SVSJ commentary: Our final word on the CHS league alignment discussion

Friday’s announcement by Cedarcrest High School of where their athletic teams will be playing next school year should be viewed as a relief for the athletes and their families, and as well for the entire school and community. The process to get to this point we feel ran frustratingly too long, especially since the school wasn’t doing this willingly to begin with.

To review, the school announced it had accepted an invitation from the Snohomish County-based Wesco Conference to join its combined 2A/3A league this fall. Cedarcrest applied both to that league and the Eastside-centric Kingco Conference for membership as a result of the dissolution of CHS’ current athletic league, the Cascade Conference, after this school year.

We believe the decision to join Wesco was the right one for the school and its athletes. The school’s administration thinks so, too. “We believe that we have shown that we can compete with many of the 3A schools in the Wesco over the past few years,” said Cedarcrest principal Ray LaBate and athletics director Jason Frederick in their statement sent to parents Friday, a copy of which was obtained by the SVSJ. “A review of travel times from CHS to schools in both the KingCo and Wesco indicates that travel will be similar, especially when traffic is considered.” And they are correct about that; we believe at the end of the day the travel to Wesco schools will be easier for CHS to deal with as opposed to Kingco travel.

More importantly, the decision for CHS to join Wesco will be perhaps a relief to the Kingco 2A/3A schools, all of whom were facing significant additional travel to accommodate Cedarcrest in the league. The closest Kingco 2A/3A school to CHS is Interlake High School in Bellevue, and that is at least a 30-minute trip away, with additional time added due to traffic in Redmond and around the Microsoft campus. With the remaining league schools farther than that, all schools were looking at least at a 35-45 minute trip, some as much as an hour perhaps each way, to make this work.

While the closest Wesco 2A/3A schools to CHS are also in that similar time frame away, we would suggest that with the school already traveling in this region anyway with the current travel in the Cascade Conference, and with traffic likely not being nearly as big an issue for most of those schools, we suspect that travel and its residual impacts on students academically will not be nearly as great as it would have been in the Kingco.

However, the main concern it appears for CHS in terms of the decision that it made to join Wesco centers around football. As part of the Wesco alignment, the school will be joining a new Northwest District football consortium that will align all of the district’s 2A teams regardless of conference into two divisions, tiered according to their records this past fall. CHS, having gone winless in the Cascade in 2017, is likely to end up in the lower of the two tiers, meaning they’ll be playing teams this fall who likewise struggled this past season. This should allow the team to be more competitive in games and perhaps end up with a far better record.

However, the school, according to the two administrators, was told by Kingco that if it wanted to join their league, they’d have to play a league football schedule, which they claimed “which is not ideal given the size of our school.” And they are right about that, somewhat, but here’s the thing. What exactly are they talking about in terms of a “league football schedule” for Kingco? As we mentioned when this process took shape last fall, the Kingco has separated its 2A teams from its 3A teams for football the past two seasons, allowing the smaller-school Sammamish and Liberty teams to play like-sized opposition located primarily within Seattle’s Metro League. If that schedule is continuing this fall, we’d expect CHS would have been fine in such a setup. However, the way the administrators at Cedarcrest appear to have worded this statement suggests to us that the conference is exploring, or has decided, to scrap that separate scheduling and re-institute a full league schedule meaning the 2A schools would play their 3A counterparts again. Which in CHS’s case would not be ideal as the likes of Mercer Island, Bellevue and Juanita are all far better and far larger teams numbers-wise. We’ll check into this for you with Mount Si High School and the Kingco and ask for some clarification on this this coming week for you, because the differences here we believe are quite important.

A secondary issue that the school indicated was also a concern was something which we have also discussed here in previous coverage of this topic. Were the school to have joined Kingco, they would have needed secondary approval to join the Sea-King District, which Kingco is affiliated with. CHS, as a Cascade member school, is affiliated with the Northwest District. The concern of the school about this, according to both Frederick and LaBate, was with additional playoff travel as a result of traveling south for postseason. Currently, as we mentioned to you yesterday in our story on this, the Sea-King is tied in with the Northwest District currently for postseason play, and Kingco 2A teams are part of the Northwest RPI computer rankings which determine postseason berths and seeding. Again, based on the wording of the Cedarcrest letter, it appears that there is a possibility that the Sea-King may decide to drop that and instead pair its teams with the West Central District for playoffs. We’ll also check into this for you as well, as this is also an important aspect to this people need to be aware of.

On balance, though, we think, as we noted at the beginning of this commentary, that the school did make the right decision at the end of the day. CHS did note in its letter that they will be re-examining this issue in two years time, so this current placement is, shall we say, “temporary.” The school in two years, like all high schools in Washington state, will do a student count, which will determine the classification that it will be competing in within high school sports, anywhere from “4A” down to “B”. CHS, as a 2A school, has slotted in pretty much in the middle of that, and the relative lack of student growth in the Riverview School District compared to its neighbors in the Northshore, Lake Washington and Snoqualmie Valley districts should see the school remain in that 2A classification when those decisions are announced in the fall of 2019 for the 2020-21 school year.

This then means that CHS’ future athletic league alignment will come down to where all other schools in both Wesco and Kingco get classified, and which of those schools “opt up” to play in a higher classification, to determine whether the fit will be more workable in either league for Cedarcrest. Essentially, this process will once again be decided by other actors, and not by the school itself, as it was this time around, and that should be a concern to you if you are a Riverview School District resident, as your tax dollars do help support some of those transportation costs for athletics.

This process being dictated by the desires of others has been a primary problem of not just us, but many within the Cedarcrest community, throughout this whole discussion, and it is largely due to this that we, and they, are probably very happy to see this process finally come to an end with the right result for the school and its student athletes. But that decision comes with a bit of bittersweet irony, as the school, in its letter, effectively admitted that it was the strong-arm tactics of their longtime conference rival Archbishop Murphy, whose behavior regarding their football program two years ago with all of the resulting forfeits and such from Cascade rivals including CHS was a large reason why this conference disbanded forcing CHS into this very difficult situation, that helped fix this mess for both schools.

Murphy and CHS both were denied initially by Wesco, but, as Frederick and LaBate both indicated in their letter, Murphy’s successful appeal to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association of that denial, in their words, “opened the door for the Wesco to revisit the decision made denying CHS a place in the Wesco and they have decided to allow us into the league beginning next year.” Very bittersweet irony, don’t you say? We have a nice suggestion for both Cedarcrest administrators: the next time you see Murphy’s AD Jerry Jensen or school president Steve Schmutz, you owe them both a big thank you, and perhaps a lunch on you at the Boston’s pizza restaurant in Mill Creek, near the Murphy campus, or at some other fine restaurant up that direction. Even if you two have to hold your noses doing it. Because at the end of the day, Murphy caused this mess that hurt your school and its student athletes, but ended up helping to fix it. And for that, we thank them for that, but are ourselves holding our noses doing that.

The sports programs at CHS, as we noted yesterday, will see mixed results, with some programs doing well, others perhaps not so. We would urge Red Wolves coaches and parent booster clubs to get right to work as soon as possible on offseason preparations so that the teams are ready to go and are competitive this fall within the new, much tougher Wesco landscape. Additionally, we hope that coaches and parent boosters will work closely with Frederick and LaBate to ensure a smooth transition for the teams into the new league alignment, which we hope will last much longer than the next two years. We would like to see this Wesco arrangement last a long time, and we hope that it will be a successful marriage for both sides in the coming years.

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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