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4A Narrows League might not continue
South Kitsap’s union with the Narrows dates back to 1980 when it became one of the league’s charter members.
But there is a possibility that relationship could end after this school year.
Based on a Sept. 22 meeting that encompassed realignment, South athletic director Ed Santos expressed concern that there will be enough schools to have a Class 4A Narrows League in 2012.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports, calculates classifications by percentages every two years to avoid imbalances. For example, schools with the top 16-17 percent enrollment, such as South, are recognized as 4A. Schools have the option to “opt up” to classifications with larger enrollments.
The 4A Narrows division has featured eight teams during the last two school years — Bellarmine Prep, Central Kitsap, Gig Harbor, Mount Tahoma, Olympia, Shelton, South and Stadium.
But Santos said only South Kitsap (2,334 students) and Central (1,486.98) had enrollment numbers that were significantly greater than the 1,304-student cutoff for 4A that was certified by the WIAA’s executive board on Jan. 24, 2010.
Shelton (1,319.13) had the second fewest students among 4A schools that did not opt up from smaller classifications, while both Gig Harbor and Olympia had less than 100 students more than the cutoff. Bellarmine Prep (724.5) historically has opted up to maintain its long-standing rivalries.
“We sense we’re at the 3A level,” said Shelton athletic director Jim Judson, whose school’s latest enrollment figure is 1,247.
If Shelton is reclassified as a 3A school, where it previously competed in the now-defunct Western Cascade Conference from 2006-08, Judson did not rule out the possibility of opting up if it is necessary to save 4A Narrows.
“I think our efforts need to be, if at all possible, to keep the league intact,” he said.
Santos said the way alternative students in the Tacoma School District are counted also could affect whether Mount Tahoma (1,345.05) and Stadium (1,495.86) remain in the 4A division.
Santos said that in Olympia, only 41 percent of alternative students are counted toward Capital’s enrollment because that is the percentage of high school students at that school versus Olympia. But he said if that school district, in addition to Tacoma, sort out alternative students based on their address, enrollment numbers could fluctuate greatly.
Both Judson and Santos said they have heard that Olympia could drop to 3A Narrows. Olympia’s athletic director and football coach Bill Beattie did not return messages seeking comment by press time.
Mount Tahoma athletic director Karen Mulkey said Tuesday the Tacoma School District has not finalized enrollment counts. She declined to speculate whether her school would compete in 3A or 4A when those are released.
How any potential changes might affect Bellarmine Prep is unclear. Athletic director Ed Ploof could not be reached for comment by press time.
However it is sorted out, Santos said there needs to be six teams in 4A Narrows for it to be “viable.”
But even with a half-dozen teams, Santos said there would be complications as the league would have fewer playoff spots. Also, basketball teams would have to schedule 10 nonleague games.
“If the Narrows League’s numbers get too small, we’ll have to explore our options,” Santos said. “I sure hope it doesn’t get to that.”
That scenario could lead to the 4A South Puget Sound League, which features 18 schools split into North and South divisions.
That is one reason why Santos, who co-chairs the league’s realignment committee with South principal Jerry Holsten, said he asked 3A and 4A Narrows schools to return with “solid” enrollment numbers when they met again Tuesday.
One school that could bolster the 4A Narrows’ status is Yelm. That school had 1,262.63 students enrolled based on its 2010 figures.
Based on Sept. 12 enrollment figures, Yelm athletic director Thad Nelson said his high school has 1,301 students enrolled. But he cautioned that Yelm traditionally loses an average of 75 students throughout the year as military families and others depart. Nelson said the Tornados will remain in 3A Narrows unless enrollment forces a move to 4A Narrows.
“We have no interest in opting up,” he said.
Santos said he does not anticipate any of the other five members of 3A Narrows — Capital, Foss, Lincoln, Timberline and Wilson — to be on the enrollment borderline for 4A. Foss (919.5) opted up from 2A during the last cycle.
Santos said he does not foresee 3A Narrows having any issues filling its league during the next enrollment cycle as it could become a 3A/2A league if necessary. He said there is a remote possibility that the six-team 3A SPSL also might encounter some of the problems 4A Narrows is experiencing. In that case, 3A Narrows might appeal to schools such as Lakes and Peninsula.
“I think that’s a way out-there scenario,” he said.
Santos said he would prefer that the WIAA to change from a two-year to four-year enrollment cycle.
“Four years would make total sense,” he said. “It would give leagues stability.”
But he does not anticipate support from a majority of schools to change the system. Santos said many smaller schools like the present model because “four or five kids can make a huge difference” in classifications.
4A Narrows League
School Year joined
Bellarmine Prep 1980
Mount Tahoma 1980
South Kitsap 1980
Gig Harbor 1997
Central Kitsap 1999 (football), 2001 (all sports)
3A Narrows League
* School rejoined league after previous Narrows stint