South Whidbey boys soccer coach Emerson “Skip” Robbins has resigned from his position primarily due to “unfair competition” in the Cascade Conference.
Robbins, who was named head coach in 2014, specifically referenced the dominance of private schools Archbishop Murphy and King’s in what he considers to be major team sports: football, basketball, soccer and baseball. The two schools have combined to win a majority of league championships in the aforementioned sports over the past eight years, while also claiming more than a few state championships. In May, Archbishop Murphy won its third consecutive class 2A state championship.
The Falcons, however, have finished second in the league only once in the same sports when the boys soccer team finished runner-up in the league in 2014. Though South Whidbey’s baseball team finished second in the state in 2015, the Falcons finished fifth in the league.
He also said South Whidbey has finished as high as third place only a handful of times in the past eight years. Because of this, Robbins believes South Whidbey no longer has “any business” competing in the Cascade Conference because it is no longer an even playing field. Robbins said the Falcons would be better off competing in a league with other rural schools, and that private schools belong in leagues with other private schools.
Robbins said that in the case of soccer, the imbalance stems from a lack of “exposure” to offseason soccer programs for South Whidbey athletes, who have to spend extra time and money crossing the ferry, Robbins said. Robbins said players on the league’s top teams don’t have that problem. Winning a league championship is like trying to climb Mount Rainier on roller skates, he said.
“It’s kind of an impossible task,” Robbins said.
As a competitive-minded coach, winning is Robbins’ first and foremost goal and that it is disheartening when the odds are stacked against the program. But, the inequity in competition is not the only reason Robbins is leaving. He said he doesn’t have the same energy and enthusiasm as he has in the past, and that he will soon be building a new house that will require more of his time.
The Falcons advanced to the class 1A state championships in 2014 and 2015 while he was head coach.
“I definitely have mixed feelings in terms of the fact that I know I’ll miss it,” Robbins said. “I don’t have any thoughts about changing my mind. I wish I didn’t have to. I feel like I just can’t do it again.”
South Whidbey Athletic Director Paul Lagerstedt said winning games means more to some coaches than others.
“Skip just wanted to win,” Lagerstedt said. “If he didn’t feel like that was going to happen, it wasn’t as satisfying of an experience.”
Lagerstedt said the disparity in competition with Archbishop Murphy and King’s and the rest of the league is undeniable.
“I think right now, Archbishop Murphy and King’s are really strong athletically,” Lagerstedt said. “I don’t know if that’s because they’re private, but they are really strong athletically, especially in the sports that Skip’s referencing. There’s no arguing that.”
Cascade Conference President Jason Frederick did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week. Archbishop Murphy Athletic Director Jerry Jensen declined to comment.
Robbins said that the Falcons typically have two or three players who complete in the offseason, while it is the opposite for Archbishop Murphy. This is true according to Riley Rayner, a former Archbishop Murphy boys soccer player.
Rayner spent four years commuting from Clinton to the Everett-based school from 2008-2012. He said he was drawn to the school for its reputation as a college prep school, and that the team’s soccer prowess was an added bonus. Rayner was a first-team all-conference forward as a senior and helped the Wildcats win a league title.
“I figured going to a college prep school and playing for a strong team wouldn’t hurt me when talking to and being recruited by college coaches,” said Rayner, who later played for NCAA Division I program Saint Mary’s Gaels in Moraga, Calif.
Rayner said it didn’t take him very long to realize how serious the Wildcats program was; every player on the varsity squad participated in competitive clubs, academies and/or in the Olympic Development Program, which identifies top players for high-level training. Rayner felt the Wildcats were a strong, but not overly dominant program while he was there. He thinks the imbalance in the league has “gotten worse in recent years.”
Robbins said that he would have considered staying with the program if the Falcons were able to transfer leagues. But, he and Lagerstedt said it is easier said than done, as travel restrictions with the Port Townsend ferry create too many unknowns.
“It is my hope that our local student athletes and sports teams will someday be able to compete on a level playing field with other small rural based public schools, so that our athletes will have the same equal opportunity as other like schools to experience being league champions,” Robbins said.