In a note to supporters over the weekend, Bellevue booster club president John Connors said he saw litigation as an option that would provide the team with due process.
The wealthy booster club that has long supported Bellevue High School’s dynastic football program is ready to file lawsuits to protect the team from sanctions.
In a note to supporters over the weekend, booster club president John Connors said he saw litigation as an option that would provide the team with due process, “with depositions and subpoenas of information.” Connors, a former Microsoft CFO and current board member at Nike, said lawsuits would reflect negatively on the Bellevue School District and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
“If we did not think we had the facts and truth on our side we would not spend the time and money on this process,” Connors said.
While an independent investigation identified wide-ranging violations in the Bellevue program, team supporters have criticized the school district’s administrators, the school board, the WIAA’s independent investigators and the WIAA itself. The KingCo Conference is now reviewing the school district’s proposed sanctions, with the option of adding to those penalties.
Bellevue football investigation:
The school district has said it will seek to terminate Bellevue head coach Butch Goncharoff, and it has cut ties with assistant head coach Pat Jones. Connors said in his message to supporters that they are seeking the immediate reinstatement of Goncharoff and Jones.
Last week, Jones also filed an unfair labor practices complaint to the Public Employment Relations Commission.
Connors has turned to influential local residents to ask for their support. His messages over the weekend went to the likes of MOD Pizza CEO Scott Svenson, local investor Clint Mead and Sammamish High School football coach Todd Craig, who previously coached at Bellevue. In a note to wealthy businessman Bruce McCaw, Connors said the situation was a “travesty.”
“Your stature is large — speaking out would be very useful,” Connors told McCaw in an email obtained by The Seattle Times.
Connors has called for supporters to appear at a school board meeting Tuesday. He did not return a message seeking comment Monday.
The booster club has been at the center of the investigations into the program. The independent investigators determined that the club paid tuition for football players to attend a private alternative school that has been derided as a “diploma mill” by former teachers. And the school district said Goncharoff improperly accepted large payments from the booster club — about $60,000 per year.
With support from wealthy Bellevue residents, the booster club typically raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and has an annual fundraiser that has featured musical acts such as singer Kelly Clarkson and pop-rock band OneRepublic. The club has supported the team and coaches through an astonishing run of 11 state titles in 15 years.
The school district has proposed a temporary suspension of the booster club.
Among the contentions of Bellevue supporters is that the WIAA’s independent investigators didn’t follow proper protocols in conducting their probe, that the school district improperly applied district rules, that one rule is being applied retroactively, and that the booster club got approval from district officials to pay Goncharoff nine years ago. They also disagree with the WIAA’s interpretations of the WIAA rules.
Sulkin, an attorney for Goncharoff, said he still anticipates the coach will be vindicated and no lawsuit would be necessary. But he said Goncharoff has rights and will make sure those are protected.
“It’s pretty clear Butch did nothing wrong,” Sulkin said.
In a letter to the WIAA executive board, Sulkin concluded his message by asking for documents and saying the WIAA has an obligation to “preserve all documents, data, or information relating to this investigation.”