The dust began settling last week on the local prep athletic scene, as area athletic directors and principals shaped a new world of leagues and classifications.
Change did not come easily or without a few surprises – and the final verdict hasn’t been registered quite yet. The state’s six classifications will not be absolutely, positively finalized until the WIAA executive board approves its list of 384 schools during a Jan. 24-25 meeting. Some schools were still appealing their fate, a move that had to be completed by yesterday, Tuesday.
Chris Gibson, athletic director at White River High, serves as president of the Class 3A/2A ADs association and, thus, had a front-row seat to all the maneuvering.
“This was the most challenging year we’ve had, by far,” he said, referring to the entire process of defining classifications and dealing with league alignments. “There were so many moving parts, a lot of jockeying.”
The major cause of all the upheaval, he said, was the decision by so many schools to opt-up and play at a larger classification than their actual enrollment calls for. The WIAA allows schools to move up, but not move down a classification.
At this point in the process, 22 high schools have opted up to 4A, 13 to 3A, one to 2A, eight to 1A and four to 2B, according to information released Jan. 14 by the WIAA. When a school decides to opt up a classification it cannot pick and choose – it must make the leap for all athletics and activities.
“There were so many more opt-ups than we thought there would be,” Gibson said, noting that the local dominos began tumbling with the early announcement that the three Auburn district schools would jump into the 4A fray.
One of the biggest surprises came late in the process, out of Enumclaw High School, which elected to opt-up and compete in a new North Puget Sound League 4A.
Enumclaw High Athletic Director Phil Engebretsen said the decision was made because “we felt the NPSL provided the best league for all of our student-athletes, their families, and our community.”
In an email to The Courier-Herald, Engebretsen noted the following reasons for the decision:
• the amount of class time missed by student-athletes “would have dramatically increased” if EHS stayed at the 3A level;
• transportation time and costs would have jumped significantly;
• rain-outs and cancellations would have led to a loss of nonvarsity programs being able to compete during the fall and spring seasons; and
• inconvenient travel for athletes’ families, the community and opponents.
Finally, Engebretsen pointed out that Enumclaw High will still compete primarily against schools of similar size. Of the 16 teams in the new NPSL, he said, a dozen are of 3A size but elected to opt-up for many of the same reasons cited by EHS.
Gibson was cautious to note that present alignments are subject to change. Keeping that in mind, local leagues will look like this when athletes prepare for the fall 2016 season.
North Puget Sound League 4A
This new league mixes traditional 4A schools with many currently competing at the 3A level. The 16 teams – which will be divided into two divisions – include Enumclaw, Auburn, Auburn Riverside, Auburn Mountainview, Kennedy, Mount Rainier, Tahoma, Hazen, Decatur, Thomas Jefferson, Todd Beamer, Federal Way, Kent-Meridian, Kentlake, Kentridge and Kentwood.
South Puget Sound League 4A
This league took a serious hit. Today, it counts 17 schools playing in three divisions. Beginning in the fall there will be nine members: Sumner, Curtis, Graham-Kapowsin, Olympia, South Kitsap and Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep, plus the three Puyallup district schools – Puyallup High, Rogers and Emerald Ridge.
South Puget Sound League 3A
Only three teams will remain from the eight now comprising the league. Bonney Lake, Lakes and Peninsula will be joined by newcomers Yelm, Timberline, Gig Harbor, North Thurston, Bethel and Spanaway Lake. Those final two decided in the closing minutes to go the 3A route, having been expected to opt-up into the SPSL 4A.
South Puget Sound League 2A
Perhaps the most stable of the local leagues, there will still be plenty of change. Currently, eight teams play as a single division; in the fall, with the addition of two schools, there will be a need for a two-division format. Added to the SPSL 2A mix will be Eatonville and Foss, joining present members White River, Clover Park, Franklin Pierce, Washington, Fife, Orting, River Ridge and Steilacoom.