Two votes yesterday by high school administrators to result in major changes to how high school sports in Washington will function

Good Tuesday morning.

Major changes are afoot for high school sports here in Washington, as the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s high school sports governing body, approved a pair of proposals yesterday that will see a return to the old way of how schools were classified for sports.

Schools, up until about 10 years ago, were classified based on hard student counts, but since around 2006, the WIAA has used adjusted counts designed to equalize each classification by the percentage of schools, i.e. the top 25% in the highest classification, then the next highest, so on so forth. But schools, in increasing numbers in recent years, for various reasons not the least of which was reduced travel, have chosen to “opt up” to play in a higher classification. Mount Si High School, in fact, for this current four-year classification cycle (each classification decision lasts for four years) is one of those schools that has “opted up”, playing in 4A as opposed to their classified 3A status.

In response to that, and concerns about lower-income schools and their ability to compete against larger and more well-funded ones, administrators that are part of the association’s Representative Assembly voted yesterday at their meetings in Renton, dubbed the “Winter Coalition”, to go back to the old hard count model and include a stipulation that would require schools to factor in their free and reduced lunch student counts in their classification numbers. According to the association, schools will use their free and reduced lunch numbers to help determine the final enrollment numbers that will determine a school’s classification. Schools whose free and reduced lunch numbers exceed the state average up to 40% will see their final enrollment numbers decline proportionally to help determine their classification. A lot of number crunching yes, but it is hoped that this will help improve parity in high school athletics here in Washington.

How will this impact Valley high schools?
Mount Si and Cedarcrest High Schools are not expected to see much impact aside from how league alignments will be affected. The hard numbers the WIAA will use call for 2A schools to have 450-899 students in grades 9-11 and 1,300 students or over in 4A. With Cedarcrest firmly in the 2A territory already and Mount Si’s rapid growth, the classifications for both schools when those are announced next school year are not expected to change. Mount Si athletic director Darren Brown told us when this was first announced last month that the school has been working on this for the past year and is well-prepared for the changes, adding, “It will not impact us moving forward as our league has 10 strong schools in our 4A conference.”

That said, it’s what could happen to league alignment that might end up impacting Mount Si and Cedarcrest more as a result of this.

First, with Kingco. There has been some chatter we have been made aware of suggesting the league’s 2A and 3A schools are interested in possibly merging with the 4A’s to form one mega-conference. How these decisions will impact that is unclear, but there reportedly is a belief among some especially within the 3A league that such a move could help improve the quality of play in a number of sports.

So, how could such a merger affect Mount Si and perhaps Cedarcrest? Well, the short answer is that’s not known. A possibility that would likely be explored if the two leagues decide to join together is to split the combined league into larger Crest and Crown Divisions, which, if that were to occur, would likely result in Mount Si once again playing old Kingco 3A foes such as Bellevue, Liberty and Mercer Island in league play. However, such a merger could also open up a possibility for Kingco membership for Cedarcrest, but several things would have to occur for that to happen.

Cedarcrest, during its search for a new league last school year following the dissolution of the old Cascade Conference, had looked at joining Kingco, but decided against it because the conference had required fellow 2A school Liberty to play league opponents in football, as opposed to the Northwest 2A consortium which the Red Wolves were part of last season. Fellow 2A Sammamish was exempted from that requirement due to the existence of a hardship, namely low numbers in the program. Were Kingco to merge both leagues into one, a major issue the conference would need to address is whether they would continue the requirement of 2A schools playing within league for football, or allow their 2A members to join the Northwest consortium.

If the conference decided to join the consortium for football, that would then allow a possible Cedarcrest membership, something which the league would look at doing and considering the divisional alignment possibility, would probably work a lot better for CHS as they’d likely be placed in the Crown Division and end up playing Bothell and Woodinville schools, which would mean greatly reduced travel to road games.

However, Cedarcrest has enjoyed thus far a solid performance within the Wesco Conference, which they joined back in September, with their girls’ soccer team almost winning the league this past fall and both their boys and girls’ basketball teams starting out well early this season within league but falling off the pace as of late due to injuries. Cross country also had a solid season last fall within Wesco for the Red Wolves and it is expected their spring sports teams will be able to hold their own against the tougher competition.

With that said, it is entirely possible that the guaranteed security of Northwest consortium membership for their football program, since Wesco’s 2A members are part of that consortium and will remain so regardless of what happens most likely, and their relative success thus far within the new league will influence CHS to remain in Wesco long-term depending on how their league ends up aligning out of this decision. “Opt-ups” are still going to be allowed under the new system, so schools will look to perhaps continue to do this depending on various factors, such as geography. A full Kingco merge will likely require multiple conference schools to opt up unless schedules can be worked out to fuse everyone into their proper postseason tournaments.

There is a lot to sort out here, but the good news for administrators at both the school and district levels in both the Snoqualmie Valley (Mount Si) and Riverview (Cedarcrest) School Districts is that they have the better part of perhaps the next year to figure out, along with their league counterparts in both the Kingco and Wesco Conferences, how these decisions will impact the schools and leagues, and then take steps to ensure that student-athletes at both schools will be in a position to compete and be successful.

Yesterday’s votes were the first of a pair of votes on high school sports rule change proposals; the association in the spring will vote on other rules changes, with the most notable ones being for changing pre-game warmup procedures in volleyball to make them uniform with the state tournament’s pre-game warmup process, allowing schools to opt down as opposed to opt up for football only, and other changes involving practices.

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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