As managing partner at Ignition Partners, John Connors is in the business of financially backing startups. As president of the Bellevue Wolverines Football Club, Connors is in the business of financially backing the Bellevue High School football juggernaut. And some feel his booster club’s financial backing went a bit too far.
After an investigation by The Seattle Times and one commissioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association found numerous violations, the KingCo Conference Bellevue plays in announced a four-year postseason ban for the school, which has won 11 state titles since 2001. The investigations found that, among other things, Bellevue football players provided false addresses and received tuition payments from boosters, and that the booster club gave head coach Butch Goncharoff unreported payments for coaching, a claim Connors disputes.
The saga is a view into the commercial realm of high-school sports. Booster clubs in Washington are required to report any payments north of $500 to the school board for approval, but the Bellevue booster club, the WIAA investigation found, paid coaches more than $588,000 from 2002 to 2012 — none of which was reported. In short, the reports accuse the booster club of operating without oversight from school or district.
The suspension has become a polarizing issue — Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, himself familiar with sanction-inducing actions, weighed in on Twitter — and it doesn’t appear to be coming to an end. In a letter to supporters, Connors said the booster club may be pursuing legal action.
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