SWHS sports heading into new league

Barring a last-minute pullout, South Whidbey High School athletes will be playing in a new athletics conference next year with six other schools.

The new conference — the Cascade Conference — was approved this Wednesday by the seven schools involved largely due to the fact that it will decrease the amount of time athletes miss out of class by reducing travel times and distance. The change was forced on South Whidbey by the fact that the high school’s enrollment for students in grades 10, 11 and 12 will rise just over the maximum to remain in the 2A North Cascades Conference, which is 600. This year, the average number of those students from month to month has been 650.

Going to 3A will be nothing new for the Falcons. South Whidbey was a member of the Wesco 3A conference for several years prior to moving into 2A competition in the 2000-2001 school year.

The new conference will include 2A and 3A schools, some of which are opting out of the nine-school NCC with South Whidbey. Mark Hodson, school’s athletic director, said the change will be good for South Whidbey athletes, since they will spend less time on the road. Currently, travel times to compete against schools such as Lynden Christian and Meridian are over two hours one way.

“(In the new league) the average distance to South Whidbey is 28 miles one-way, compared with the 60 miles one-way we travel now.” Hodson said.

Expected to join South Whidbey in the new conference are 3A Cedarcrest; current NCC 2A rivals Lakewood, Granite Falls, and Sultan; and Arch Bishop Murphy and King’s, both 1A schools that will likely move up to 2A

Hodson said the new conference will also lower transportation costs and increase in gate revenue for sports such as football, soccer, basketball and volleyball since fans will be more likely to travel to nearby games.

Hodson, who is also South Whidbey’s football coach, said he is convinced that South Whidbey team’s will compete well in its new conference. This is evidenced by the fact that a number of teams at the school — including softball, cross country and track — tend to beat 3A schools when they compete against them.

A disadvantage to the move is that several schools involved in the conference do not have as many sports as South Whidbey. For instance, King’s does not field tennis, soccer, fastpitch or volleyball. This has been a problem for the school’s boys and girls tennis teams in the NCC as well: This season, South Whidbey was the only NCC school offering boys tennis.

To make up for lost games, Hodson said South Whidbey will look to pick up games with schools outside the conference.

Also a potential disadvantage of the move to 3A could come when South Whidbey teams make it into post-season play. The school will play exclusively against 3A teams in district and state tournaments. Having been one of or the largest 2A school in these tournaments in recent years, South Whidbey will be one of the smallest 3A schools in the state as of next year.

Hodson said South Whidbey will likely remain a 3A school for just two years, based on projected enrollment. If for some reason the Cascades Conference does not form, South Whidbey will have a few less-desirable conference options. Hodson said the school could try to stay in the NCC. However, he said it’s likely the remaining NCC schools would reject this plan. Other options include joining the Wesco 3A-4A Conference or the Northwest 3A Conference.

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