Photo depicting Black- and male-presenting youth playing basketball in a school gymnasium.

Rainier Beach High School Basketball Players Allege Tournament Seeding Is Unfair

by M. Anthony Davis

A group of student-athletes from Rainier Beach High School, joined by concerned supporters from the community, held a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 23, outside Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) headquarters in Renton, Washington, to voice concerns for Rainier Beach men’s basketball seeding in the upcoming 3A State Basketball Tournament. The athletes claimed that their ranking seems lower than it should be based on their record, and that some private schools in the area have higher rankings than they should.

Rainier Beach finished the 2021–2022 basketball season with a record of 18-3. They currently have a state Rating Percentage Index (RPI) ranking of third place. The RPI is a system calculated statistically to help athletic associations determine seed rankings. Rainier Beach finished with a record of 13-1 in the Metro League with their only loss coming from the undefeated Garfield Bulldogs. However, in the seeding for the WIAA State Basketball Tournament, Rainier Beach is a fourth seed, and advocates are having trouble understanding how this came to be.

“The WIAA process for determining basketball seeding raises serious concern and questions for me,” John Arnold, Rainier Beach High School alumnus and community member told the Emerald. Arnold recently questioned the WIAA directly after Rainier Beach’s win over Lake Washington on Feb. 19 was mistakenly recorded as a loss. Even now, the WIAA website has Rainier Beach’s record listed as 17-4, while the Metro League has Rainier Beach’s record correctly listed as 18-3, with their win over Lake Washington correctly recorded. 

Arnold’s cause for concern with the state tournament seeding goes beyond the WIAA’s uncorrected error, however. Private schools, specifically O’Dea High School and Seattle Preparatory School, both have higher state tournament seeding than their RPI rankings. O’Dea, who lost their head-to-head matchup with Rainier Beach and lost their final game of the Metro League season, is currently seeded third in the State Tournament, ahead of Rainier Beach, despite having a RPI ranking of eighth. Seattle Prep is seeded fifth, but currently has an RPI ranking of ninth.

“I was unable to understand how a team, in this case O’Dea … was able to bypass not only Rainier Beach, but multiple teams that had higher rankings and strong resumes this season,” Arnold said. 

In response to these allegations, WIAA sent the Emerald the following email:

“The mission of the WIAA is to provide excellent, fair, safe and accessible activities for students and it is disappointing when members feel that we are not living up to these standards, which is the case here due to the Rainier Beach boys’ basketball team being seeded fourth as opposed to third. 

No seeding system is perfect or exact, as shown with a historical review of the WIAA seeding systems and what the NCAA faces with their own football and basketball events. The current seeding system was developed in April of 2020 and implemented in the fall of 2021 in which each league in every classification was allowed to have a voting member. Each league president worked with their respective league to determine who represented their teams and submitted that name to the WIAA. The WIAA is committed to working with schools and students, as well concerned parties outside of the membership, in evaluating the current seeding system process and to continue to satisfy the WIAA’s goal of excellent, fair, safe and accessible activities. 

At this time, we will not make adjustments to the seeding for this year’s state tournament but we will review the process upon completion of all state events and make adjustments as appropriate to the system.”

When Arnold contacted the WIAA, he was informed that “human selection strongly factored into final seedings,” and that representatives from both the league and the district made those decisions. The WIAA did not inform Arnold who those representatives were or what schools they came from, but they did share the criteria for human selection including hardships related to COVID-19, which affected many teams including Rainier Beach. In fact, the school’s legendary coach, Mike Bethea, was hospitalized in intensive care for 12 days with COVID-19 during the season. During this time, the team rallied and still played every game while Bethea was away.

Yusuf Abdikadur, student athlete at Rainier Beach High School and student representative of the NAACP Youth Council, described the actions of the WIAA as a “pattern that needs to be stopped.” Abdikadur says discriminatory actions against Rainier Beach also appeared during football season. He said that when Rainier Beach’s Sept. 18, 2021, game against Nooksack Valley High School was canceled due to players having COVID-19, the game was ruled a no contest — neither team received a win or a loss. But the following week Rainier Beach was scheduled to play O’Dea, and when that game was canceled due to COVID-19, O’Dea was awarded a win and Rainier Beach received a loss. 

The alleged seeding discrimination has deeper impacts than just the tournament, says Kevin Loyal, Seattle Public Schools manager for African American Male Achievement and a Rainier Beach alumnus. Lower seeding plays a role in the caliber of scouts that come to the school’s games and hinders student athletes’ ability to access scholarships at certain colleges. “We’re talking about socio-economic justice,” Loyal told the Emerald. “These are students that come from [communities with] economic barriers that may not have the same … funds to go to college. So now, you’re opportunity hoarding by not putting them in front of the scouts they deserve to see based on their seed.” Long-term, says Loyal, this can mean Rainier Beach High School athletes aren’t getting seen by more elite college scouts, and that’s a problem with far-reaching consequences. “It doesn’t give these guys access to the economic choices they deserve.”

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

📸 Featured Image: Rainier Beach High School (RBHS) students play in a 2019 pick-up game in the RBHS gymnasium. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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