The suit states that the sanctions against the program were based on an investigation that disregarded procedures, relied on “inferences and supposition” and found violations inappropriately and with poor interpretation of state and school-district rules.
Bellevue High School football parents and the team’s former booster club filed a lawsuit Monday asking that sanctions against the program be overturned.
The 14-page suit, filed in King County Superior Court, argues the sanctions are “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the facts and the governing Washington law.” The suit states that the sanctions were based on an investigation conducted by two former federal prosecutors that disregarded procedures, relied on “inferences and supposition” and found violations inappropriately and with poor interpretation of state and school-district rules.
“Some Bellevue School District officials, as well as many community members, had substantial concerns about the scope and legality of the investigation,” the lawsuit states. “When those concerns were voiced, the investigators branded the community as being uncooperative and drew inferences adverse to the football program.”
The plaintiffs are listed as the Bellevue Wolverine Football Club — a non-profit booster organization the high school distanced itself from in the wake of scandal surrounding the team late last year. Jarret Johnson, the father of an incoming freshman player, and Tami and Dinny Hansen, parents of an incoming sophomore player, are co-plaintiffs in the case.
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“We’re fighting to restore justice for our Bellevue High School Football program,” Tami Hansen said in a written release. “We were unfairly targeted from the beginning, with an original investigation that was biased and fraught with error, leading to the sanctions for activities that, frankly, are par for the course across other districts.
“BHS football — and worst of all, our kids — have been unfairly targeted and penalized for past success and we’re filing this suit as the only recourse to be heard.”
John Connors, president of the former booster club — which was never officially disbanded — said: “We and the program as a whole are being punished for our success. We know we have played by the rules and when the suit is finished, everyone else will know it too.”
The lawsuit doesn’t seek any financial compensation, only that sanctions against Bellevue High be lifted. It targets the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which launched last year’s investigation following several Seattle Times stories about the football team and the booster club.
Co-defendants include the KingCo conference, which imposed a four-year ban on the postseason and booster-club donations for the football team as penalties resulting from the investigation.
SeaKing District 2 — which upheld the sanctions but reduced the playoff ban to two years and allows the team to appeal the booster-club donations ban starting in 2018 — also is a named defendant, as is the Bellevue School District.
The suit asks that the sanctions be overturned “because of errors both in the process of the investigation and the erroneous conclusions.”
The WIAA probe found the old 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.
The lawsuit states that booster-club donations to the Academic Institute did not violate WIAA rules. It states that the club made annual donations “with no strings attached” to the institute and that the money did not have to go to football players as a prerequisite.
Also, the suit states, the booster club paid Goncharoff starting in 2001 for his weeklong work at the private Fort Worden football camp each summer and not during the season. Thus, it states, the payments to Goncharoff that exceeded the maximum in-season allowable rate of $500 was not a violation.
The Times reported Friday that a new booster club, the Bellevue High School Football Club, is working closely with school and district officials. The new club is planning a “community kickoff” fundraiser Saturday in Bellevue to raise operations money for itself but is prevented from donating any funds to the football program for at least two years.
Sports Radio KJR personality Dave “Softy” Mahler is the evening’s host. Organizers say the $60 door charge will not be used toward any legal fund, nor will it go to the team until any sanctions are lifted.
“The Bellevue High School Football Club kickoff event will include limited fundraising activities to begin to build funds for future support of our BHS football players,’’ club spokesman Dan Sullivan said. “We fully understand we are currently restricted from providing any financial support. Our newly formed booster club is simply saving for the day when we will once again be allowed to meet basic needs for equipment and other items.’’
Sullivan added that the primary goal of the evening is fostering team spirit for the upcoming season and that any future financial support would be with “full transparency and with the complete approval of the district and school officials.”