South Whidbey defenders box in a Coupeville running back in last year’s season opener. The game was a non-league contest last fall, but the two teams will compete in the same conference this season. (Photo by Evan Thompson

South Whidbey defenders box in a Coupeville running back in last year’s season opener. The game was a non-league contest last fall, but the two teams will compete in the same conference this season. (Photo by Evan Thompson

WIAA considering changing classification system

The makeup of South Whidbey High School’s new athletic home, the North Sound Conference, may have a short shelf life.

This fall, six area schools — South Whidbey, Coupeville, Cedar Park Christian-Bothell, Granite Falls, King’s and Sultan — will form a new 1A league, the North Sound Conference.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the governor of high school athletics, is considering changing the way school enrollments and classifications are determined.

The WIAA Representative Assembly will vote on the proposed changes in January, and if they pass, they will go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

The WIAA is considering adding 30 percent to the enrollment figures of private schools and adjusting the enrollment figures for all schools based upon the number of students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch programs at each.

The WIAA is also considering going back to fixed numbers to determine each classification, something it used until 2004.

In 2004, the WIAA changed to a percentage system to determine the classifications. Each of Washington’s six classifications include 17 percent of the schools. The largest 17 percent are 4A, the next 17 percent 3A and so forth.

The state switched to the current system because of the discrepancies in the size of the classifications. At the time, 4A included about 90 schools while 2A had only 50.

Therefore, it was nearly twice as difficult for a 4A school to qualify for one of the 16 state tournament berths as a 2A school, robbing those student athletes of that experience.

If the state goes back to a fixed number system, it will change the number of state tournament berths depending on the number of schools in each classification. Classifications with 85 or more schools would be allocated 24 state berths, 69-84 would receive 20, 53-68 would receive 16, 37-52 would receive 12, and 20-36 would receive eight. If any classification falls below 20, its teams would combine with another classification for state tournament play.

The enrollment figures for North Sound high schools last year (according to the state office of public instruction) were Cedar Park Christian, 249; Coupeville, 207; Granite Falls, 383; King’s, 354; South Whidbey, 343; and Sultan, 410.

The proposed size of classifications is 4A, 1,300+; 3A, 900-1,299; 2A, 450-899; 1A, 225-449; 2B, 112-224; and 1B, 1-111.

Under the new proposal, Coupeville would drop to 2B and King’s, subject to the private school 30-percent increase, would jump to 2A.

The adjustment for free and reduced lunch students may not re-classify any North Sound schools. The new proposal states that any school that is 10 percent above the state average of students receiving free and reduced lunch (43 percent), would have its enrollment numbers cut by 10 percent. Twenty to 29 percent above the average would result in a 20 percent cut, and so forth.

Conversely, any school 10 to 19 percent below the state average would have 10 percent added to its enrollment figures. Thirty percent is the maximum, and private schools would add 30 percent.

Sultan, at 40 percent, has the highest number of students currently in the program; South Whidbey, at 17.6, has the lowest.

The argument for this change is that the more affluent districts in Washington have greater financial resources to help their sports programs, and these schools consistently achieve greater success on the athletic field.

South Whidbey boys basketball coach Mike Washington said he likes the idea of private schools having to move up classifications because public school teams can only draw athletes from within their district boundaries. Private schools do not have such a restriction.

Falcon soccer coach Emerson Robbins said, “Without understanding the full criteria for how they will be setting these classifications, allow me to comment that in many other states private schools are required to play up at least one or two classifications above their enrollment.

“In my opinion, our state should be doing the same. Private schools have so many advantages over public schools as a general rule.”

Robbins noted that private schools win a “dramatically high percentage” of league and state 1A soccer championships.

“So, if private schools are given some sort of enrollment boost or handicap,” Robbins added, “I would say ‘it’s about time.’ I’ll always believe that sports should be played on an equal playing field.”

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