Bellevue (Wash.) football coaches 'clearly violated' eligibility rules for years, investigation finds

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Bellevue High School football coaches, administrators, boosters, and players — including head coach Butch Goncharoff — broke rules or ignored rules violations for years to help players gain eligibility. Those are the findings of an independent investigation released by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

“They are cheaters,” said Robert Westinghouse, one of the lawyers hired to investigate the school. “They have clearly violated a number of rules put in place to be certain the playing field is level.”

Bellevue High School has been the premiere football program in Washington state, winning 11 state titles since 2001.

According to the report, many of Bellevue’s players over the years gave false addresses so they would be eligible to attend the school and play for the team.

The district did not properly verify addresses either, say investigators.

Late in the day, district superintendent Dr. J. Tim Mills held a brief news conference saying he takes the charges seriously and will investigate. He refused to answer any questions.

The school’s booster club, which provides funding to the football program, also declined to answer questions on camera. In a statement, the club, known as the Bellevue Wolverines Football Club, disputed the accusations, claiming many of them are not actually violations of the WIAA rules.

“From the outset of this investigation, we pursued every possible avenue to vocalize serious concerns about the investigators’ extraordinarily blatant bias,” said the email in part from the booster club.

The lawyers who conducted the report said the booster club and its members were very uncooperative during the investigation.

Here’s the crux of the investigators’ findings:

The investigation established that for a number of years the actions of BHS coaches, the deliberate ignorance of District and BHS administrators, and the complicity of the Bellevue Wolverine Football Club (“Booster Club”) and its members, have unfairly tilted the football field in favor of the Bellevue High School football program to the obvious detriment of opponents. Moreover, the investigation revealed that the Bellevue High School administrators and football coaches, as well as Bellevue School District administrators knew, or should have known, of the multiple violations of WIAA rules and chose to overlook, or not thoroughly investigate, these breaches.

Among the findings:

  • Bellevue high school football coaching staff including Goncharoff directed players to attend the Academic Institute – a private school – to obtain minimum grades requirements they may not have been able to achieve at BHS.
  • Booster club members helped pay the $1,750 per month tuition for players attending the Academic Institute.
  • Members of the coaching staff were involved in coordinating tuition payments for players to the Academic Institute.
  • Players used false addresses when transferring to Bellevue High School. The investigation also found the school could have identified these violations.
  • According to booster club tax returns, $312,059 in payments were made for coaching stipends and coaches gifts between 2008 and 2012.
  • Evidence that coaches, including Goncharoff, gave monetary gifts to families for food, rent, and housing.

The Bellevue Wolverines Football Club called the investigation “biased” and “prejudiced.”

To be clear, we believe that we did not violate any WIAA regulations. Moreover, we are proud of our BHS football community – and we are proud of our club’s commitment to the many causes we serve. We look forward to working with the Bellevue School District toward a fair resolution of this issue.

Tellingly, the report fails to provide any evidence to support allegations against BWFC and BHS football coaches. By its own admission, the report is based on “inferences rather than direct evidence,” and it is instead rife with errors, misinformation, rumors and the conjecture of the investigators. We believe the WIAA’s own fact-finding guidelines prohibit such sloppy methodology.

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