Bellevue High School is home to the most notable football program in the state of Washington. The Wolverines are annual state title contenders and occasional national title contenders, not to mention holders of a near-constant spot in the Super 25. They feature top-flight athletes organized by coaches with a knack for inspiring precision. They are a powerhouse, straight and simple.
Now some of the gloss on the Bellevue trophy cabinet may be losing luster, if this impressive investigative report from the Seattle Times is to be believed. Times sportswriters Josh Liebeskind and Mike Baker reported late Saturday night that at least 17 different Bellevue football players have attended a private school called The Academic Institute, which is located in a nondescript Bellevue office park.
Two former Academic Institute teachers told the Times that the school does not adhere to any identifiable academic standards. Instead, they called the program a “diploma mill”, borrowing an inflammatory phrase from the darkest period of prep basketball in recent years.
Documents obtained by the Times show that three of Bellevue’s most notable graduates of recent seasons all attended classes at the Academic Institute: UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, Washington wide receiver Max Richmond and Arizona defensive lineman Marcus Griffin. All three student athletes, as well as the others who attended Academic Institute, were eligible to compete for Bellevue because the small school does not host a football program, and the players were listed as being Bellevue residents.
Yet, these players also received tuition assistance to attend Academic Institute by non-family members, including members of the Bellevue booster club, according to the Times. Any such activity would be a direct violation of Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) regulations.
Additionally, another anecdotal story from a 2014 Bellevue starting lineman illustrates an even more sinister relationship between the booster club, coaching staff and Academic Institute, as illustrated by the Times:
In December, after the team lost the state-title game, starting lineman Omar Dyles was bullied and harassed in the Bellevue High School weight room by the team’s former strength coach, according to a district investigation of the incident. Afterward, Dyles talked of leaving the team.
After winter break at the Academic Institute, Dyles was called out of a class and into Vice’s office. She then left him there alone with businessman Jeff Razore, an assistant Bellevue football coach at the time.
Dyles said Razore warned him that if he left the team, “he would lose his scholarship at Academic Institute and he would not have the same college football opportunities,” according to district records. Using his cellphone, Razore showed the student a UW football coach’s contact information, records show, “and said things like, ‘I can get you in any school.’ ”
In addition to the financial irregularities, concerns about Academic Institute’s integrity are rampant. One former teacher outlined the school’s stance on grades from teachers as being a ‘recommendation’, with the head of the school allowed final authority to change grades as needed or seen fit.
Now, policies like those may be bringing additional concerns for Bellevue players. Three recent Academic Institute graduates who went on to earn college football scholarships were delayed in their attempts to join their teams while the NCAA seriously questioned whether to accept their grades from Academic Institute. Further information could invalidate the school’s certification for future students, which would threaten the tie between Bellevue and Academic Institute.
That might be the best thing that could happen for everyone, whether Bellevue wants to admit it or not.