Four years ago, Wilson High School football coach Don Clegg heard about some kids playing at Truman Middle School, a typical feeder school for the Rams.
“You couldn’t miss them,” said Clegg, who has coached Wilson for 28 years. “I’m going, ‘My God, these guys are bigger than our high school football team.’ ”
Two of them, Isaiah Gilchrist and Justus Rogers, will next year play football for Pac-12 universities as graduates of Bellevue High School.
Not that Clegg has sour grapes over kids who wouldn’t play for his program. But it does illustrate how the Bellevue football team’s reach extended beyond its district, city and even county into communities across the South Sound — including, but certainly not limited to, Tacoma.
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Some of Bellevue’s most impactful players — some who’ve signed with Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State — moved there from pockets in Pierce and South King counties.
And those were the focus of a large portion of a 68-page report released last week following the results of independent investigation conducted by two former federal prosecutors hired by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which in part delved into possible recruitment and use of false addresses to gain eligibility.
At least 42 transfer students contributed to Bellevue’s football team from 2008 to 2015, according to the report, for a program that has reached 13 Class 3A state championship games in the past 16 years.
Names of players were redacted in the report, but they were identified to The News Tribune by local coaches and school officials.
In August 2012, the Bellevue School District received an anonymous complaint from a Bellevue parent — which was also sent to Wilson and the Tacoma School District — alleging four new players on the Bellevue football team had been recruited.
Two were from Tacoma (Rogers and Gilchrist) and the other two from Spanaway — twin brothers Isaac and Jacob Garcia.
Isaac Garcia signed a letter of intent to play football at Oregon State University next year. Gilchrist is a UW-bound defensive back who was selected to The News Tribune’s Northwest Nuggets, and Rogers will head to WSU as a quarterback.
The complaint alleged the four players had been recruited through Jeff Razore, a former Bellevue assistant coach. He coached the Garcia twins on his AAU basketball team, the Seattle Swish.
Gilchrist appeared at one of Wilson’s spring football practices the spring of his eighth-grade year at Truman Middle School, and Clegg said he told the investigators that he approached Gilchrist, who indicated that he planned on moving to Bellevue. Gilchrist said it was because his mother was moving there, though he’d be living with the Rogers family for the first year.
“He was just standing there and all the kids were saying, ‘Coach, that’s Isaiah’ and it was the end of his track season and we were starting spring football practice,” Clegg told The News Tribune. “I said, ‘We would sure like to have you here.’ I didn’t think I was by any means making a violation because his spring season was over and he was up on our field.
“But I had gotten the impression that there were some promises made … that there had already been promises that he was going to get playing time and be playing as a freshman.”
Rogers never came to a Wilson spring football practice. But his sister, Dejah Rogers, was a three-sport athlete at the school her freshman year.
Wilson principal Dan Besett said in the report that during the summer before the transfer to Bellevue, Dejah Rogers “stopped into his office to say ‘goodbye.’ ” A picture of her still hangs in girls basketball coach Michelle Birge’s office.
“(Dejah) told Mr. Besett that she had to move with her brother to BHS for him to play football,” the report states.
According to the report:
The district interviewed Razore, who denied recruiting the four players. So it then spoke with Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff, who said that in April 2012, a father of one of the players showed up at the Bellevue High School weight room with the Garcia twins, Gilchrist and Rogers and told Goncharoff all four wanted to come to Bellevue.
Goncharoff said he told the father, whose name was redacted, he could not talk to him.
So Bellevue’s internal investigation concluded that the Garcias, Gilchrist and Rogers hadn’t been recruited. But the WIAA’s investigators said Bellevue’s “investigation was deficient in several aspects” and recommended it look into it further.
The investigators argued that Bellevue never interviewed the four athletes or the parents. And it didn’t visit an apartment complex where it knew at least two were living together to ensure they actually were. They didn’t interview the landlord, “made no effort to determine who was paying the rent for the apartments” and did not interview any officials from the Tacoma Public Schools.
