Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey football will play an independent schedule for the 2017 season, departing from the Cascade Conference indefinitely.

South Whidbey football to break with Cascade Conference

South Whidbey football will be in a league of its own next fall.

Paul Lagerstedt, the Falcons’ athletic director, said South Whidbey will play an independent schedule for the 2017 season and indefinitely break away from the Cascade Conference. Lagerstedt cited potential competitive imbalances with the Falcons’ schedule in the league as he anticipates most of South Whidbey’s team will be “heavily laden with sophomores,” referring to the 18 freshmen on the Falcons’ junior varsity roster this past season.

Lagerstedt said he is formulating a schedule that would best mesh with the Falcons’ competitive level, and would include both class 1A and 2B teams. In the best-case scenario, the Falcons will compete independently for just one year, Lagerstedt said.

“With all sophomores, I don’t think it would be a competitive schedule,” Lagerstedt said. “We’re going to look around for teams that would be good matchups for us.”

“I just want to make sure we’re in a competitive, safe situation,” he added.

Jason Frederick, Cedarcrest High School’s athletic director and president of the Cascade Conference, said there will be an avenue for the Falcons to compete in the postseason but that it has not yet been determined.

“The conference supports South Whidbey in their decision, just like we would any conference school if anybody was in the same position,” Frederick said. “Falcon football will get back to where it once was.”

The Falcons’ football program has declined since 2014, having won just three games in the past three seasons under two different head coaches. Things were especially rough for the Falcons in 2016, when South Whidbey was winless and outscored 325-88 in eight games. South Whidbey’s varsity roster dipped to just 14 players during the season.

The Falcons were also one of five teams to forfeit to Cascade Conference football powerhouse Archbishop Murphy, which went on to win the class 2A state championship. Head football coach Michael Coe resigned from the position after two seasons at the helm.

Lagerstedt hopes that an independent schedule will realize better competition and reinvigorate interest in the program.

“It becomes a great experience when you get to go out there on Friday nights and it’s a game in the fourth quarter,” Lagerstedt said.

South Whidbey football players interviewed by The Record had mixed feelings about the decision.

“I agree with this decision,” said freshman offensive/defensive lineman Aiden Coleman. “We’re young. It’s a whole different speed than what the JV was.”

Kole Nelson, a freshman quarterback, said there is pride associated with competing in the Cascade Conference and that he’d prefer to stay in the league.

South Whidbey will be among two other Western Washington football programs in the past five years to play an independent schedule, joining Bellingham and Sammamish High Schools. And if there’s one program that can add validity to Lagerstedt’s desire for the Falcons, it’s Bellingham.

The class 2A Red Raisers were in desperate straits when they opted to play an independent schedule in 2014 and depart from the Northwest Conference, said Bellingham Athletic Director Chad Larsen.

“By all measurements possible, we were a dying football program,” Larsen said. “We needed to get very creative and we needed to find new solutions if we were going to keep football.”

Following 11 wins in two years against a mixture of class 2A, 1A and 2B schools, Bellingham rejoined the Northwest Conference in 2016. Larsen said the Red Raiders’ only chances of qualifying for the postseason was to go undefeated. While Bellingham did not accomplish that, having gone 4-6, the Red Raiders’ numbers are up and interest in the program is budding.

“We’re now a competitive program,” Larsen said. “We have hope.”