A possible shakeup of the Cascade Conference is in the works that could have a significant ripple effect on the league and Falcon sports teams.
Cascade Conference President Jason Frederick and Emerald City League President Kim Eng both confirmed Thursday that King’s along with relative newcomer Cedar Park Christian have applied to transfer to the Emerald City League. Both officials declined to specify why the two schools are seeking the transfers, and athletic directors at King’s and Cedar Park Christian did not respond to requests for comment.
Whatever the reasons, Frederick said there could be hefty fallout for the Cascade Conference if the two class 1A schools’ applications are accepted, even resulting in the conference’s collapse.
“If they leave, there’s a chance our league wouldn’t stay together,” Frederick, Cedarcrest’s athletic director, said in a phone interview.
South Whidbey Athletic Director Paul Lagerstedt declined to weigh in on the matter.
“Until a decision is made, I have no comment,” Lagerstedt said.
The Emerald City League has nine schools, all of which are private and located in the greater Seattle area. Eng, Forest Ridge’s athletic director, said a “league decision” had not been made as of Thursday morning. Asked how the potential transfer could benefit the Emerald City League, Eng said she “can think of a lot of positives that could come from this move.”
“They bring great athletic programs, they bring great athletic directors,” Eng said. “We have good relations with them. They have facilities and many sports teams at the sub-varsity level. They’re competitive.”
Eng said the Emerald City League could accommodate all of the two schools’ sports except for football.
Football is one of the Knights’ strongest sports; King’s advanced to the 1A state football championships in seven of the past eight seasons, including a second place finish in 2015. Cedar Park Christian, meanwhile, won a combined 11 football games since joining the Cascade Conference in 2014.
If King’s and Cedar Park Christian’s applications are approved, South Whidbey and Sultan would be the only 1A schools left in the conference. That would make for an extremely noncompetitive playing field, resulting in both regularly getting free tickets to the post season in team sports. The top two or three teams from the league typically advance to district-level competitions following the regular season.
If the conference were to disband, South Whidbey has several alternative leagues it could compete in. It considered moves to the Olympic League and Northwest Conference in 2016, but travel times presented significant hurdles.
Reaching most of the teams in the Olympic League, save for Coupeville, would require the Falcons to use the Port Townsend ferry. Similarly, the Northwest Conference’s teams are primarily located around two hours away in the Bellingham area.
The Emerald City League is also another option, as the Falcons’ boys tennis team competes in the Seattle-based league due to small turnout among Cascade Conference teams.
Transferring to the all-private-school league would be a “death sentence” for Falcon boys and girls soccer and other teams in the eyes of former boys soccer coach Emerson “Skip” Robbins. Seven of the last nine state girls soccer champions in 1A have been from the Emerald City League. The previous two state boys soccer champions were also from the Seattle-based conference.
Robbins has been a critic of the competitive imbalance between private and public schools in the Cascade Conference. He thinks transferring to the private school laden league would lead to more of the same. He also said the potential shakeup has a chance for the league to correct competitive “inequities” from the past. Replacing King’s and Cedar Park Christian with rural schools similar to South Whidbey, Sultan and Granite Falls could level the playing field, he says.
“South Whidbey school administrators either just don’t care about athletics or they are hiding their heads in the sand relative to the fact that South Whidbey is just not competitive in the current Cascade Conference,” Robbins said. “They, for some reason, have finally acknowledged this in football this season, pulling our team from Cascade Conference play to play an independent schedule. This was done mostly for safety reasons, but I’m sure their inability to field a competitive team had some part in this decision.”
King’s and Archbishop Murphy, a private school, have been the dominant forces in the Cascade Conference. Over the past eight years, the teams have claimed a combined 90 percent of the league championships in major team sports including football, baseball, basketball and soccer. The Falcons did not win a conference title during the same span, while finishing second only once (boys soccer in 2014). Furthermore, the Falcons have only a handful of third place finishes to their name in the same sports.
The competitive disparity was a factor in Robbins’ resignation this past spring.
“After six years coaching the boys soccer team at SWHS, I found I could no longer abide the inequitable competition that our high school teams faced playing in the Cascade Conference,” Robbins said. “Some may feel that I abandoned our team, but I personally feel that I was among the few actually fighting for change for our kids and our school.”
Being rid of King’s is the first step toward fixing the problem, Robbins said, who he considers to be “the proverbial school yard bully” of 1A. While most private schools, such as Archbishop Murphy, opt to play up in a classification relative to its enrollment, King’s does not.
“They don’t challenge themselves,” Robbins said. “When you’re a rural-based school, you’re at a big disadvantage.”
Robbins said there are a few factors that can explain the competitive gap between public and private schools.
Private schools can draw students from a 50-mile radius, while students in public schools must reside within the boundaries of their school district. For example, the length from Clinton to Freeland — the boundaries of the South Whidbey School District — is about 10 miles.
From his experience as a soccer coach, Robbins said private schools also have better facilities, higher paid coaches and athletes who play on high-level select teams. The same athletes also have the means to afford playing regularly in the offseason, while South Whidbey athletes must travel off the island to get the same experience.
“There’s not a single level that they don’t have an advantage in,” Robbins said.
Multiple Falcon coaches contacted by The Record declined to comment for this story.