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South Kitsap likely to remain in Narrows League

It appears the Class 4A Narrows League has received its lifeline.

Based on the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s preliminary enrollment numbers, which were released Tuesday, Yelm has a dozen students more than 1,304 cutoff for 4A.

Schools with the top 16 to 17 percent enrollment, such as South Kitsap, are recognized as 4A. There also is the option to “opt up” to classifications with larger enrollments.

“We’re in the process of double checking all of our numbers and making sure they’re completely accurate,” said Yelm athletic director Thad Nelson, adding that his school will follow the recommendation of current 4A Narrows teams on whether to stay in that league or join the 4A South Puget Sound League. “I imagine they’ll stay really close to where they’re at.”

The Independent first reported in October that the 4A Narrows could dissolve as current members of the eight-team league, Mount Tahoma and Shelton, expected enrollment declines that would drop those schools to 3A. At the time, Nelson said he expected Yelm to remain in 3A, which would have left just six teams in 4A Narrows.

South athletic director Ed Santos said some of his colleagues felt that was too small to be a viable league.

That supplied the impetus for South and four others — Bellarmine Prep, Central Kitsap, Gig Harbor and Olympia — to seek admission to the SPSL. Only two schools, South and Central, had submitted applications to join the SPSL as of Tuesday, according to Rick Wells, president of athletic directors in that league.

The SPSL’s deadline to apply for membership is Jan. 1. Wells said league athletic directors hold a vote before a recommendation is made to principals, who then hold their own count. He said new schools must receive a simple majority to gain membership.

Santos said the Wolves likely will rescind their application if Yelm joins 4A Narrows.

“If everything works, we hope we’ll have seven schools and be in the Narrows,” he said.

The WIAA reclassifies schools every two years based on enrollment to avoid imbalances. Santos would prefer to move to a four-year model, but that philosophy has met resistance from smaller schools around the state that frequently shift classifications based on gaining or losing a handful of students.

A move to the SPSL would have addressed the concerns about continuity among the 4A Narrows schools, but it acceptance was not a foregone conclusion. That is because 4A SPSL, which has north and south divisions for football, already has 18 members. Wells said some in that league already consider it too large. Any additions to the SPSL, which already is the largest league in the state, would require realignment into three or four divisions.

There also is the matter of geography. For Kentwood and Mount Rainier, roundtrips to Central, Olympia and South would be more than 90 miles.

“Geography presents some concerns,” said Wells, adding that league size also is a significant issue.

But Wells, who served as South’s athletic director and assistant principal from 1994-97, said there are benefits to adding the five 4A Narrows schools.

“It increases the competition level of the league,” he said, adding that growth also would give the SPSL more state-playoff allocations. “Bellarmine Prep, South Kitsap, Olympia, Gig Harbor and Central Kitsap always do well.”

Stadium, whose administration was not seeking to move, would have remained in the Narrows as the lone 4A school. That would have enabled the Tigers to maintain their traditional Tacoma Public Schools rivalries with Foss, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma and Wilson. However, complications would arise for Stadium, as the only 4A school in the league, when playoffs come around.

The Wolves and other 4A Narrows schools could have considered that option if necessary, but Santos said it comes with the risk of diminished competition. After all, the Narrows might become a 3A/2A league next season, which regularly would pit South against much smaller schools. Santos fears that could be detrimental for the Wolves when they have to compete against similar-size schools in the playoffs.

South, Bellarmine Prep and the five Tacoma Public are charter members of the Narrows League, which was founded in 1980, after the Wolves left the previous incarnation of the Olympic League. The Narrows split into 4A and 3A divisions for the first time in 2010.

Additionally, the long-term viability of 4A Narrows could be in doubt. Most Tacoma Public Schools have seen enrollment declines and that eventually could push Stadium down to 3A. Two other high schools in the Central Kitsap School District — Klahowya and Olympic — compete in the 2A Olympic League. Any boundary changes could shift Central into a smaller classification, but David Beil, director of community relations for CKSD, said Tuesday that subject has not been discussed.

Also, Yelm’s enrollment figures make it feasible that the Tornados could be a 3A school again in 2014. That previously occurred with Shelton, which left the Narrows in 2006 and returned two years later after being reclassified as a 4A team.

Probable 2012-14 Narrows League

4A Division

Bellarmine Prep

Central Kitsap

Gig Harbor

South Kitsap

Olympia

Stadium

Yelm

3A Division

Foss

Lincoln

Mount Tahoma

North Thurston

Shelton

Timberline

Wilson

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