Justus Rogers’ father, Mike Rogers, was eventually made one of Bellevue’s assistant coaches.
The Seattle Times had first reported a Facebook exchange between Isaac Garcia, then an eighth-grader at Spanaway’s Liberty Middle School, and a friend about what local high schools they planned to attend. That’s when Danny Razore, Jeff’s brother, commented on the public Facebook exchange.
“…..cough Bellevue, cough!”
Garcia replied that Bellevue was too far away (his school being about 45 miles south of Bellevue High School).
“don’t be scared,” Razore said.
Garcia’s mother joined the discussion and commented “… meet me on the 512 hwy exit every morning and drive him to BHS and you got urself a DEAL!” And Razore answered with “BET!”
The mother later told the WIAA investigators the Facebook banter was “joking” and that her sons had not been involved in the Facebook exchange.
Liberty Middle School is a feeder school to Graham-Kapowsin.
“Whether the group of Tacoma players was recruited or came independently to BHS is unclear,” the report stated, though it recommended further investigation because of the Facebook post.
Auburn High School athletic director Bob Jones said he plans on asking every coach in his building to read the 68-page investigative report.
Ercle Terrell was an honorable mention running back in the 3A South Puget Sound League for Auburn his sophomore year. Then he transferred to Bellevue, ran for 227 yards in this past year’s 3A state title game and plans to attend the University of Utah.
“He was a great kid and a great player for them,” Jones said. “It was a tough situation.”
“But I never heard he had been recruited or anything like that.”
Jones said he doesn’t, understandably, actively investigate student-athletes who move out. When Terrell said he was moving, that was that.
According to the report:
Terrell told his coach at Auburn he was transferring to Bellevue because that’s where his dad lived and his mother was moving to Texas.
The Bellevue School District obtained two Bellevue addresses for Terrell. One was his registration address — which was actually a private mail box at Mail Plus in a Bellevue mall.
“If, in fact, this was the address provided at registration, it speaks volumes about BHS’s efforts to verify the addresses of transferring players,” the report states.
Jones said a P.O. box “wouldn’t fly” with him.
“I’d have to have a street address for athletic eligibility,” Jones said.
The other address provided was at Le Chateau Apartments, an apartment complex near Bellevue Square mall. Only the apartment listed was rented by Ronald Coyle for “many years.” Bob Chamberlain, who had been the property manager, was “unequivocal in stating that neither (Terrell) nor his father had ever lived in (the apartment).” Coyle told them the same thing.
Terrell’s father ran Allied Auto Repair, Inc, located at 102 Auburn Way N. in Auburn, which closed in September 2015. The report stated that he then appeared to become a real estate agent, doing business as Terrell Realty Group LLC at 6827 Ripley Lane SE in Renton.
A coach from another school told the investigators that Terrell had provided a Renton address as his residence when he registered for a football camp.
And a Bellevue football player told them he had been to Terrell’s residence in Renton and that it was located on Lake Washington near the Seahawks’ practice facility. The Ripley Lane address is, in fact, located on Lake Washington and is less than a mile from the Virginia Mason Athletic Complex, where the Seahawks practice.
“Based on this evidence, it is clear that the Chateau Apartment address given to Bellevue High School by (Terrell) was invalid,” the report stated.
Not that other athletic directors would have gone knocking on doors. It isn’t a typical part of athletic director protocol. Jones said that in more than 30 years at the school, he has only twice gone to check the validity of an athlete’s address.
“It would be rare for me to go to an address, and we would have had to have heard something,” Jones said.
Tyson Penn jumped higher than any freshman in state history — 6 feet, 8½ inches in the high jump — when he wore a Federal Way High School track and field jersey in 2013.
He set the state sophomore record in the triple jump when he hit 48-8½ while at Federal Way in 2014.
