When you walk the halls of the old Renton School District Administration Building you see the history of Washington state high school sports over the past century. The names of coaches, officials, players and those people who have made high school sports and fine arts what they are today. The building now houses the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) service organization and rule-making body that was formed in 1905 to create equitable playing conditions between high school and middle school sports teams in Washington.
And the man behind the WIAA since 1993 has been Mike Colbrese, a Montana native who never coached a day in his life.
“I was the one in the principal’s office asking why the team had to leave my English class early for a track meet or basketball game,” Colbrese said. As a high school and college football and basketball official for 15 years, Colbrese saw how important athletics and activities are in students’ lives.
In 1999, the WIAA’s Bellevue office faced a costly renovation, so Colbrese set out to find a better location. The old school district building was available and the WIAA moved in.
“The WIAA provides great exposure for those coming from around the state to Renton. The Landing, restaurants and businesses in the area, people remember that. They can go down to the Seahawks practice, Fry’s, Target, Dicks, Petco as well as other downtown businesses. It pays to have a vibrant community,” Colbrese says.
The main responsibility for the WIAA, and Colbrese, is to ensure events run smoothly and are enjoyable for students and fans. Funding for the WIAA comes from service fees charged to school districts based on the services provided by the WIAA, the number of activities/sports the school participates in and student population. Each high school pays $55 per activity/sport and $0.35 per student. Each middle school pays $10 per activity/sport and $0.10 per student. The WIAA does not receive any funding via tax dollars nor does it receive any financial support from the state of Washington.
The largest money-making events for the association are basketball tournaments.
“Most of the tournaments make money, but it’s the basketball tournament with the highest attendance,” said Colbrese. “It’s hard to charge admission for our fine arts, so it's basketball that pays the bills.”
This year the association has revamped its athlete eligibility process, including how and when it’s done.
“Authority is given to nine District eligibility committees; there have been concerns over the years withinconsistency between the nine districts. If you are now on an eligibility committee you will go through the certification process,” Colbrese said.
Colbrese admits athletic eligibility is more challenging, with the economy, and families who can no longer afford private education. Some families are right on the edge of job loss or homeless; some move in with other family members while maintaining the required 2.0 grade point average.
Another challenge in the state is finding a true cadre of individuals who are coaches.
“The coach was a teacher, the teacher was the coach that’s not the case anymore,” Colbrese said. He estimates 10 percent of schools are seeing ‘out of the building’ coaches who are teachers at other schools or don’t work for the school district at all.
“Those coaches who are out of the building offer a bigger challenge to the school. Coaches who teach in the building have a greater potential recruiting those students to be involved in school programs,” Colbrese said. “To have that coach in the school and to pick that student out of the hallway or to say hey, I just talked to your math teacher; it offers an incentive."
Colbrese also strongly believes kids need a reason to be tied to a school other than the classroom. They need someone to tug on their arm strings and that’s what school programs do, whether it’s fine arts, performing arts, sports, or clubs.
For more information on the WIAA visit www.wiaa.com.