An independent investigation into the Bellevue High football team uncovered “significant and long-standing” violations” of state sports rules and extensive evidence that the team’s revered head coach, Butch Goncharoff, played a leading role in some of the program’s dubious practices.
The damning, 68-page report spreads the blame wide. In part, it found that:
• Top Bellevue administrators willfully ignored rules violations for years;
• Player families provided false addresses to the school district to gain eligibility;
• Goncharoff “directed and encouraged” Bellevue football players to take classes at a private alternative school “to obtain minimum grade standards” needed to maintain their eligibility to play. One football player described the school as a “day care” for athletes.
• Football team boosters subsidized the pricey tuition for players.
The widespread findings — backed by transcripts, emails, interviews and district documents – were established even though administrators for the district and the high school “deliberately interfered with or obstructed” the inquiry, according to the report, written by two former federal prosecutors hired by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) to investigate.
The investigators wrote that their work was hampered by the district’s practice of destroying residency documents for former football players who had moved into the Bellevue High School attendance area and sought to prove their eligibility to join the team. Officially, the district’s policy says residency documents containing a student’s name are to be kept for three years after a student graduates or withdraws from the district. WIAA investigators asked Athletics Director Jeff Lowell whether the district “destroyed residence documents for all graduating students or only football players,” but the district did not reply, the report said.
In addition, Glenn Hasslinger, district supervisor of pupil management, who was responsible for student placements and transfers from 2005 to 2015, told investigators he occasionally visited residences of students to verify their addresses. But in fall 2013, Hasslinger told investigators that he was instructed by Deputy Superintendent Shawn Lewis to stop such visits because they were “a waste of time.”
For months, Bellevue football boosters have criticized the investigation for being too aggressive and wide-ranging, and they have stepped up attacks in the past week. Goncharoff told team supporters Thursday: “I don’t care what this investigative report says. I can tell you it certainly wasn’t fair.”
In a statement released minutes after the report was made public, the booster club said it had reviewed the findings and believes it “did not violate any WIAA regulations.”
Private school called a ‘joke’
The WIAA inquiry focused much of its attention on the Academic Institute (AI), a tiny, expensive for-profit alternative school attended by many football players.
In a news story last year, The Times found that at least 17 football players in recent years had attended Academic Institute and that Bellevue football boosters had helped coordinate tuition payments. Some players had struggled at Bellevue High School to get grades high enough to stay eligible. The Times story led to the district and the WIAA to start this current investigation.
With new information from the district and the institute, the WIAA investigation found that 21 Bellevue football players attended the school either full-time or part-time between 2011 and 2015, according to the report. “In stark contrast, no football players from any of the other three high schools in the Bellevue School District have attended the Academic Institute,” the report said.
Goncharoff told the investigators that he had never encouraged a player to attend the institute, but the report said his denial wasn’t credible and provided contrary evidence:
• The parent of one former player said Goncharoff encouraged him to place his son at Academic Institute. And in one email, Academic Institute director Jennifer Vice wrote to the father about the player’s academic schedule and said that if he disagreed with the schedule she had drawn up, they would need to meet with “Coach Butch.”
• The report noted that another player, who had told The Seattle Times last year that Goncharoff encouraged him to attend Academic Institute, said on AI’s website that “my coach got me into” the school.
• Another parent reported that after telling Goncharoff he could not afford the school’s monthly tuition, which is about $1,750, the coach helped him find a “sponsor” for his son to attend AI.
• Goncharoff told investigators he had visited AI and talked with the school director Vice when his players were having problems at the school.
• Vice in one email wrote to Judy Buckmaster, the district’s executive director of student services: “Butch Goncharoff just brought me [student name redacted by the District] transcript and would like [student name redacted by the District] to come to summer school to replace the following classes,” then listed them.
Within minutes, Buckmaster replied that Goncharoff needed to “fill out the paperwork and submit it to my office.” Vice quickly replied, “I will call him right now and tell him to come by.” No mention was made of any parent involvement.
• Goncharoff wanted a player to take four summer classes “to replace the grades he had received at BHS,” the investigators wrote. The player had received four Fs in his Bellevue High classes, making him ineligible to play football. At the for-profit school, however, he took the same four classes and got three Bs and an A, according to the report.
Citing redacted transcripts of Bellevue football players at AI, the report found other “dramatic improvements” in player grades once they attended the institute.
• One player who attended AI told investigators that one teacher provided him answers to tests. He called the program a “joke” that served as a “day care” for players.
The Academic Institute defended its academic standards after a Seattle Times story last year cited two former AI teachers calling the school a “diploma mill.”
Players get tuition discounts
Vice reported that six players received “scholarships” at her school, the report said. The booster club had given more than $30,000 to the school, she told investigators, but the money was not earmarked to cover tuition for specific athletes.
But the report said such claims were not credible.
One family told investigators that the Razore family, a big supporter of the Bellevue football program, was helping with their son’s tuition. The father once thanked Jeff Razore, an assistant football coach at the time, for the financial support. Razore told the father it was “no problem,” according to the report.
Jeff Razore 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 family’s nonprofit, the W. Razore Family Foundation, provided $135,125 to the Bellevue football booster club from 2008 to 2013.
In other emails cited in the WIAA report, Vice asked Joe Razore, vice president of the booster club, if he wanted to come to the Academic Institute to meet with a football player and review his grades. She also offered to just email the teen’s grades to Razore.
In another email, Vice told the family of another football player at AI that “the booster club has to agree to pay for another semester.” That player’s father also said Joe Razore had helped determine how much of the private tuition the player’s family would have to pay, the report said.
The report said that at least seven football players received substantial tuition discounts, violating WIAA rules that prohibit special “remunerations” or “inducements” for athletes, including “free or reduced tuition.”
In its Tuesday statement, the booster club said it has “long supported” the school but did not pay tuition for players: “It is hardly surprising that The Academic Institute chose to allocate some of the grant money it receives from [the booster club] to offset the tuition of student-athletes, and this violates no WIAA rule.”
(This breaking news story will be updated shortly. Click to read the report.)