A 68-page report found that players' families provided false address to gain eligibility and that head coach Butch Goncharoff encouraged players to attend classes at a private alternative school.
An investigation released Tuesday revealed “significant and long-standing violations” by the Bellevue High School football program. Among the violations, the 68-page report found that players’ families provided false address to gain eligibility and that head coach Butch Goncharoff encouraged players to attend classes at a private alternative school where some of the players’ tuition was subsidized by the program’s booster club.
Members of the booster club have criticized the investigation, which was conducted by two former federal prosecutors hired by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). At a Tuesday news conference, Bellevue Superintendent Tim Mills said the report “contains information that requires immediate action,” but the district has not said what that action will be.
We asked readers for their thoughts on what repercussions the Bellevue football program should face, as well as what the scandal says about high-school sports. Here is a selection of the responses we received:
“Bellevue High School’s titles need to be removed. Sanctions need to be put in place against the school as well as the BHS booster club to ensure the high-school programs for our conference and state are fair, as all sports should be. It’s a disgrace that this has gone on as long as it has. Blame needs to fall primarily on Bellevue High School.
It should not be about winning at all costs to include cheating by parents. BHS cheated its own eligible students of playing. My son plays football as a freshman at Liberty High School, and of course the team’s one loss this past year was to Bellevue. That loss was an eye-opener, as Bellevue dominated in every aspect of the game against our team. It was so one-sided and evident that something was different about this team in comparison to the other nine teams Liberty played against.”
Philip Zurcher, Renton
“For every year they won the state championship, that should be the number of years they are not qualified to compete in the playoffs. Fire and fine all involved. Make it hurt. This was wealth gone greedy.”
Carol Jason, Marysville
“Rescind the championship titles, and ban the team from any post-season playoffs for five years. This will essentially kill the football program.
They scammed the system and stole the opportunities of hometown players, stole players from schools that could have used the talent to grow their own teams, and stole titles from teams that they played.
Yes, the Catholic schools do recruit, but they are not funded through public money. Bellevue is a public school district.
Set the playing field equal, limit the activity of booster clubs to support supplies and travel costs. Allow only the students living within the boundaries to participate.
The coach should be a faculty member and actually teach classes.”
David Florer, Bellevue
“These coaches and families have only helped these kids progress in a more beneficial way through life. Many would perhaps have fallen through the cracks had it not been for the help they received when it was obvious to coaches they needed a little boost. Bellevue football players worked hard — that’s how they won. It taught them how to succeed and prepared them for the future. To tear down this whole organization is a crime. Let’s be reasonable.”
Sharon Zuvela, Bellevue
“The wrong-headed parts of the Bellevue High School football program continued for far too long. Good kids and families participated in Bellevue football, but there were also some people who stepped over the line. Their punishment is that they will never be remembered well. Rather than worry about imposing sanctions, it is more important that the Bellevue School District starts to do the right thing, going forward, meaning it needs to replace the coaching staff, probably shun the booster club, and start exercising control by hiring a head coach who is also a teacher within the educational system.”
Bruce Kaser, Issaquah
“What sanctions are appropriate for people in positions of authority — supposed role models for kids — when they actively participate in or turn a blind eye to corruption and then do everything in their power to impede legitimate investigations? The long-running nature of the corruption uncovered by this investigation could only have occurred with the explicit or tacit approval of Bellevue High School and Bellevue School District administrators, as the report vividly details. These findings only corroborate what is probably the worst kept secret in the history of high school sports. The blatant efforts by school and district officials to obstruct the investigation demonstrate their complicity in cheating, their utter disregard for the truth and their complete lack of integrity. What sanction to impose if they will not resign in disgrace? Fire them all immediately.”
Eric Zimbelman, Seattle
“The coaching staff should be immediately dismissed. The booster club should be disbanded. And in years where cheating was determined to have occurred, titles should be forfeited.
The win at all costs mentality, and the sad state of parents living vicariously through their child’s athletic accomplishments, has put a pockmark on youth sports. Nobody is talking about the kids who lived in-district whose spots were taking by athletic carpetbaggers.”
Mike Malmin, Wenatchee
“So the investigation found that, among other things, Bellevue boosters paid tuition for some players to attend an alternative school (just like many kids do) in order to receive instruction, compatible with their learning styles, that they needed to improve their academic standing. Now let’s see a similar investigation into sports programs at every private high school in the state to determine just how many of their players’ parents are paying full tuition. And oh, by the way, how is it fair that a public school has limits on the geographic locations of its players’ homes, but private schools’ players can live anywhere? Once you address these issues, then let’s talk about a level playing field.”
William D. Osmer, Bellevue
“All the coaches involved should lose their jobs and be required to return any money they received that was above the amount they were legally entitled to. The Bellevue High School administrators who allowed this to happen should also face the loss of jobs or demotions. The team should have to forfeit the championships it won.
This isn’t just about high school sports. This type of illegal and unethical activity runs through sports programs at all levels. The NFL is the big example. It hid and manipulated scientific and medical research and evidence to hide the price their players were paying on the field due to head injuries.
If our society didn’t place such a level of importance on winning at all costs, this type of thing wouldn’t happen.
There are many changes that should be made but they will never happen because our society places much more value on their teams winning than they do on our education system.”
William Evetts, Olympia
“This incident underscores what happens when booster clubs are permitted for specific sports and when those clubs put their own egos and insecurities above the appropriate life lessons to be gained and promoted from participation in school activities. It starts with having no sports-specific booster clubs and school administrators having the courage and will to take responsibility for sustaining integrity rather than empty victories. Bellevue football’s promotion of a culture of cheating is a broadly understood fact. The revelation is not a product of bias or envy. The investigators’ report and your editorial finally nailed it.”
Lawrie Robertson, Issaquah
“Strip them of their titles going back to 2001. Ban Goncharoff from coaching football in Washington for life. It’s unfortunate for the kids who played there but also hard on those who played against Bellevue, too.
Adults knew this was going on for years. This is a public high school and a strong message needs to be sent that this type of practice cannot be tolerated. Bellevue football decimated the available pool of players for both Sammamish and Interlake for years to the point of Sammamish forfeiting games at the varsity level in 2015. Even private schools require the students attend classes at that institution and make the grades to play, not go to a strip-mall diploma mill.”
Tom Butowicz, Mercer Island