The basketball coach who runs a nonprofit funded by billionaire Steve Ballmer is resigning from his job at Lakeside School in Seattle after an independent investigator found he was improperly sponsoring out-of-season sports activities with students.
Officials at the elite private school released the results Wednesday of an investigation conducted by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). The review followed a recent Seattle Times story that examined how Lakeside managed a dramatic turnaround in its basketball program and nearly won the state title in 2013.
The WIAA investigator determined that coach Tavio Hobson’s nonprofit created an improper conflict because it operated offseason basketball activities with Lakeside players.
“He, and the staff under his direction, have direct contact with potential Lakeside School students and current Lakeside students,” the WIAA report says. “Further, both former and present assistant basketball coaches at the school have worked in various capacities at A PLUS Youth Program.”
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Hobson said he believed that his involvement in both organizations was in compliance. “I wholeheartedly disagree” with the WIAA interpretation, Hobson wrote in a note to members of his nonprofit Wednesday.
Hobson said he was resigning from his job at Lakeside and would focus his attention at A PLUS.
He said Lakeside had offered him a chance to continue coaching but he would have had to change his role with the youth program.
Lakeside Head of School Bernie Noe, in a statement, said: “The school made a mistake in our interpretation of a W.I.A.A. rule, for which I, as head of school, take full responsibility. We have already taken steps to address this mistake.”
Hobson began working with Ballmer’s oldest son a decade ago and got the Lakeside basketball job in 2009.
Around the same time, he created the nonprofit — the A PLUS Youth Program — that was funded by Ballmer and involved basketball stars such as Brandon Roy, Martell Webster and Jamal Crawford.
Former NBA player Guy Williams said in a recent interview that he was involved in an early planning session for the nonprofit and said it was designed to support Lakeside athletics by identifying talented players in the community while also providing Ballmer’s three sons a venue to play basketball around talented athletes. Williams said the ultimate plan was to transform Lakeside into an athletic powerhouse similar to Detroit Country Day School — the school Ballmer attended in his youth.
The WIAA, however, said it found no evidence that the nonprofit was created to funnel students to Lakeside.
The WIAA investigator, former Peninsula High School principal Dele Gunnerson, explored other issues raised by the Times story but found no other violations.
The Times story detailed how one star player, Tramaine Isabell, left his home to live in a $6 million mansion owned by a Lakeside supporter and received support such as an SUV to drive and money for meals. The WIAA said that was allowed.
The Times also reported on how Hobson was the primary point of contact for two key players who ended up at the school.
Rules prohibit recruiting students for the sake of athletics, but the WIAA said there was “no evidence that would describe a planned effort to recruit” players.
A member of the Lakeside admissions committee had questioned how two players got into the school without going through the typical admissions process. The WIAA said it found no evidence that there was “a different admissions process.”
The WIAA also said it found no evidence that the school had lowered its academic standards to help athletes.
Dana Papasedero, who coached baseball at Lakeside for two decades before resigning this year, was quoted in the initial Times article as saying that school officials “relaxed their academic integrity to accommodate athletes.”
He described how the school’s changing academic values were impacting the kids who played for him.
Papasedero said Wednesday it was “kind of weird” that the WIAA never contacted him during the investigation.
Gunnerson said Thursday he had left messages for the coach twice.