By Don Nelson
The Methow Valley School District will wait a year and gather more information before deciding whether to realign with a proposed new league for North Central Washington schools, Superintendent Tom Venable said this week.
Venable said his recommendation, accepted by the school board, was to fulfill the district’s existing two-year commitment to the Central Washington League’s 2B North Division, which now includes Brewster, Bridgeport, Lake Roosevelt, Liberty Bell, Manson, Okanogan, Oroville and Tonasket high schools. This is the first year of that alignment. The agreement would need to be renewed or leagues realigned after the 2015-16 season.
The athletic director and superintendent of the Manson School District had earlier proposed formation of a new Columbia River League because, they said, recent changes in league alignments for North Central Washington high schools created competitive disparities in the 2B and 1B classifications.
The 2B classification, which includes Liberty Bell, is for schools with 90 to 225 students. The 1B classification is for schools with 25 to 90 students. Liberty Bell has about 150 students in grades 8-12.
The Manson proposal would create a new league combining 2B and 1B schools: Lake Roosevelt (2B, 170 students), Liberty Bell (2B), Manson (2B, 157 students), Soap Lake (2B, 112 students), Waterville (2B, 79 students), Bridgeport (2B, 175 students), Entiat (1B, 77 students) and Pateros (1B, 70 students).
Soap Lake and Waterville are currently in the Central Washington League 2B South Division. Entiat and Pateros are in the Central Washington League 1B Division.
All the schools are in either District 5 or District 6 of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), a service organization and rule-making body established to create equitable playing conditions for the state’s public and private high school and junior high school teams. About 800 schools in Washington state are part of WIAA.
WIAA sets the number of games that teams can play each year during their regular seasons. Schools have some discretion scheduling games outside of their regular league match-ups. The WIAA also reconsiders league alignments every two years, based on enrollment figures that may fluctuate.
Playing bigger schools
During the most recent realignment, four larger 1A schools — those with 225 to 472 students — were dropped down into the 2B division: Brewster, Okanogan, Tonasket and Warden.
That has created competitive disadvantages for smaller schools that are now competing with much larger schools, the proposal from Manson argues.
The Manson proposal suggests that “the best course of action is to form a 1B/2B combo league that eliminates the up-and-down nature of teams on the bubble and better matches schools based on competition and geography.”
Potential benefits, the Manson proposal says, would include creation of a more level playing field for 2B teams that would no longer have to face larger schools; limiting travel time between schools; renewal of traditional rivalries; and encouragement of more student turnout for certain sports.
The challenges, the Manson proposal continues, would include creating football schedules that include as many of the existing games as possible this fall; coming up with new playoff scenarios; and creating a situation in which boys’ soccer teams need to find additional teams to play.
The Manson proposal states that, although the leagues are in the middle of their two-year alignment cycle, “the benefits outweigh the challenges … rather than waiting for numbers to be released and re-released, we can focus on making the best league possible.”
The Manson proposal included a process that would require school districts to indicate their intentions by this month. At the school board meeting last week, Venable recommended that the Methow District should keep its two-year commitment to the existing league but give serious consideration to the Manson proposal.
In an email, acting athletic director Hunter Maltais noted that if a new league is formed and Methow Valley chooses not to join, “we could be faced with the possibility of being part of a new CWB League that will include schools that are on the cusp of being 1A and may further create disparity in league play. We may be in a league that includes Kittitas and White Swan, forcing us to drive greater distances for league games since the proposed Columbia River League would carve out many of the schools within a two-hour distance of travel.”
Recommendation to wait
Before last week’s board meeting, Venable said he would recommend waiting for a year, based in part on his communications with Liberty Bell’s coaches. “The response was varied and mixed,” Venable said, with some enthusiasm for the idea of playing schools more similar in size and reducing driving time to away games. But some coaches felt strongly that the district should keep its two-year commitment to the existing league, Venable said.
The superintendent noted that many of Liberty Bell’s teams are very competitive, but the football program has suffered from low turnout. Some games have been cancelled the past two years because the Mountain Lions didn’t have enough players available to safely compete.
Venable said that four of the eight schools approached about the Manson proposal were ready to form a new league, while the other four want to wait a year. He said he will continue his conversations with Liberty Bell’s coaches and will also seek public input on the league realignment proposal.
“We’ll take our time and consider it more carefully,” Venable said. “It will provide us with the opportunity to have more participation in the conversation.”