Enumclaw objected, but NPSL football headed to three divisions

The Hornets will be facing off against some new teams next year.

Change is coming to the Enumclaw High football schedule next season, as the North Puget Sound League 4A will be expanding from two divisions to three.

The league’s athletic directors had supported the change – in the name of competitive balance – and it became official Jan. 22 when school principals gave their blessing.

Presently, the NPSL’s 16 member schools are equally divided into Olympic and Cascade divisions. Enumclaw sits in the Olympic with the three Auburn schools and the three Federal Way schools (Federal Way High, Thomas Jefferson, Decatur and Todd Beamer). The Cascade Division includes Hazen, Kennedy Catholic, Mount Rainier, Tahoma and the four Kent schools.

Beginning with the 2018-19 school year – and for football only – there will be three divisions and new alignments for fans to follow.

• The Mountain Division will be made up of Enumclaw, Kentwood, Todd Beamer, Auburn Riverside, Kennedy Catholic and Tahoma.

• The Valley Division will include Auburn Mountainview, Hazen, Auburn, Federal Way and Kentlake.

• The Sound Division will have Kent-Meridian, Decatur, Thomas Jefferson, Mount Rainier and Kentridge.

The three-tiered approach was promoted by Dave Lutes, commissioner of the NPSL and athletic director for the Kent School District. Phil Engebretsen, athletic director at Enumclaw High School, explained that the goal is to make the entire league more competitive by linking together teams of similar strengths.

Engebretsen reported that Enumclaw voted against the change, but will support the majority decision. He said Enumclaw’s desire was to see athletes in all sports playing in the same leagues, rather than separating football from the rest.

Also opposing the idea was the man in charge of the EHS football program.

“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done it,” head coach Mark Gunderson said. He points out the goal of a three-tiered approach is to provide some balance, but the Hornets’ third game next fall is against Decatur. The Gators are in the weakest of the three divisions, coming off a 2017 in which they won just three of 10 games.

Gunderson also is no fan of the schedule that gives the Mountain Division’s top two teams a Week 9 bye. While it might be viewed as a reward for success, he said, “you take a Friday night away from the kids.”

On the plus side, Gunderson said, Enumclaw will enjoy beingpaired against nearby Tahoma, while also keeping the historic (and nonleague) rivalry game against White River.

The NPSL’s 16 schools were divided not for reasons of geography, travel or traditional rivalries. Rather, the goal was competitive balance. Engebretsen said football records were considered for the past two seasons and the three divisions were crafted based upon on-field success. Enumclaw, coming off an 8-2 campaign that included a league championship, is in the toughest of the three divisions. The Valley Division is a stop down and the new Sound Division includes teams that have struggled in recent years.

The numbers show the sorting-out process worked as anticipated. The six teams now making up the Mountain Division combined last season to post an impressive cumulative record of 44-18 and all had winning records; the five teams now comprising the Valley Division were a bit better than break-even at 26-25; and the five schools who will initially make up the Sound Division went 8-41 last fall, all with losing records.

The idea is that pairing teams of similar talent will improve competition, meaning fewer lopsided outcomes. Another possible benefit, Engebretsen said, is the increased participation in football that comes with a better winning percentage.

Because success can be cyclical, Engebretsen said, the possibility exists that the league’s divisions could be shuffled after a couple of seasons.

The trend continues

Earlier this month, it was announced the South Puget Sound League 2A – home to White River High School – would expand from two divisions to three. An interesting twist is that the NPSL 4A change is for football only, with all other sports retaining the current alignment. In the SPSL 2A, the football situation will remain the same, with all other sports expanding to the three-division format.

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