South Kitsap moves freshmen athletics to high school

The end result never seemed in question.

It was just a matter of when it would occur.

That finally happened last week when South Kitsap School District’s Board of Directors approved a measure to allow all freshmen to compete this fall at South Kitsap High School.

Athletic director Ed Santos said he has been prepared for the possibility since January when the University Place School District moved its ninth-grade athletes to Curtis High School. That move affected the Narrows League because Curtis Junior High School athletes competed in that league, but its high schoolers play in the South Puget Sound League.

Curtis’ move then started a chain reaction among Class 4A Narrows League schools. In May, the Central Kitsap School District decided its freshman also would compete at the high-school level.

“We didn’t really have a lot of options,” Santos said. “When Central Kitsap moved up, we were left without a home.”

Some high schools feature freshmen-only teams and Santos examined whether that might help South continue with its traditional alignment. But more often, he found that schools now used a C team with a blend of freshmen and sophomores.

“I don’t know if we would have enough kids to put out on the court or out on the field,” said Santos, referring to freshmen-only teams. “And then there really was no opponents to play.”

The transition will affect less than half of the Wolves’ athletic programs. Cross country, soccer, swimming, tennis and golf already use freshmen on both their boys and girls teams along with the girls bowling team. Freshmen who now will be eligible to compete at South include boys and girls basketball and track, volleyball, wrestling, baseball and fastpitch.

Santos said the athletic fee of $75 per sport at South in 2012-13 will remain the same next season. He said that revenue is used to pay for transportation to games. SKSD transportation director Jay Rosapepe said he is working to sort out an activities bus schedule that not only will pertain to athletics, but other organizations, such as band and Junior ROTC. He said he wants to make sure there are enough buses for both field trips and activities. Rosapepe said that means two of the district’s three juniors highs, Cedar Heights and Marcus Whitman, likely will share a bus while John Sedgwick will have its own. The goal, he said, will be to have everyone at the high school by 3:30 p.m. No bus service to return students to those schools will be provided.

The change also means six coaches from Cedar Heights, Marcus Whitman and John Sedgwick will be moved to South. One of those will assume the role of C team volleyball coach, which is a newly created position.

“We’ll try and address the need for additional coaches after we see who’s turning out,” Santos said.

Santos said there are plenty of issues to sort out, ranging from the composition of coaching staffs to equipment storage, before fall sports practices begin in August. But he said his primary concern is making sure that freshmen are not discouraged from turning out because of the change.

“I feel sorry for some of our ninth graders … who don’t get the experience of kind of being the big dog,” Santos said.

South wrestling coach Chad Nass express similar sentiments.

“My biggest concern, as with most coaches, is that we continue to get the same participation level they got in the junior high,” he said.

While that is a detriment to the change, Santos also sees some positives.

“We have some freshmen who have the ability to play at the JV or varsity level,” he said. “Now they’ll get that opportunity, which I think will be great.”

Nass, who said he typically has 20 athletes turn out per grade level, hopes that moving freshmen to South can help them adjust to a higher level of competition — and longer athletic seasons — more quickly.

“Even your really talented sophomores — it takes awhile to adjust to the high-school season,” he said. “You hope that if you get them earlier, there productivity will increase later.”

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