(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
SPORTS SHAKEUPS: Free and reduced lunch rate rule would put Mary Walker firmly in 1B classification…
After a couple of seasons of playing an independent schedule, with a mix of 1B and 2B opponents, Springdale is officially a 1B school after the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association released the latest numbers for their four-year classification cycle.
Mary Walker School District appealed to drop down to the 1B ranks officially as their average enrollment for this cycle is 109 students, which is five above the 105 1B cutoff. WIAA approved their drop down, one of ten schools to be allowed to move down a classification.
This new classification cycle factored in free-and-reduced lunch counts into the process. A school with a free and reduced lunch rate greater than the statewide average – 47 percent – had its enrollment number reduced for each percent that they exceeded the statewide average, except at the 1B and 2B classification level. Mary Walker School District has a free and reduced lunch rate of 75 percent, which, through the WIAA metrics, would drop their enrollment to 78 kids. They appealed, however, since 1B and 2B ranks were exempt from this rule.
The reason free and reduced lunch rates are factored in is because studies have shown economically strained areas tend to have disadvantages athletically compared to more affluent areas.
“When you have families that are working hard and are struggling, it can be hard to send kids to special camps during the summer and things outside of just what the school offers,” Mary Walker School District Athletic Director and Grade School Principal Dwayne Watts said. “You have other schools in the 2B ranks that had families that could afford to do these extra things like camp.”
Due to the differing nature of school enrollments, and in order to keep a fair and even playing field for schools, athletic leagues and schools are separated into different classifications based on their enrollment numbers.
Springdale has played an independent schedule the past two seasons with some avenues to the 2B postseason tournaments if they met certain criteria. This allowed them to schedule more 1B schools, a level they felt they felt they fit better at.
“We feel like dropping down to that level gives us a chance against like competition,” Watts said. “You can go out and known you have a chance to be successful and compete on an equal level.”
Their first year playing football as an independent showcased this, as the Charger football team was strong in their 1B matchups but were beaten in their 2B matchups, except for two wins against Kettle Falls.
“The big thing this year was we were able to keep kids with the programs through the year,” Watts said. “In previous years, that injury would last longer, or kids would stop playing. It’s hard to get motivated to work back from an injury or play when the result out on the field is so lopsided. It’s hard to have running clocks in the second or third quarters.”
Needing 22 kids for an 11-man game practice can also be difficult for small schools like Springdale. Teams like Hunters and Northport in Stevens County can also attest to these issues in the 1B ranks. Hunters had to end their season early because they lacked the number of both football and volleyball players, while Northport at some points in the season only had one or two kids on the sideline.
With their enrollment trends, many in the administration and the school expected the Chargers to be 1B eventually. This latest reclassification had them appealing for a drop down anyways since they were on the threshold for 1B.
A new amendment by the WIAA would factor in free and reduced lunches rates for the 2B ranks. This already exists in the 4A-1A ranks. If a school has a high percentage of students getting free and reduced lunches, they can drop down their official enrollment number accordingly. Springdale didn’t want to take the chance of it not passing and them spending another year in limbo.
“There was some questions about being independent and not competing at the state tournament level but we weren’t making state tournaments in the first place,” Watts explained. “The drop down has been largely supported by the community because it gives our kids a better chance at success.”
This move isn’t unique to the area. Two years ago, after spending several cycles on the cusp of dropping from 1A to 2B, Chewelah saw its enrollment drop significantly between WIAA classification cycles and won an appeal to play in the 2B ranks in 2018. This led to a banner year of state tournament appearances and wins for nearly all programs across the board.
Springdale would move into the NE 1B North or South, which has powerhouse programs like Odessa and ACH in the South, and Selkirk of Cusick in the North. They have tempered expectations but look forward to playing teams that are the same size. Still, the Chargers will be a big change in the NE 1B landscape as Springdale would have qualified for the football playoffs in 2019, and their volleyball team nearly qualified for the State 2B volleyball tournament in 2019.
Meanwhile, a classification up, the NE 2B North will lose an official member as Wilbur-Creston is dropping down to 1B as the school has an average enrollment of 69 kids. Since Chewelah joined the NE 2B league, the North Division has lost both Springdale and now Wilbur-Creston while St. George’s does not field a football team. This led to just a three-game league schedule for the Cougars in 2019.
Chewelah’s enrollment has dropped to 167 students which is near the middle of the 2B classification group.
Several schools have dropped from 2B football to play 1B football. Bridgeport, Winlock and Liberty Bell are all dropping to 1B football. The 1B classification as a whole is now the state’s biggest with 85 teams, the smallest being Willows Prep with just four students.
Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, a common 2B football power in the state will continue their combined program in certain sports but the two schools’ individual programs will drop to the 1B classification. District 4 which has been dominant in the 2B football playoffs could now be losing a playoff berth in the state seeding. Some Yakima area schools are dropping down which could shift the football power in the state for the 2B ranks from west to east.
There was no change to the NEA League as Deer Park remained in the 1A ranks, despite talk it may move up to the 2A ranks. Riverside was also rumored to be dropping down to the 2B ranks, but they are well within the 1A classification. The 1A ranks are now the state’s smallest with just 60 schools.
Opting up, meaning playing at a higher classification than their enrollment were 46 schools, many being private.