A continuing Seattle Times investigation has uncovered multiple instances in which Bellevue assistant coaches appear to have violated recruiting rules, wooing players on the football field, in the car and on Facebook.
Ever since Bellevue High School emerged as a football dynasty more than a decade ago, competitors have accused its coaches of improperly recruiting some of the best players in the region.
Several years back, the Bellevue School District investigated and found no “smoking gun” to support the accusations, suggesting instead that many players transferred on their own, seeking a chance to play at a powerhouse program.
But The Seattle Times, which has been looking into recent complaints about the program, uncovered multiple instances in which Bellevue assistant coaches appear to have violated recruiting rules, wooing players on the football field, in the car and on Facebook. Some were in middle school.
One wealthy assistant Bellevue coach, Jeff Razore, created and helped fund an elite youth basketball team that saw three of its Tacoma-area players eventually relocate and play Bellevue football.
Bellevue football investigation:
Rules against recruiting are strict. In order to help keep parity in high-school sports, coaches and others affiliated with a team are prohibited from encouraging an athlete to switch schools for the purpose of sports, according to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which regulates high-school sports.
Bellevue will have the chance to win its 12th state title in 16 years this Friday, taking on defending Class 3A champion Eastside Catholic at the Tacoma Dome.
Head coach Butch Goncharoff said in an interview that his team has never recruited, that coaches know the rules about recruiting, and that players who transfer are vetted by the school district.
This spring, the Bellevue School District determined that Goncharoff and an assistant coach had violated rules by giving money to a player’s family and coaching out of season, and suspended them temporarily.
After The Seattle Times reported in August that some Bellevue football players took their classes at a tiny private alternative school, Academic Institute, the district asked the WIAA to investigate whether coaches directed students to attend the school and if the team’s boosters had paid the tuition.
That inquiry is ongoing.
‘You got urself a DEAL!’
In the summer of 2011, as Isaac Garcia prepared to enter eighth grade, he began to banter on Facebook with another kid about the local high schools they planned to attend.
Danny Razore, Jeff’s brother and at the time an assistant coach at Bellevue, commented on the boys’ public Facebook exchange with a suggestion: “…..cough bellevue, cough!”
Garcia, a student at Spanaway’s Liberty Junior High School, some 45 miles south of Bellevue High, replied by saying Bellevue was too far away.
“don’t be scared,” Razore answered.
Garcia’s mom later joined their Facebook discussion, commenting to Razore: “… meet me on the 512 hwy exit every morning and drive him to BHS and you got urself a DEAL!!”
Razore seemed to agree: “BET!” he wrote.
Garcia and his twin brother, Jacob, enrolled in Bellevue High School before their freshman year in 2012. They and their family moved to Bellevue and live in an apartment complex where several other football players have lived in recent years.
Now regarded as a top football prospect, Isaac Garcia fielded offers from several Pac-12 schools, and recently committed to play at Oregon State next year.
“It was a joke and we had already decided to move to Bellevue before the Facebook post but we had not even told our kids yet,” the Garcias’ mother said. She added: “I spoke with both my sons about this and they both said that no one ever recruited them from Bellevue High School.”
Razore chuckled when a reporter asked about the Facebook post. “My response is you can speak to my attorney and that’s about it,” he said.
Razore later said in a statement that he was using playful banter on social media and that it was “in no way my intention to break any recruiting rules.”
The basketball connection
Students end up at Bellevue High School for all sorts of reasons, including its strong academic reputation and its well-supported sports programs. Some attend because, on their own, they decide they want to play for the storied Wolverines.
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Players on Bellevue’s 2013-14 team came from Covington, Kent, Kirkland, Seattle, Spanaway, Tacoma and beyond, according to district records released to The Times.
The Garcia brothers found their way to Bellevue football after first playing basketball for Seattle Swish, a club team founded six years ago by Jeff Razore, a Bellevue alum and recent assistant coach. Swish was touted as an “elite organization” that took players to out-of-state tournaments.
Razore provided shoes, uniforms and travel expenses for the players, some of whom came from families with minimal resources, according to parents and players.
Razore secured funding for the team through his family’s nonprofit, W. Razore Family Foundation, which gave it $82,500 from 2012-14, according to the nonprofit’s tax returns.
The Swish program drew players from a wide area, as far south as Puyallup and as far east as Redmond. The three Swish players now playing football at Bellevue are Ryan Crnkovich and the Garcias.
Randy Smith, who played on the Swish team in seventh and eighth grades, said Jeff Razore once spent a half-hour encouraging him to join the Bellevue football team. It occurred while the two of them were alone in the car, driving on I-5, Smith said.
