Bellevue High School football was severely punished Tuesday, June 7, by the KingCo Conference, staining the prestige of arguably the most decorated prep football program in the state while affirming speculation Bellevue has been playing with an unfair advantage.
The conference most notably banned Bellevue, which has won 11 state titles the past 16 years, from postseason play the next four seasons and ruled the program cannot receive donations for four years.
The ruling was made after evidence suggested the program committed violations such as creating false addresses for athletes and allowing boosters to pay tuition.
A decision of whether or not Bellevue will forfeit state titles has been left for the WIAA to decide.
Bellevue’s dominance hasn’t affected most of Whatcom County. Ferndale, however, is a different story. The Golden Eagles lost to Bellevue early in the 2012, 2013 and 2015 postseasons.
Golden Eagles coach Jamie Plenkovich, who said he’s been following the saga closely, wasn’t surprised by the findings and subsequent punishment.
“Obviously, there have been some rumors surrounding their program for a long time,” Plenkovich said. “We have played them several times and what I will say is each time they had a large number of transfers from the previous time we played them.”
Ferndale’s predicament of being the only Class 3A school in the Northwest Conference led the Golden Eagles to a 2012 state first-round game with Bellevue and in 2013 and 2015 a district playoff game.
Ferndale, despite being 9-1, lost to Bellevue 28-0 in 2012, lost 44-0 in 2013 and lost 41-7 last season.
“If I was in their league and played them every year I would be pretty frustrated after 10 years of finding out they were not playing by the same rules if the accusations are accurate,” Plenkovich said. “On top of it, what bothers me, is they affect schools around them — their ability to field competitive teams. And that hurts our sport. And our sport is already under attack.”
While Plenkovich has followed reports the past year detailing Bellevue’s alleged wrongdoings, he admitted he doesn’t know all the facts and credited the program for its ability to develop players.
Former Golden Eagle standout running back Alex Conley, who had a prominent role during the 2012 and 2013 season, shared his thoughts on the sanctions.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the rumors were true,” Conley said. “It was a good challenge (playing Bellevue), but it also sucked because maybe we could have gotten farther.”
While Bellevue’s facing repercussions now, recruiting players and creating an equal playing field among private and public institutions could be a larger issue.
Private schools have the luxury of bringing in players from a 50-mile radius — much larger than the size most school districts across the state work with. Some private schools take advantage, others don’t.
“I think there are some things we need to address,” Plenkovich said. “The WIAA’s mantra is to ‘just play fair,’ and we need to look at these things. (Private schools) do play by different rules. They do.”
Many states have adopted systems to separate public and private schools in athletic competition. Washington state is yet to do so.