South Whidbey will drop to 1A sports classification

The Falcons will contend with conference 1A schools King’s and Coupeville next year for the playoffs.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
The Falcons will contend with conference 1A schools King’s and Coupeville next year for the playoffs.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

LANGLEY — Come August 2012, the South Whidbey Falcons will be a 1A athletics program.

“It’s a done deal,” said South Whidbey athletic director Scott Mauk.

A preliminary list has South Whidbey as one of the larger 1A schools. In the previous 2A classification from 2010-2012, the Falcons had one of the smallest student populations. Only seven schools out of 64 that were designated 2A had smaller enrollments.

The switch will be formal once the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association executive board votes on the 2012-2014 classification list later this month. The executive board is scheduled to meet Jan. 22-23, when it will approve the two-year list that sorts out designations for schools that range in population from 10 to 2,400 students.

“I can’t see a scenario where the thresholds would change,” Mauk said.

Dropping to 1A may benefit several, if not all, sports programs at South Whidbey. Rather than battling Cedarcrest, Lakewood and Archbishop Murphy for a playoff spot, South Whidbey will almost certainly qualify for the district playoffs.

“I see 1A as a good thing because you’ll see us at the state level more and more,” Mauk said.

“Overall, what it may do in some sports is make it so that there’s more parity, so that South Whidbey can actually stay up.”

The football program has anticipated the change for years. Co-head coaches Andy Davis and Mark Hodson have watched the school shrink in 10 years from 3A to 1A, which Hodson views as a prime opportunity.

“I’m fired up. I think it’s absolutely fabulous,” Hodson said. “It puts us in a more competitive situation when we get to district and state.”

“When you look at the numbers in 2A, it has the hugest discrepancy in school size. In 1A, the discrepancy isn’t as big.”

The previous student population limit for 2A schools was 513 to 1,085, and 1A schools ranged from 208 to 521 students.

An enrollment report by South Whidbey School District business director Dan Poolman shows the high school has about 510 students. Documents on the new athletic classifications lists South Whidbey at 469.38 students, which makes it the sixth-largest 1A school.

When it comes to the degree at which a school can compete, size matters.

“If you have a pool of 1,100 kids to pull a 70-kid football squad out of, your talent pool is going to be bigger,” Hodson said.

“Our talent pool will be larger than a lot of the schools that we’ll play. But if you look at a lot of the top-20 schools in 1A, a lot of them are from our district.”

South Whidbey is the only school from the Cascade Conference that will be a different classification.

Next year, the league will have five 2A teams (Archbishop Murphy, Lakewood, Cedarcrest, Granite Falls and Sultan) and three 1A (King’s, Coupeville and South Whidbey).

For the Falcon volleyball program, that means the struggle for conference supremacy will be familiar.

“Whether we come across a good team or a bad team, it’s going to depend on how we play in the end,” said Falcon volleyball coach Mandy Jones.

“We’ll just have to go up against King’s now instead of Archbishop Murphy.”

Other than which private school South Whidbey volleyball has to battle for the top spot, Jones expects next season to mirror seasons past.

“I don’t think it’s really going to change much for conference play,” said Jones, who played volleyball at South Whidbey. “But I think that it will change for playoffs for all sports.”

“I remember being a 1A school when I was in school and it didn’t really seem that different.”

There was speculation that the conference would expand to a 10-team league, split evenly by 2A and 1A schools. With South Whidbey’s transition to 1A, the conference could have added two 1A schools.

Cedar Park Christian Schools in Bothell submitted an application to join the Cascade Conference, and Bellevue Christian was rumored to be interested in joining, too, though it never applied.

“The bugaboo, the elephant in the middle of the room, is league challenges, and whether or not new schools are admitted into the league,” Mauk said.

“I’m not holding out hope that Cedar Park is going to be let in. I don’t know why that is; I just know that we would like that.”

Having 10 schools split in a 1A/2A conference has several perks for the Falcons. Scheduling would be simpler, as would travel, especially for football which would then have a built-in, nine-game conference season with a district crossover for 10 games in a regular season.

“I was totally for it — to bring in an additional two 1A schools,” Hodson said. “It would make scheduling really easy.”

A split conference also has benefits for district and state playoff berths.

“It would give us equality with that northern (Northwest) conference, because it would give us the same amount of 1A schools,” Hodson said. “Unfortunately, because of our conference rules, it had to be a unanimous conference vote.”

Mauk, in his first year as the high school athletic director, said he envisioned the boys and girls soccer teams benefiting the soonest from the change. He credited the enthusiasm that second-year girls soccer head coach Ben Rusch has created for the program, and the young talent the boys soccer program has as reasons for near-immediate success.

“It’s going to benefit us a lot,” said Falcon boys soccer coach Joel Gerlach.

“We should advance to the state tournament.”

Gerlach said switching from one of the smallest schools in 2A to one of the largest in 1A only helps South Whidbey.

“It always hurts when you’re at the bottom of the bracket,” Gerlach said. “When it comes to soccer, we can see we do fairly well against the 2A teams and really well against the 1A teams.”

The enrollment decline, while it has caused problems for the school district, could help South Whidbey athletics in the years to come.

The classification slide, however, seems to have come to its end.

“We’d have to drop quite a bit to drop another classification,” Hodson said.


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