But the Oregon State-bound wide receiver was wearing Bellevue jerseys each of the past two years after moving in with his current guardian, Marisa Spooner-LeDuff. She took him in when Penn and his family were homeless, the report states.
According to the report:
Spooner-LeDuff met Penn when he and a friend showed up at Ford Sports Performance, run by Tracy Ford, a former Bellevue assistant who had been accused of directing athletes toward Bellevue “on several occasions over the past two years, contrary to WIAA regulations related to illegal recruiting,” according to a letter from a Bellevue district administrator.
Spooner-LeDuff worked at Ford Sports Performance.
She learned that Penn and his family were homeless and shortly thereafter offered to take them in at her Bellevue apartment. She and Ford were with Penn at his eligibility hearing.
Spooner-LeDuff told the investigators Penn and his mother still live with her and she denied receiving any financial assistance.
But the investigators took some exception to the happenstance of their meeting.
“The obvious connection between (Penn) and his visit to Tracy Ford’s training facility raises questions about his somewhat precipitous arrival at BHS,” the report states, “and the financial understanding that was reached among the (Penn) family, Ms. Spooner-LeDuff, and possibly others both as to assist with living expenses and benefits for training.”
The investigators were looking into Penn’s case to determine whether any Bellevue players received subsidized housing to gain eligibility.
Tony Hill played for Lakes as a sophomore and junior after spending his freshman year at a school in Texas. His mother was transferred to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Hill later transferred to Bellevue, where he said he moved in with his uncle, according to the report.
Hill’s transfer almost coincided with Benaiah Ellington’s. Hill’s senior year was in 2015, while Ellington, a defensive back, is a current senior who signed to play football at Eastern Washington. Both were at Lakes during the 2013-14 school year.
According to the report:
Hill enrolled at Bellevue on March 3, 2014, and in an eligibility hearing claimed his mother had been accepted into an Army Master’s program in San Antonio and she would be there until April 2015.
So he planned to live with his uncle, Christopher Malone, who “was scheduled to attend Bellevue University.” Malone submitted at the hearing his application to attend the school.
But WIAA investigators were told by the Bellevue College registrar that Malone had never been a registered student there.
One man, whom the investigators name as Brett, told them Hill’s uncle did not live at the house, but did drop by to visit. They were also told an arrangement had been reached with Bellevue High School, and according to landlord Richard Mahan, “everything was OK with BHS.”
Michael Ritter, who was the owner of the residence, told the investigator that he thought Hill’s uncle lived at the house. Ritter was then informed that Brett had said differently, to which Ritter disagreed saying that Brett was mistaken. When investigators asked why Ritter had previously said Hill didn’t live at the house, Ritter’s response was that he had another call. He hung up the phone.
He and the investigator were never able to get back in touch.
The investigators interviewed Hill’s mother and brother. Tony Hill’s younger brother, Antonio, was listed as a sophomore quarterback and defensive back on this past season’s Bellevue roster.
The mother said Tony did move to Bellevue to live with his uncle, but said she knew her son was living on his own and that Malone stopped to check on him but did not live with him.
WIAA eligibility rules do not permit a student-athlete to live by themselves.
“Although (Hill) did not provide a false address to BHS, it appears that he falsely represented that he was going to be living with uncle, who was allegedly attending Bellevue College,” the report states.
Lakes athletic director Scott Nordi said he has often contacted athletic directors of a potentially questionable transfer student heading their way. But he didn’t contact Bellevue in the cases of Hill or Ellington. Bellevue athletic director Lauren McDaniel reached out to him, but at that point, even if Hill was living on his own, there isn’t anything Nordi could have done other than tell McDaniel what he knew of Hill’s situation.
As with Auburn’s Jones, Nordi said it is far from common practice to go knocking on a student’s door to check for a falsified address. And, according to the report, a month-to-month rental agreement for the Bellevue apartment was provided and Malone had submitted a Residency Verification Affidavit under penalty of perjury that stated he was living at the apartment and Hill was residing with him at least four nights per week.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677