By AMY ROLPH
About 200 wet and wind-battered Garfield High School students rallied outside school district headquarters Friday, demanding that the administration "bring Tone home."
"Tone" is better known as Tony Wroten Jr. -- Garfield's star basketball guard. The 15-year- old wasn't at school this week, and he wasn't on the court when Garfield played its first game of the season Friday night, beating Issaquah 77-75.
Wroten, who was hailed last year as one of the best freshmen prospects in the country, isn't eligible to play basketball for the school, according to a Seattle Public Schools investigation. District staff members determined that he's not a Seattle resident -- meaning as long as Garfield has a waiting list for resident students, Wroten can't enroll there.
But one week after Wroten disappeared from Garfield's halls, his classmates had a message for district officials. And that message was shouted up at the rain-streaked windows of the John Stanford Center as the students crowded outside.
"I want them to know Garfield supports Tony -- we want him back. They can't do this," said the high school's student body president, Zawdie Stephens-Terry. "He may sleep in Renton, but his home is Garfield. He belongs at Garfield."
A three-week investigation by district staff members -- including surveillance -- determined that Wroten was not living at a rented residence near Garfield. His parents, who live in Renton, rented the house earlier this year in order to keep him in the Seattle district.
Wroten didn't attend the demonstration Friday, but his parents did. Tony Wroten Sr. said that this week was hard on his son -- and that the district needs to "do what's right."
Stephens-Terry and other student activists orchestrated the Friday walkout to protest the investigation and the subsequent decision. Hundreds of students poured out of the school Friday and onto the rainy streets, filing down three miles of sidewalk until they reached the Seattle Public Schools headquarters in the Sodo neighborhood.
The doors were locked when they got there, a sign that the district wasn't dealing.
Rules are rules, especially when they're rooted in state law, district spokesman David Tucker said earlier this week. The district is required to "put the needs of resident students first," he said.
But the students -- and a few parents -- who rallied Friday wanted to know: "Why Tony?" If the 6-foot-5 sophomore was just a "regular guy" and not a rising basketball star with a bright future, would district staff members be paying this much attention?
"You could go to any school -- or go to Garfield and make sure every kid stayed at their house last night," said Garfield parent Leo White. "It's not fair."
White added: "He's only 15 years old -- he's just a little kid."
A few rain-drenched banners and signs were still legible after the long walk from Garfield Friday. "Who chose to spend limited resources this way?" one asked, referring to the district's budget woes. "Buy books -- not investigations."
Not everyone who made the walk knows Wroten well. Some said they'd only hung out with him a few times. Others said they'd visited him at home earlier in the week to check up on him.
"We love him like he's our family," said Naomi Perry, a junior.
Wroten said his son still wants to support his team, and would attend Garfield's first game of the season that evening as a spectator.
It wasn't clear Friday what the family's next step would be. But they have consulted an attorney.
Things might get worse for Wroten. If he enrolls at another school as a transfer, he won't be eligible to play basketball for one year under Washington Interscholastic Activities Association's rules.
But looking around at 200 chanting students Friday, Wroten said he knew what he would tell his son when he got home.
"I'm going to tell him it was a beautiful thing," he said. "This can do nothing but help."