League change may eliminate LMS girls' softball

It's a case of giving up something to get something.

What Langley Middle School may give up is a girls softball team. But what it will gain is membership in the Cascade League and the chance to compete against schools with pools of athletes similar to that at LMS.

For years, LMS athletic teams have competed in a 4A middle school league. With just 177 students in seventh and eighth grades, the school has been competing against teams from schools averaging 354 students in those two grades.

Speaking to the South Whidbey Board of Education Monday night, LMS Assistant Principal Tim Gordon made the case for a change, saying that the school's athletes should be able to compete against those of a similar ability level.

"We are not competitive with 4A schools, especially in team sports," Gordon said. "We just don't have the numbers of students they do."

In part, what he was saying was true. LMS football teams and some other team sports have traditionally done poorly against bigger schools. But in other sports, notably track, cross county and, this year, eighth-grade boys basketball, LMS has been the dominant team in the league despite its smaller student body.

School district administrators will decide in time for the next school year in which league the middle school athletes will compete. Dropping into a small schools' league will deprive some students at LMS of the chance to compete. Girl's softball doesn't exist in the Cascade league because student bodies are so small. Gordon said there would be no way to keep the team playing if the school makes a league change.

"Cascade doesn't have first-season softball, and our current league won't let us in for just one sport," he said.

Softball teams at the school also are hurting for numbers, Gordon said. Last fall, some eighth graders were placed on the seventh-grade team so that team could play.

Joe Murphy, softball coordinator for South Whidbey Little League, told the school board he doesn't want to see the girls program end at the middle school.

"I am deeply disappointed to hear the middle school might be dropping its team, he said. "Middle school is a critical age for developing those skills.

Murphy told the board he represents all the girls who are hoping to play in middle school ball.

"This change would also impact sports at the high school. On the surface it seems to makes sense, but let's dig deeper to make sure it's the right decision."

Shannon Brown, the South Whidbey High School girls' fastpitch captain, also spoke up at the meeting.

"Isn't the purpose of play in the lower grades to improve to a higher level of play? she asked. "That's what we all aim for."

Gordon admitted that it would be a blow to lose the softball team, but noted that middle school is not the only outlet for seventh and eighth-grade softball players.

"But there are opportunities for girls to play ball in Little League and on special teams," he said.

A recent survey indicated that soccer and volleyball are the favorite sports at LMS, Gordon said.

"Softball was way down the list," he said, with just 24 girls picking it as their preferred sport.

Concentration on the positives of a league change, Gordon noted that the Cascade League offers soccer -- which would meet the needs of LMS athletes. The league also includes Coupeville.

"It would be nice to have a nearby rivalry," Gordon said.

The main members of the Cascade League are Lakewood, Granite Falls, Sultan, Coupeville and Kings. This league also has some schools in the league that compete in just one or two sports, and others who also participate in other leagues. Other schools involved for one or more sports include Darrington, Concrete, LaConner, Cascade of Sedro-Woolley, North Whidbey and Stanwood.

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