Reclassification: Four Area Teams Move Down to Class 1B
By Jordan Nailon
The local prep sports landscape is going to look at least a little different next year and the possibility for even more changes appear to be flickering on the event horizon.
Mossyrock, Pe Ell and Willapa Valley high schools have all announced that they’ll shifting down to the 1B ranks beginning next fall — and Winlock for only football — based on updated enrollment numbers. The 2020-21 school year will mark the beginning of the next four-year cycle of classifications for schools that are affiliated with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
Those classifications (1B, 2B, 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A) are determined by the WIAA based on the average size of the school’s student body in grades 9-11. This go-around the WIAA is using hard-line cutoff for assigning classifications, whereas in years past the state’s affiliated schools were split evening between the six classifications. For the next four years 2A schools will have between 500 and 899 students, 1A schools will range between 225 and 449 students, 2B schools will feature between 224 and 105 students, while 1B schools will be 104 students or fewer.
Additionally, 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A schools are able to take the percentage of students who use the free and reduced lunch program to bring their head count down. The deadline to file for a petition to play up or down a classification was Jan. 10. On Sunday the WIAA Executive Board will vote on the slate of reclassifications and there are several other area schools in the mix for a variety of changes in their assorted fields of play.
Mossyrock was the first school in The Chronicle coverage area to confirm that they’ll compete in a different league beginning next fall. The most recent math from the WIAA has Mossyrock at 103 students, just below the cutoff between 1B and 2B. Instead of opting back up into the 2B classification out of habit, the Vikings have elected to go where the winds of change will take them.
“Were hoping that by going 1B it might give us a shot in the arm,” Mossyrock athletic director Randy Torrey said. “Now we’re going to be one of the biggest schools in a classification rather than one of the smaller schools.”
Torrey noted that there was an opportunity for community dialogue prior to the decision and admitted that not everyone was excited to see the Vikings leaving the Central 2B League, where they bump up against their natural geographic rivals like Onalaska, Morton-White Pass, and Toledo on a regular basis.
“There were a few people in the community that were against it and I don’t know if that was more about tradition and travel or what,” Torrey said. “Those were probably some of the biggest negative things. We want to keep those rivalries. We want to keep them on our schedule. It will just be a non-league game instead of a league game.”
Torrey added that the change to 1B will result in more travel for league games but he hopes that those non-league rivalry games will help to offset some of that bus time.
The two other area schools who are headed to the 1B ranks, Pe Ell and Willapa Valley, are both currently members of the 2B Pacific League. Willapa Valley was credited with 83 students during the most recent round of reclassifications while Pe Ell’s headcount came in at 60.
Not everything is set to change out Highway 6, however, as the two schools will continue to combine as the PWV Titans in football, baseball and softball. Those teams will remain at the 2B level.
Like Mossyrock the Trojans are simply letting the numbers dictate where they land, Pe Ell athletic director Brandon Pontius said.
“In our court sports, we’re going to drop down,” said Pontius in reference to basketball and volleyball. “We chose to be where we’re supposed to. In the past we opted up to 2B and it’s been the same ever since.”
While all three schools know they will be playing in a different league next academic year they are not yet sure which league that will be or what teams will be in it. Some of the closest current 1B schools in the southwest Washington include Oakville, Naselle, and North River.
Last year South Bend, with 116 students, opted to play an independent 8-man football schedule for the first time in school history, rather than an 11-man season like other 2B schools.
Next year Winlock, with 131 students, may wind up doing something similar as they’ve petitioned the WIAA for a waiver to compete as a 1B school in football only. If the Cardinals are granted an exemption they could then play a league schedule and compete for a 1B playoff spot. Even if Winlock is denied their petition they could still play an independent 8-man season while forfeiting their playoff eligibility. The Cardinals will know more about their future on the gridiron after this weekend.
The Pacific 2B League is also likely to lose Life Christian to the 1A ranks but will pick up at least one new team with Forks poised to drop from the 1A Evergreen League. Stevenson, with 205 students, and Chimacum 174 students, will also be dropping to the 2B ranks but it’s not entirely clear which leagues they will join.
Meanwhile, Tenino, with 275 students, will be staying put in the 1A Evergreen League.
“We had some discussions about opting down to 2B for football,” Tenino athletic director Joe Chirhart said. “I’ll just call a spade a spade. None of the Kalamas, Napavines or Adnas were very interested in having Tenino join. I don’t know that I blame them. It’s just the top dogs very much want to remain the top dogs.”
With Stevenson moving out of the 1A TriCo League, there has been some discussion about combining the TriCo and the Evergreen leagues in order to form one conglomerate conference.
“That would leave us with a 10 team super league,” noted Chirhart.
The Tenino AD quickly added that if he were a betting man he still wouldn’t wager any money on that particular scenario coming to fruition, due to increased travel and other scheduling concerns.
With Forks on the move next year, that should leave the Beavers in a five-team league with Elma, Montesano, Hoquiam, and Eatonville, with 431 students, as the Cruisers get ready to drop down from the 2A ranks.
Prep sports fans from Centralia, Chehalis and Rochester likely won’t have to deviate far from their standard operating procedure next year, since those schools all appear set to stay at the 2A level in the Evergreen Conference.
“The 2A’s are pretty boring. Nobody is really going anywhere, at least around here,” W.F. West athletic director Jeff Johnson said.
That being said, Johnson also noted that Shelton, with 1,127 students, has filed a petition to drop down to the 2A level. If their petition is approved, Johnson said the Highclimbers would likely join the 2A EvCo.
Johnson also pointed out that Fort Vancouver and Hudson’s Bay are both poised to drop down from 3A to join the 2A Greater Saint Helens League next fall. Although the Trappers will be playing an independent football schedule.
With so many divergent scenarios still in play, it’s still difficult to imagine what the local prep scene will look like next year. Still, there seems to be one common thread of thought amongst each school that has contemplated the consequences of a move up or down in classification — they are all trying to find the sweet spot to benefit their student athletes in the impending change in the pecking order.
“It just gives us some more opportunity to have some success,” said Torrey, when talking about Mossyrock’s looming move to 1B. “The main thing is just trying to get kids out and trying to be competitive. When you’re losing, losing, losing, I think kids and families sometimes want to move away to try to find somewhere that you can find some more success.”