investigations, something that was lacking during the WIAA probe. The KingCo League will hear Bellevue’s case later this month, then the regional SeaKing District and then the WIAA itself. None are expected to be sympathetic.
The Bellevue board also rightly set a tone for a backward-looking approach by suggesting that head football coach Butch Goncharoff and his assistants could be suspended for two years or more for improper payments he received from boosters. The WIAA report put the figure at $588,568 over a decade.
But still lacking is accountability for district administrators — up to and including Superintendent Tim Mills — who are described in the report as giving drive-by oversight to off-the-field allegations of misconduct.
The School Board’s statement emphasized that sanctions should be focused on adults, not students. That’s fine, but the board should also approach the Bellevue High football scandal as an opportunity to teach students a lesson that money does not always buy power.
Divorcing the football program from the booster club would be a start.