Stadium, Shelton, South and Central Kitsap.
’s football team has defeated the quartet of Class 4A Narrows rivals this fall, but that may not be the case next season if the league no longer exists.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), the state’s governing body for high-school sports, calculates classifications by enrollment percentages every two years to avoid imbalances. For example, schools with the top 16-17 percent enrollment in the state, such as South Kitsap, are recognized as 4A. Schools have the option to “opt up” to classifications with larger enrollments.
If there are not enough schools to meet the threshold for a classification, it could fold.
“We’re going to have some philosophical conversations because we have to take care of our league members and try to do what’s best for our league,” said Ed Santos, athletic director for the South Kitsap School District and co-chair of the Narrows League’s realignment committee. “We want to stay a league.”
And Gig Harbor appears to want that, too.
“We will continue to opt up if there is a viable 4A league,” said Gig Harbor Athletic Director Dale Johnson. “If not, I will meet with Gig Harbor’s administrators and district folks to decide on what the best option is for our school.”
Enrollment figures from the eight schools in the league will be released in December.
“It’s a nine-month count of numbers, and November is the last month they count,” Santos said. “We want to get those numbers before everyone goes on break.”
Gig Harbor joined the league in 1997, 17 years after the original four schools – Bellarmine Prep, Mount Tahoma, South Kitsap and Stadium – formed what is now 4A Narrows.
For the past two years, the rest of the league has been composed of Central Kitsap, Olympia and Shelton.
But as of early October, only South (2,334 students) and Central Kitsap (1,486.98) had the enrollment to solidly match the cutoff of 1,304 students to maintain 4A status. Shelton (1,319.13) narrowly reclassified from 3A, while both Olympia and Gig Harbor had fewer than 100 students above the requirement.
Bellarmine Prep (724.5) historically has opted up to maintain its long-standing rivalries.
The realignment committee has met several times, including last week, with each school bringing updated enrollment numbers. The main concern at this point is whether the Tacoma schools – Stadium and Mount Tahoma – will be large enough to remain 4A – or if they would drop down to the 3A or even 2A classification.Santos said that schools may opt to change classifications “because they have to take care of themselves, which everyone would understand if that is what were to happen (but) everyone has to look at all of the options.”
Dave Goodwin, athletic director for the , said that at this moment, Gig Harbor has not made any decisions.
“They have the option to opt up, so it’s not a problem,” he said. “There hasn’t been any discussion yet about whether to stay or go.”
Santos said Gig Harbor has opted up to 4A in the past, so “with their numbers now, it’s a very similar situation for them.”
Goodwin, who is also the principal at , said that he does not anticipate Gig Harbor wanting to move, but added that several factors determine such decisions.
“What makes it the right league for a school is the sports, the level of competition, the (geography) …”
However it is sorted out, Santos said 4A Narrows needs six teams to remain viable. The 3A Narrows has six schools right now.
"I keep thinking there’s going to be six,” he said. “You have Central Kitsap, South Kitsap, Olympia, and the Tacoma folks have told us Stadium will be 4A, and if Gig Harbor and Bellarmine opt up like they have in the past.”
Factors to consider include whether Shelton will make the cut–in 2010 it was about 10 students from being 3A–and Yelm, which is growing, but not necessarily enough to move up to 4A.
But even with a half-dozen teams, Santos said there would be complications, as the league would have fewer playoff spots. Additionally, basketball teams would have to schedule 10 non-league games.
If the Narrows does not have enough teams, it may have to go looking for a new home, which could be the 4A South Puget Sound League, which features 18 schools split into North and South divisions. Santos said the 4A Narrows has had a conversation with the SPSL about the application process.
In calling the process frustrating, Santos said he wishes the reclassifications were done every four years to ensure stability for schools. Some of the leagues, including Narrows, are planning to present a WIAA amendment to do just that, but many of the smaller schools prefer the current model.
“When you do it every two years, it seems like you’re facing it all the time and starting the process over,” he said. “Leagues are changing all the time.”