Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey’s Wes Crain (9) and Hunter Ewart (42) chase down Coupeville’s Hunter Smith in September 2016. The Wolves and Granite Falls are joining the class 1A North Sound Conference with South Whidbey next school year.

Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey’s Wes Crain (9) and Hunter Ewart (42) chase down Coupeville’s Hunter Smith in September 2016. The Wolves and Granite Falls are joining the class 1A North Sound Conference with South Whidbey next school year.

Coupeville, Granite Falls join North Sound Conference

The North Sound Conference recently added two new schools to its ranks.

Granite Falls and Coupeville are joining the class 1A league following rulings by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).

The WIAA District Directors Appeals Board approved Granite Falls’ request to drop from 2A to 1A for the remaining two years of the current four-year classification cycle on Jan. 28, while it denied Coupeville’s bid to move down to 2B. Athletic director Willie Smith appealed the verdict, but it was denied by the WIAA’s executive board Monday.

The North Sound Conference, formed after the Cascade Conference voted in December to split up at the end of the school year, is now six strong; the other members are South Whidbey, King’s, Cedar Park Christian (Bothell) and Sultan.

Only 1A schools can join the league.

“It will be great for our schools and communities to consistently compete with schools the same size, which should help all of our programs prepare to grow, develop and compete, regardless of the program’s current level of competitiveness,” wrote league president and Sultan athletic director Scott Sifferman in an email.

Declining enrollment prompted the petitions by Granite Falls and Coupeville.

According to the WIAA handbook, a set of rules govern whether a school can be considered for reclassifications. The decisions are based on, but not limited to, circumstances leading to a “significant” change in enrollment during the first two years of a four-year classification cycle, a history of declining enrollment, the opening of a new school within the school district or “unforseen circumstances beyond the control of the school.”

Granite Falls’ enrollment has dropped by 94 students since the last reclassification cycle in 2016 — from 461 to 367 — while projections expect it will continue to decline, athletic director Joey Johnson said.

“My guess is that’s why they granted our appeal,” Johnson said.

Granite Falls lost an appeal in January 2016 to move down to 1A during the statewide reclassification for the current four-year cycle, which ends after the 2019-20 school year. Johnson was relieved with Sunday’s ruling.

“Had this not been granted, I don’t know what we would have done,” Johnson said. “We probably would have gone north.”

Coupeville, one of the smallest schools in 1A, has declined from 227 to 208 students since the last reclassification cycle in 2016. A nearly 20-student drop wasn’t substantial enough to merit change, the board determined, despite the fact that Coupeville’s enrollment is six students below the cutoff of 214 for the 2B range.

The board also considered the fact that Coupeville’s enrollment is projected to remain where it is. If this pans out, it would make it one of the largest 2B school in the state.

Smith said he has no ill feelings against the WIAA for its decision, but still believes the Wolves belong in 2B. He is formally asking the WIAA to examine its appeals process and improve it so there is less ambiguity with the guiding principles for reclassification.

“I think there has to be more clearly defined definitions of what they mean by significant and what that entails,” Smith said. “…Hopefully that helps the next round of schools that are trying to move up or down.”

The North Sound Conference wasn’t Coupeville’s primary choice. Smith said the Wolves were aiming to leave the Olympic League for the Northwest 2B/1B League.

The Olympic League is problematic for the school because of missed class time and travels costs associated with having to take the Port Townsend Ferry for away games. The Wolves also traveled as far as Tacoma and Lacey for postseason competition in District 3.

Coupeville’s coaches voted to join the North Sound Conference if dropping down to 2B was no longer possible.

“I felt good about going to either league,” Smith said.

Smith said Coupeville is planning to stay in the conference for the future, though it’s possible it will drop down to 2B during the next four-year cycle.

He’s optimistic that the North Sound Conference is the right fit for Coupeville, which competed in the Cascade Conference until 2014, because of familiarity, competitive balance and travel costs.

South Whidbey athletic director Paul Lagerstedt said having six teams in the league helps make postseason berths more competitive.

“It’s a stronger conference,” Lagerstedt said. “It helps with district berths. We’re excited because we’re going to be able to continue our relationships with our traditional rivals.”

Johnson is similarly glad to be in the league, though he said it’s not perfect. The league has two private schools, King’s and Cedar Park Christian (Bothell), which contrasts with the rural surroundings of the other public school members.

“There’s always the private schools,” Johnson said. “But, we’re going to have to live with it. They are what they are. They’re there. Until the WIAA decides to make a private league or a private school state championship, they’re with us. We just got to work with them and play with them.”

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