“He said, ‘You should think about coming to play for Bellevue. We could use you,’” Smith recalled. Razore then clarified that he wanted Smith to play football, not basketball, and suggested Smith could “be a great player” and “go somewhere” if he came up to Bellevue, Smith said.
Smith said he felt like Razore was using the basketball program as a talent-scouting tool. But he also said Razore at the same time seemed like he genuinely cared, particularly helping kids in the Swish program who didn’t have much.
Smith discussed Razore’s proposal with his mom but ultimately didn’t pursue it. He graduated this year from Washington High School in Tacoma.
Jeff Razore said in a statement that just a small fraction of Swish players have gone on to play Bellevue football.
“We strongly disagree with any characterization that the Swish has been used as a tool for recruiting to BHS,” he said.
Chandler Whalen, who played on the Swish and is a freshman basketball player at Pacific Lutheran University, said it was pretty clear to players that Razore was involved with Bellevue football and a big fan of the program.
Jennifer Anderson, whose son has played on the Swish team, defended Razore’s role in the program as one of pure generosity, providing funds and gear for the kids. He mentored players and, for some, served as a father figure, she said.
She never witnessed Razore recruiting kids to Bellevue football, she said. “If he did it, it was completely apart from me.”
Jeff and his three brothers are sons of Warren Razore, who ran one of the nation’s largest privately owned garbage companies before selling it in 1998 for a reported $400 million. The Razore nonprofit foundation provided $135,125 to the Bellevue football booster club from 2008 to 2013.
Matt Razore has served as a Bellevue football coach. Joe Razore is vice president of the football booster club, as well as vice president of the W. Razore Family Foundation.
Others linked to recruiting at Bellevue include former Bellevue assistant coach Tracy Ford. The district was concerned last year that he was recruiting athletes through his sports-training business.
A parent of a student at Lakeside School, in Seattle, called Bellevue High School in January to inquire about his son transferring there to play football, according to emails released by the school district. The parent said Ford, who had trained the player at Ford’s local gym, had suggested the move.
After looking into Ford’s conduct, John Harrison, the district’s executive director of schools, told Ford by letter that he had been accused of directing athletes toward Bellevue “on several occasions over the past two years, contrary to WIAA regulations related to illegal recruiting.”
Rory Rosenbach, the head coach at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, said in a recent interview that Ford also encouraged one of his current players to attend Bellevue. He declined to identify the player.
In another Facebook post from 2013, Ryan Crnkovich posted a photo of himself with four players who transferred to Bellevue from the Tacoma area: the Garcia twins, Justus Rogers (now Bellevue’s starting quarterback), and Isaiah Gilchrist (now a star defensive back for Bellevue). Crnkovich was attending Eastside Catholic at the time, and Ford appeared to joke about that on the Facebook post.
“Why did that other kid go to Eastside? Did he not get the memo that we win National Championships and send guys D1 every year?” Ford wrote. Crnkovich transferred to Bellevue the following season.
Calvin Throckmorton, now a freshman offensive lineman at the University of Oregon, said he was playing junior-high football when a Bellevue football representative made the pitch to him: “If you want to win more games in your career, you should be coming here.”
Throckmorton, who lived in Bellevue’s Newport High School attendance area, said he made it clear he wanted to attend Newport and wasn’t approached again.
In addition, area coaches and parents have described recruiting efforts from Bellevue involving at least five other players. They spoke only if granted anonymity, wanting to avoid repercussions.
Jeff Razore was an assistant coach until this spring.
After investigating a complaint from a player’s parent earlier this year, the district determined that Razore broke recruiting rules by meeting one-on-one with the player to pressure him to stay on the team, district records show.
According to the records, the player, who attended Academic Institute, informed a district investigator that Razore told him that if he left the Bellevue team he’d lose his free tuition at the institute and assistance in getting a college scholarship.
Razore has denied the student’s account.
That investigation resulted in a two-game ban for head coach Goncharoff, a three-game ban for an assistant coach, loss of league revenue shares for three years and a three-year probationary period, among other things. The violations found by the investigator were illegal recruiting and out-of-season coaching.
Bob Westinghouse, a former federal prosecutor that the WIAA hired to review the program, said his examination is ongoing. He declined to discuss specific topics but said the WIAA tasked him and his team with looking at all allegations as thoroughly and as fairly as possible.
“I think you can assume that we are attempting to fully investigate any and all allegations that suggest violations of WIAA rules,” Westinghouse said.