Enrollment numbers were tallied, affiliations were formed and, in the end, the Plateau’s neighboring high schools will again be league rivals.
Next fall, when teams square off in athletic competition, both Enumclaw and White River high schools will be members of the Sound Puget Sound League 2A.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which governs the world of prep sports in the Evergreen State, periodically alters classifications, which leads to new league alignments. The present cycle was in effect for four years and concludes this spring.
For many schools in the state, the fall of 2020 will bring a new athletic world.
HOW CLASSIFICATIONS ARE FORMED
In recent years, the WIAA has made a priority of keeping its six classifications equal in size. That meant 17 percent of the state’s schools were in Class 4A, with an additional 17 percent each heading to the 3A, 2A and 1A divisions. The remaining 32 percent – the state’s smallest schools – were divided among the 1B and 2B classifications.
That system worked as planned, as each of the six classifications now has between 60 and 65 member schools. The thought was each school should have an equal chance of qualifying for postseason play.
But there were obvious shortcomings. Chris Gibson, athletic director at White River, explained that the system allowed for a great size difference between schools in the same classification.
So, a decision was made to return to the previous arrangement, with pre-set enrollment numbers. During the next cycle, which begins in the fall and runs through the spring of 2024, the numbers (grades 9 through 11) look like this: Class 4A will include the 51 schools with an enrollment of 1,300 or more; Class 3A will have 79 schools, all with enrollments between 900 and 1,299; Class 2A will have 62 schools with counts from 450 to 899; Class 1A, 60 schools, 225-499; Class 2B, 61 schools, 105-224; and Class 1B, 104 students and fewer.
For the coming four-year cycle, both Enumclaw and White River will be among the larger schools in the state’s 2A ranks. Enumclaw, with 894 students, sits at No. 5 among the 62 schools and White River is No. 9 with 860.
BIG CHANGE AT ENUMCLAW HIGH
While most of Washington’s schools will remain on familiar turf, athletes at Enumclaw High will be testing uncharted waters.
During the present cycle (2016-20), Enumclaw joined with a band of area schools who landed squarely in the 3A ranks but chose to align with larger schools. In WIAA circles the practice is known as “opting up” and it’s not uncommon.
In fact, during the four-year cycle ending this spring, there were 22 schools of Class 3A size that elected to play at the 4A level. Enumclaw, then with a three-grade count of 975 students, was the smallest public school to choose that route; the only three with lesser enrollment were Bellarmine Prep, Gonzaga Prep and Kennedy Catholic.
Schools choose to opt up for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s simply tradition; for others, it’s prestige. The most common reason often is proximity, as school districts like to reduce travel expenses and make it easy for fans to travel to games. Schools also seek to align with programs that offer sub-varsity programs (junior varsity and C squads).
When enrollment numbers started trickling in last fall, it was clear that Enumclaw would fall within the new Class 2A range. So a decision had to be made: either adhere to the guidelines or, once again, look to opt up.
Dave Stokke, Enumclaw’s first-year athletic director, turned to his stable of varsity coaches for input. His email asked, simply, if they favored playing against larger schools or supported a policy of “play where we fall” – meaning, let the numbers decide.
The support was clear, he said. Of the 14 responses, 11 coaches preferred playing in a league with schools of similar size.
At that point, Stokke and EHS Principal Phil Engebretsen formally applied for membership in the South Puget Sound League 2A. It was known that league would be changing dramatically and the new-look SPSL 2A would be a good fit for Enumclaw High.
The approval process first involved a vote of SPSL 2A athletic directors, followed by a vote of the league’s principals. Both were supportive and Enumclaw had found a new athletic home.
INTRODUCING THE NEW SPSL 2A
When students head back to school in the fall, the South Puget Sound League 2A will include neighbors Enumclaw and White River, along with Franklin Pierce, Washington, Fife, Orting, Clover Park, Foss and Steilacoom.
Presently, the SPSL 2A consists of 16 teams in two divisions. The six from the northern end of the league, Gibson explained, have opted to join the KingCo Conference. Headed out are Lindbergh, Highline, Tyee, Renton, Evergreen and Foster.
At the same time, Eatonville and River Ridge also are headed elsewhere. Eatonville is dropping down to Class 1A while growing River Ridge is moving up to the 3A ranks.
So, the new SPSL 2A will consist of eight current members, plus Enumclaw.
FALL FOOTBALL SCHEDULES SET
With a nine-team league, each school will schedule a single nonleague game.
Enumclaw has made its nonleague matchup an interesting one. The fall’s Game No. 5 will be against Tumwater High, a perennial state power and the defending Class 2A state champion. The Hornets will host Tumwater at the Enumclaw Expo Center and, adding to the intrigue, the battle against the Thunderbirds will be the Homecoming game.
As an interesting side note, Enumclaw’s Week No. 6 game will be against the Steilacoom Sentinels – the team Tumwater defeated for last season’s state title.
White River will embark on the season’s longest road trip for its nonleague tussle, traveling to the Olympic Peninsula to tackle the Sequim Wolves.
HOW NUMBERS DROP AT SOME SCHOOLS
Although it doesn’t impact Enumclaw or White River, the WIAA has employed a system that shrinks enrollment numbers for some member schools.
At the heart of the calculation is the socio-economic situation found at schools; to be precise, it’s the number of students who qualify for the free-and-reduced lunch program.
Across the state, on average, 47 percent of students qualify for the benefit. Those in excess of that average see their enrollment adjusted downward.
It’s done in the name of parity. Simply, students from financially-disadvantaged homes are less likely to turn out for high school sports, shrinking the pool of potential athletes.
Here’s how the WIAA explains the process: “A school with a free-and-reduced lunch rate grater than the statewide average had its enrollment number reduced for each percent that they exceeded the statewide average.” The level of enrollment decrease was capped and the process was not implemented for the 1B and 2B classifications.
Across the state, there are close to 20 schools that have changed classifications based on students qualifying for the free-and-reduced program.
Area schools include Kent-Meridian, which begins with a Class 4A enrollment number; but, after factoring in 71 percent of its students qualifying for the lunch program, has dropped into the 3A classification. In Pierce County, Clover Park is 3A size but drops to the 2A ranks due to an 80 percent free-and-reduced rate.