Investigator: Garfield Coach did not violate WIAA Recruiting Rules

By: Alison Grande

Updated:

UPDATE: The third party investigator hired by Seattle Public Schools found no wrong doing by Garfield Football Coach Joey Thomas.  

The results of the recruiting investigation  were released In a statement from the school district Tuesday, “The allegations against our employees were not substantiated. The investigation concludes there is no evidence that head football coach, Joey Thomas, violated WIAA and District recruiting rules.”

KIRO 7 has requested a complete copy on Tuesday of the investigation and is waiting for Seattle Public Schools to process that Public Disclosure Report.

Here is the district’s full statement:

“The District is in receipt of the completed investigation report regarding the allegations of improper recruiting of student athletes to play football at Garfield High School. Based on the seriousness of the allegations, the District hired a third party investigator. The allegations against our employees were not substantiated. The investigation concludes there is no evidence that head football coach, Joey Thomas, violated WIAA and District recruiting rules.

Additionally, the District reviewed the process for identifying and confirming students’ homeless eligibility. We are currently improving our methodology for identifying and supporting our homeless students. We are following the WIAA process and procedures for determining athletic eligibility of students who transfer into schools and/or have received the “homeless” designation.

Seattle Public Schools wants to thank our staff for their full cooperation during the investigation.”

Original story: Garfield High School's football program is under investigation for possible recruiting violations.

Nineteen-year-old Will Sanders from Beaumont, Texas, said he was recruited to play football.

He said he got a call last August from John McKinney, whose son had also played football at Garfield. McKinney used to live in Beaumont. Sanders said McKinney saw a video on Twitter of him playing basketball in his high school gym and got in touch with him on the phone.

"He was saying he knew this place where I can come up to play football," said Sanders. "He was tied to Garfield and the coach wanted me to come up and play."

A couple of days later, he said, coach Joey Thomas called him.

"They told me everything I wanted to hear: 'Yeah, come up here and get a scholarship. You'll have a place to stay. You won't have to worry about nothing.'"

Sanders said McKinney sent him a plane ticket.

He wore No. 32 and played five out of 10 games for the Garfield Bulldogs last fall.

He was sidelined for five games due to eligibility requirements tied to his grades and an injury.

During his time at Garfield, Sanders stayed with other players. He was listed as homeless, which allowed him to play even with his low grades.

When the season was over, at Thanksgiving, he said he was encouraged to go back to Texas for a visit.

He said it was his understanding he'd come right back. But he says when he called Coach Thomas he said he was trying to get money together to buy a ticket.

In March Sanders was able to buy his own ticket to come back to Seattle.

He  out he'd been withdrawn from Garfield High School in December.

He'd had trouble with his grades at Garfield, didn't get any credit for the classes he took last fall, so he started at an alternative high school.

Last month he ran out of places to stay and was headed to a homeless shelter, until a mentor stepped in and found him a place to stay.

"I'm feeling like I've been used, mistreated, and betrayed because all of the things I was promised didn't happen," said Sanders.

The Seattle School District hired an independent investigators to see if the school violated WAIA recruiting rules.

In a statement the district told KIRO-7:

"We take the allegations regarding the Garfield football program very seriously. The issues are being thoroughly investigated by an outside investigator. We are committed to understanding if WIAA violations occurred and, if so, taking steps to address them. The district is committed to equity, to fairness, and to following the rules. The well-being and safety of our students is a top priority."

John McKinney told KIRO-7 he was just trying to help a kid out, from his home town in Beaumont. He says Sanders knew he was going home for good when he left in November.

Sanders says that isn't true, and that while he was back in Texas, coach Thomas told him. "He was like man the only thing you got to do when you get back up here is get a 2.0 and graduate. You've already got scholarships waiting on you, that was what made me want to come back up here," said Sanders. But he says Thomas didn't help him and seemed surprised when Sanders showed up back at Garfield in March.

Now Sanders is studying at an alternative Seattle high school and is focused on doing what he needs to graduate next year.

"I really just want to graduate, that's all I want to do, just to make my mom proud, that's everything," said Sanders.

As for the recruiting investigation, Sanders says he doesn't want the athletes to be penalized.

"I don't want no kids to be punished, not having a football season. But the coach, yes, he should have a major consequence because that's just wrong," said Sanders.

KIRO-7 reached out to coach Thomas and is still waiting for a response.

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