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Thiel: Bellevue Football Scandal Highlights Need For Statewide Reform

John Froschauer
AP Photo
Bellevue head coach Butch Goncharoff with his team cheering after the 23-17 win over Liberty of the state 3A football championship game in Tacoma on Friday, Dec. 4, 2009.

Bellevue High School has the most successful football program in state history – winning 11 titles in the last 15 years. But many of those accomplishments are in jeopardy, because of a scandal that has now reached the punishment stage.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says it's a symptom of a much bigger problem.Media Probe

Thiel said the complaints have been leveled at the Bellevue High School football program for years, but the scandal erupted after an investigation by the Seattle Times last year.

"It was discovered that there were athletes competing under false addresses in the Bellevue district.

"They also discovered that there was a small school within the school called the Academic Institute, which was privately funded by a lot of the boosters to give educations to students who were struggling. And a large percentage of those kids were athletes," Thiel said.

"They also discovered compensation to the head coach, Butch Goncharoff, of $60,000 a year that was well in excess of what the standards are for high school coaches."

WIAA Investigation

"The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which is the administrative body that governs prep sports ... hired two investigators who produced a 68-page report that confirmed much of what the Times discovered as well as other things. That was released a few months ago.

"Goncharoff, the booster club at Bellevue, and many people objected — said 'No, this is all inaccurate. It's false.'

"The Bellevue School District said only one charge was valid and that was the compensation to Goncharoff, and so they recommended his firing. He is now on administrative leave while this is adjudicated."

'Pretty Serious Stuff'

"The report then went to a panel of KingCo Conference athletic directors. The KingCo Conference is a 16-team conference [and] their athletic directors decided some fairly draconian punishments.

"They said four years of probation for the entire athletic department, a four-year ban for football on postseason play, and also non-conference play, as well as inviting any out-of-state opponents to play Bellevue High School."

"Pretty serious stuff," Thiel said. "That report will be forwarded to the WIAA, which will adjudicate the punishments and will allow Bellevue High School a chance to appeal."

Goncharoff Speaking Out

Thiel said Goncharoff has been quite vocal about his innocence.

"He's still a vital part of the picture. He's not going quietly. There are a lot of reasons why he thinks the rules were wrongly interpreted by the investigators.

"And if you can wiggle around with all of these variances in the rules, then they've got a real problem."

What Does That Say About The Rules?

"I would say the rules are loose. I think the system is prone to corruption. And I think the only thing that can be a positive is major reformation. There's just too much 'go along, get along' over the years.

"The schools want it that way. The schools don't want to arm the WIAA with investigatory powers. They don't have subpoena power because this is a trade association. It's not a state agency.

"This issue with Bellevue has been around for many years. It's finally come to a head. And because it's now going to be subject to many lawsuits, there's going to be huge pressure — and there should be huge pressure — to reform the entire structure of state high school sports.

"This is the most successful athletic program in state history and it's being torn down.

"It's not just Bellevue. It's the entire structure that needs reform and a lot of attention. Hopefully something like that will come out of this mess."


You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.