Garfield HS football coach didn't violate recruiting rules, investigation finds

Garfield high's head football coach was cleared of wrong-doing. He'd been under fire for the last few months accused of violating recruitment rules.

A third-party investigation found no evidence that Garfield High School or head football coach Joey Thomas violated WIAA and district recruiting rules.

“Based on a preponderance of the evidence gathered in this investigation, it is the conclusion of the investigator that neither Student A nor Student B was recruited, directly or indirectly, by Thomas or any other District employee to play football at Garfield,” Investigator Philip A. Thompson wrote in a report to the Seattle School District.

The district asked for an independent investigation back in April after allegations surrounding the recruitment of a Garfield player who moved to Seattle from Texas to play for the Bulldogs.

Read: Full investigation on Garfield recruiting allegations

"The allegations against our employees were not substantiated," Seattle Public Schools said in a statement Tuesday. "The investigation concludes there is no evidence that head football coach, Joey Thomas, violated WIAA and District recruiting rules."

According to the investigative report released on Tuesday, the student claimed that  he was first contacted by a parent whose son played at Garfield.  The student said that parent then put him in touch with Thomas.

The student told the investigator that Thomas essentially recruited him to play football at Garfield, saying that Thomas told the teen he could use his playing experience at Garfield to secure an athletic college scholarship following graduation. The student also claimed that Thomas sent him a plane ticket to come to Seattle.

Thomas says that's just not true.

“Absolutely not,” Thomas said. “It's not what I do.  Ask my players if I ever promised them anything.  I don't make promises, because nothing in life is promised.  If you work hard and do things the right way, you can put yourself in a position to be successful.  But I never make promises to anybody."

The student from Texas arrived in Seattle in August 2016 and says he started participating in football activities at Garfield in September 2016.

He said he came to Seattle as a homeless student without his parents or family members and lived with other members of the Garfield football team while he was in Seattle.

During the district's investigation, the process for identifying and confirming students' homeless eligibility was also reviewed.

"We are currently improving our methodology for identifying and supporting our homeless students," the district said in its statement. "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."

The investigative report says that following the end of the football season, the student asked Thomas if he could go home to Texas during the Thanksgiving holiday to visit his family.  The student claimed Thomas supported that decision and said that Thomas would pay his return airfare to Seattle.

But that never happened.

The student alleged that when he contacted Thomas about returning to Seattle, Thomas continued to put off purchasing a plane ticket.

Eventually, the student bought his own ticket and returned to Seattle in March. The investigative report says he attempted to return to Garfield High School but was informed he would have to enroll in the Interagency Academy to recover credits lost when he did not finish his first semester classes.

The investigator found school records that dispute the student's claim he intended to return to Garfield after leaving for Thanksgiving.  In an email dated December 6, 2016, a Garfield counselor alerted several staff members, including Thomas, that the counselor had received confirmation the student was back in Texas and would not be returning to Garfield

The investigation also looked into anonymous complaints about several high-profile student athletes who'd recently transferred to Garfield.  The investigation found that no one has been able to provide any direct evidence that shows Thomas or other district employees had a hand in those transfers taking place.

'We're a public school  We don't pick and choose who comes to our school.  Whoever comes to our school comes to our school.  We coach whoever is at our school," said Thomas.

In interviews with the independent investigator, Thomas denied any illegal recruitment activity.  He also denied that he bought an airline ticket for the student from Texas to come to Seattle, or that he urged him to come to Seattle to play football.

Thomas told KING 5 he was relieved when the results of the independent investigation were announced on Tuesday.

“We expected this outcome.  We knew this was going to be the outcome.  We're happy and excited it's over.  This has been very tough on our team, on the Garfield community, and on my family personally, so it's nice to put this behind us and move forward," he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Thomas was back on the field, working with his team during spring practice.  He said it's frustrating this investigation had to happen in the first place.

"You know, it was almost painted as we must be cheating because we're winning, because we're successful.  Why isn't it that this head coach is a three time All-American, he played five years in the NFL, he might know what he's talking about?  Why can't it just be that we're good, we're well-coached, and we're disciplined?"

2016 was Thomas' first as Garfield's head coach.  He'd previously coached at Ballard High School.  The Garfield Bulldogs were 8-2 in 2016, making it their most successful season in years.

© 2017 KING-TV


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