SVSJ commentary: CHS athletics future still unclear, with developments this week making that moreso; we feel that there is one conference, though, that can change all that, and needs to by allowing them in

The future of Cedarcrest High School’s athletics appears to still be up in the air, and some developments on this front this week are worthy of our comment and also are leaving us scratching our heads. And if you are a Mount Si High School fan, you’ll also want to know about this, as this could end up impacting your school’s athletics as well.

As we have been telling you here throughout the school year, the Cascade Conference, of which Cedarcrest has been a member of for over a decade now, has chosen to disband after this school year, with their smaller school members in the 1A classification opting to form a new conference. This decision forced CHS and its 2A big-school counterpart, Archbishop Murphy, to find new leagues to play in for next school year.

Well, for Murphy, their search is over, and the way it ended is surprising to us, and frankly is also disconcerting. On Tuesday, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced that it had helped to broker a deal to allow the private Catholic school south of Everett the opportunity to join the Snohomish County-based Wesco conference, one of two conferences Cedarcrest has applied to for membership. This deal came after Murphy had been rejected by the conference in its attempt to join, but appealed that decision all the way to the state high school sports governing body. More on this in the Everett Herald, which also interviewed coaches of public school teams in the league, who as you might imagine, were none too pleased.

The decision by the WIAA appears to have been a little heavy-handed in our view, and coaches and school administrators in the league who feel that the association, in making this decision, failed to protect the interests of public schools and their student athletes have a very valid point to make. Further, this decision also sets a precedent that could impact Mount Si down the road.

In past years, Eastside Catholic School, located in Sammamish, has applied for membership, but likewise been denied, to the Kingco Conference. The primary reason for that school looking to join Kingco has been travel-related as it pertains to their new campus location being more centrally-located within Kingco territory as opposed to the Metro League, where it currently plays. A concern that has been made about Eastside, and has also been an issue up north with Murphy, is, as a private school, their ability to “recruit” talented athletes to come compete for their schools, often times to the detriment of the local public schools in those areas.

Old-time Mount Si football fans may remember the case of quarterback Willie Conklin and his departure from MSHS to join Eastside during his high school career over 25 years ago. If Eastside were to attempt another application, and be denied, they could easily appeal to the WIAA, and based on the precedent they set this week, the association would have no choice but to broker a similar arrangement, likely angering coaches and administrators all over this conference.

The decision is also one that we feel didn’t need to be made, either, but we suspect part of why this was done is that we feel the WIAA doesn’t want to have “independent” schools as part of the high school sports landscape here in Washington. As far as we know, no school in any of the largest classifications in Washington – 2A, 3A or 4A – is independent of a league alignment. However, we feel that the behavior of Archbishop Murphy as it pertained to the 2016 football fiasco which we covered for you in breadth here at that time, behavior which we feel helped to result in the dissolution of the Cascade along with Wesco’s disapproval of their application initially, in our view makes them a prime candidate to be independent for the next two years. And we feel they would have been all right with an independent schedule, which we believe would have been largely against other private schools with gaps filled in by Wesco and Kingco Conference (Northshore School District) schools.

With Murphy joining Wesco, that brings their 2A/3A conference to 14 schools, and if the league were to admit Cedarcrest, that would swell their number to 15 which we find to be perhaps a bit of a stretch for them on a number of fronts, meaning that the chances of CHS joining Wesco as a result of this are less now.

So that leaves Kingco, and a separate development that we feel may provide a much larger opening for Cedarcrest. The WIAA also announced this week, yesterday infact, that its Executive Board had voted to approve an “opt-up” request for Redmond High School to leave 3A and return to 4A, meaning the Mustangs, who had been members of Kingco 4A and competing against Mount Si up until two years ago, will be back this fall playing the Wildcats and the other 4A schools. Their departure from the Kingco 2A/3A league has left an opening, which Cedarcrest, we feel, would be the obvious candidate to fill that. Incidentally, the association also voted to approve an “opt-down” request for CHS’ Cascade rival Granite Falls to drop from 2A to 1A, which was likely needed to allow for the new conference to form this fall in the place of the Cascade.

However, the push for Cedarcrest to join Kingco has not materialized yet, and we think the Redmond situation may have been a factor, but we also feel that concerns about travel from current league members to CHS might also be an issue. This was a factor when Cedarcrest left Kingco over a decade ago to go back to the Cascade, and those issues remain that way now. To that, we understand and recognize those concerns, but would note that the 4A members have themselves been dealing with travel issues this year, largely due to how the conference is currently constructed geographically.

Kingco 4A is essentially two clusters of four schools each – the Northshore cluster of Bothell, Inglemoor, Woodinville and North Creek and the Mount Si foursome with their Sammamish Plateau rivals of Skyline, Eastlake and Issaquah, joined by an outlier in Newport down in Bellevue. Travel time this year between schools in the two clusters we think has been running about 30-35 minutes each direction, with an additional 10 or so minutes tacked on for trips to the new North Creek campus in Snohomish County. We’re not sure, we’re still checking, but it would not surprise us if Mount Si fans and team buses took an hour or more to travel to and from that campus last Friday for the basketball games up there; it’s at least 10 minutes from 405 at Canyon Park, and getting up just to there probably ran about 45 minutes or so. We can discuss the wisdom of North Creek being a Kingco member another time, but suffice it to say, the 4A’s are having lengthy travel this year, so any concerns about longer travel for 2A/3A teams to Cedarcrest at this point, while we sympathize with them, fall on deaf ears.

That, and the obvious scheduling advantages associated with an even number of teams in the league, suggests to us that at this point, we believe the better option for Cedarcrest would be to join Kingco 2A/3A for the next two years and then they and the conference can revisit this at that point to see if there’s a better solution for them there or elsewhere long-term. It is with that, then, and especially since we have been told off the record that it appears no decision has been made, that we urge the Kingco principals and athletic directors, among them Mount Si’s John Belcher and Darren Brown, to approve the application by CHS for membership for the next two years, with the idea, as we just discussed, that it can be revisited at that time to see if conditions change that allow for a more workable fit. Part of that workable fit could come from possible changes in classification for the Northshore schools that result from North Creek’s opening and subsequent re-allocation of students from the other three high schools to help balance out enrollments at all four of the district’s grade nine-12 campuses.

It will be interesting to follow things on this front, so if we get word on anything, we’ll of course let you know.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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