The lawsuit was filed after the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association sanctioned the Bellevue High School football team following an investigation that found coaches, staff and booster club violated interscholastic rules.
A King County judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Bellevue High School parents and the team’s former booster club that had sought to overturn sanctions imposed on the school’s football program by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
The suit was filed in August by the Bellevue Wolverine Football Club,a nonprofit booster organization that Bellevue High School distanced itself from in the wake of the scandal surrounding the school’s football team late last year. Jarret Johnson, the father of a freshman player, and Tami and Dinny Hansen, parents of a sophomore player, were co-plaintiffs in the case.
The defendants — the WIAA, KingCo Conference, Sea-King District No. 2 of the WIAA and the Bellevue School District — argued that the booster club didn’t have grounds to sue since it wasn’t the subject of the sanctions.
An investigation into Bellevue High School’s football program was launched last year by the WIAA and found the booster club had operated with no school or district oversight and made excessive payments of $588,568 to coach Butch Goncharoff and other coaches from 2002 through 2012. It also said the boosters had paid tuition for players attending the Academic Institute, a private learning center described as a “diploma mill” used by Bellevue athletes.
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The report also said the district obstructed the WIAA inquiry, which was conducted by two former federal prosecutors, Bob Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone.
School-district officials had requested the investigation after a Seattle Times story detailed how many Bellevue players had actually attended Academic Institute.
The report said head coach Goncharoff “directed and encouraged BHS football players to take classes at the Academic Institute (AI) to obtain minimum grade standards” needed to maintain their eligibility to play on the team, and that coaches coordinated tuition payments for their players at AI. The rules of the WIAA, which govern high-school athletics, prohibit programs from giving athletes special privileges or inducements.
The report also found that false addresses were used to help players gain eligibility.
The KingCo conference imposed a four-year ban on postseason play and on booster-club donations for the football team as penalties resulting from the investigation.
SeaKing District 2 upheld the sanctions but reduced the playoff ban to two years and allowed the team to appeal the booster-club donations ban starting in 2018.
Superior Court Judge Suzanne Parisien heard oral arguments on the defendants’ motion to dismiss the suit on Friday and issued her ruling later that day, according to court records and attorney Angelo Calfo, who with co-counsel Patricia Eakes represented the WIAA.
Though Parisien didn’t offer an explanation in her written ruling, “At the hearing it was clear her primary focus was on the rights of the booster club and parents to sue when neither had been sanctioned,” Calfo said. “You have to have a significant stake” in the outcome of a case to bring a lawsuit, he said, and the judge determined the plaintiffs didn’t have such a stake.
But the legal wrangling over the scandal is far from over.
On Sept. 14, Pat Jones — a football coach at the Bellevue High for 34 years — filed a lawsuit against the same defendants, alleging defamation because the publicity had placed him in a “false light,” as well as abuse of authority, deprivation of rights, and violation of the appearance of fairness doctrine, according to his complaint.
The complaint says Jones was placed on administrative leave by the district for the 2016-17 season and notified his contract would not be renewed. He is seeking the “unwinding (of) all action” taken by the defendants, enjoining the defendants from saying he violated WIAA rules, and unspecified damages.
Then on Nov. 21, Goncharoff, who was fired as head coach, filed a lawsuit, also against the same defendants, court records show. His suit alleges “tortious interference with business expectancy” — basically, interference with his ability to work at other schools, coach at clinics and accept speaking engagements — plus defamation, blacklisting and deprivation of rights.
He is seeking to have any penalties against him deemed void and unenforceable, plus unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees, the lawsuit says.