Changes will be in store when high school football teams square off this fall under the Friday night lights.
A relatively new system – bunching teams according to recent success, thus creating a more even playing field – has delivered a major change of scenery for Enumclaw High School. Across the county line at White River, there’s a slight change but for a different reason.
Life is a bit simpler for all those connected with the Sumner High and Bonney Lake programs: their league alignments have not changed a bit. Sumner continues in the nine-team South Puget Sound League 4A along with Bellarmine Prep, Curtis, Emerald Ridge, Graham-Kapowsin, Olympia, Puyallup, Rogers and South Kitsap.
Bonney Lake remains in the familiar Pierce County League 3A field, competing against Bethel, Lakes, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Spanaway Lake, Stadium and Wilson.
Enumclaw is directly impacted by the largest of the local changes. Gone is the two-division format of the North Puget Sound League 4A, replaced with a three-tier structure (Mountain, Valley and Sound divisions).
The Hornets will compete in the Mountain Division with Auburn Riverside, Kennedy Catholic, Kentwood, Tahoma and Todd Beamer. They were the most successful teams, based on results of the past two seasons.
Enumclaw coach Mark Gunderson realizes the changes make life harder for the better teams.
“I think it will be a tough road, for sure,” he said. But, the veteran coach says his group is excited for the challenge.
In the end, he said, reconfiguring the league is a good thing that can have positive benefits. When a powerhouse squad is paired against a traditionally downtrodden team, Gunderson said, neither program benefits. An added benefit, he said, could be increased participation in struggling football programs. Giving a team a better chance to succeed can result in stronger numbers.
On the administrative end, Enumclaw Athletic Director Phil Engebretsen admits EHS was one of the NPSL school voting against the change. But, in light of the 12-4 outcome, he’s ready and willing to embrace change.
Trying to keep teams competitive will result in a bit of yearly shuffling. At the end of the football season, the last place Mountain Division team will be moved to the Valley Division; at the same time, the No. 1 team from the Valley will shift into the tougher Mountain Division. The same dance will occur between the Valley and Sound divisions, with the top and bottom teams on the move.
The Valley Division will initially consist of Auburn, Auburn Mountainview, Federal Way, Hazen and Kentlake; the Sound Division, this first season, will consist of Decatur, Kent-Meridian, Kentridge, Mount Rainier and Thomas Jefferson.
The SPSL 2A remains largely as it was a year ago, with a minor change. Two schools have flipped: Evergreen has gone from the Mountain Division to the Sound, while Renton has moved from the Sound to the Mountain. The Tyee Totems continue as a combined program with 4A Mount Rainier High and do not have a 2A football presence.
White River’s Mountain Division foes now include Fife, Foss, Foster, Franklin Pierce, Lindbergh, Renton and Washington.
White River AD Chris Gibson said the league format is set for two years.