Garfield high 'super team' has six transfers, raising questions
SEATTLE -- Some rival fans are crying foul over the Garfield High School basketball team, accusing the Bulldogs of creating a "super team" by transferring six top players from other schools in just one year.
Deeshawn Tucker, Brayon Blake, Tramaine Isabel, Reynaldo Cheney, Austin Anderson and Andro Benard are the players in question.
All six basketball standouts transferred this year to Garfield High School. Now, in some rankings, the team is number one in the state. In fact, Garfield recently won the KingCo championship at a tournament in Kirkland, finishing the regular season at 23-1.
There are many rival fans asking questions.
"It's not fair," said Nicole Smith, a fan at a rival high school. "You try to build your teams from your kids because they go to your school."
Suspicious rivals can't help but notice what can seem like a whole new team.
"I don't really like it," said rival fan Pete Couty. "I grew up back in the old days; where you lived is where you played."
Transfers in high school sports happen occasionally. But six? In one year? In basketball, where the starting line-up is just five players? We found no one who could remember that happening.
Even some Garfield fans are chagrined.
"Six?" Lee Pimpton said with a smile. "That's a lot."
Rival players are more circumspect.
"If that's how they want to play -- I don't know. It just, like, changes how high school should be, I guess," said Roosevelt High School all-conference player Cam Haslem, whose team narrowly lost to Garfield.
"I know some of them, it's just like they were trying to get on some super star team," said Aidan Woodford, also a Roosevelt player. "So it's questionable."
Garfield Principal Ted Howard, whose son plays on the Bulldog basketball team, said suspicions have gotten so bad that he's seen rival parents follow his players with cameras after games, trying to prove they didn't live in Garfield's attendance area between I-90, Lake Washington, Elliott Bay and Montlake.
With the controversy heating up, we asked Seattle School District officials to see whether any rules have been broken.
Here's what we know:
Isabel switched from Lakeside High School.
Anderson also switched from Lakeside, sat out a calendar year, just joining the team for the playoffs.
Blake switched from Federal Way high school and won an appeal reversing his eligibility.
Tucker also switched from Federal Way.
Cheney moved from Michigan.
Benard switched from Mt. Rainier High School but lost an eligibility ruling.
A Seattle School District spokesperson said all six students meet residency requirements, which doesn't always mean they live in Garfield's area -- there are exceptions. But, because students' records are closed, no one is able to verify. Neither the school district nor Garfield would provide anyone to talk about it on camera.
"Let's face it," said Mike Calbrese, "it's a competitive world."
Calbrese runs the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the state's governing body for a wide variety of sports and activities including basketball.
Even if they followed all the rules, some wonder if creating such "super teams" is what high school basketball should be all about.
Calbrese pondered and said: "I will say this: Parents are much more willing to move than they used to be. And they are much more willing to move for reasons other than academic reasons. They're willing to move for athletic reasons."
Calbrese underscored that when a student transfers, the family must legitimately move into the school's attendance area and be verified by district authorities.
"When people are following the rules, you can't penalize them for something they're not doing," he said.
Calbrese said the only notion he's heard informally -- never as a proposal -- is to limit the number of transfers on a given team. But he asks rhetorically, how can you deny a student solely because he or she transfers after the team has reached a limit?
Garfield fans remain undeterred.
"It's fair," said Ed Dumas from courtside as he watched the championship game.
"Oh, I think it's a little bit of jealousy," said Jackie Bryan, whose son plays for Garfield but is not one of the transfers.
Her husband Bob agrees: "I watch these kids work really hard, the whole year. And, hey, these are kids, you know, wanting to play sports."
"The private schools can do it," said Duran Jones, noting private schools have no designated attendance area. "The public schools should be able to do it too. So I'm all for it."
"It's not that serious," said Erin Anderson, whose brother is one of the transfers. "I mean, it's not college basketball or the NBA. These are kids." She said her brother transferred to Garfield not just for basketball but for the schools acclaimed music program too.
Garfield has a rich basketball legacy that draws a serious fan base. Boosters say Garfield alums who played in the NBA, such as Brandon Roy and Will Conroy, are working with the players.
Colbrese tells rivals who suspect rule violations:
"Hey, we're interested in this information. If you have actual facts, which is what we would need to get back to the school, then let us know."
"Do they have facts?" we asked.
"No. No," he said shaking his head slowly. Earlier, Colbrese told us "Welcome to my world" - implying his office is besieged by rumors but rarely with facts.
With so many new players transferring to Garfield, it begs the question: Were some of last year's players elbowed out? Now playing for Kentridge High School are brothers Joran and Elijah Ticeson. Vincenzo Reiser now plays at Seattle Prep.
Garfield Principal Howard hinted it might be the other way around, that other schools might be tempting Garfield stars to transfer away.
Garfield has lots of talented players besides the transfers, with the state title game is looming March 8th.