The first critical step in the reclassification process for Washington high school athletics came Tuesday, as the WIAA released its final adjustment enrollment counts for every school in the state.
Two of the 16 schools in the Chronicle coverage area are set to change classifications, but others have the chance to appeal to do so as well, with a Dec. 22 deadline to inform the WIAA of such intentions. And outside of Lewis and south Thurston counties, changes for other schools in the 2A EvCo, 1A Evergreen and Central 2B Leagues have the chance to drastically alter the playing fields in District 4.
“We know a little bit, but we’ve still got to play the waiting game a little bit longer,” one area athletic director said.
The WIAA began by tracking each school’s monthly average enrollment, before adjusting the numbers. Previously, that had been done by tracking each school’s number of children enrolled in free and reduced lunch, but this time around, the state is using a different metric called Direct Certification, which tracks multiple factors. Schools with a higher-than-average Direct Certification rates have their student populations lowered accordingly, which in some cases can move schools out of classifications they’d otherwise be a part of.
The WIAA also changed the population thresholds for each classification. This primarily affects the larger classifications; as of now there are currently 51 4A schools in the state and 79 3A schools, and the change is mean to even those numbers out. The new classification windows are:
Rochester, which is currently one of the smallest 2A schools in the state, came in at an adjusted count of 439, low enough to move the Warriors back to 1A, where they resided until 2016.
Lower down the classification ladder, Mossyrock, which has spent the past four years at 1B, has an adjusted count of 137, which should move the Vikings back up to 2B.
Other nearby schools who are set to move include Shelton (up to 3A from 2A), Yelm (up to 4A from 3A), Eatonville (up to 2A from 1A), Kalama (up to 1A from 2B), Wahkiakum (down from 2B to 1B) and Ocosta (down from 2B to 1B).
Now begins a two-week process wherein every school in the state has three choices. First, they can accept their classification data and either stay or move as the numbers suggest. Second, they can opt up one or more levels — a request that should immediately be granted. Third, they can appeal to the WIAA to move down a classification despite their numbers.
Rochester athletic director Kevin Jurek confirmed to The Chronicle that Rochester is planning on moving down, while Mossyrock athletic director Randy Torrey said he believed his school’s numbers were “too high to be able to appeal.”
There have long been rumors that Centralia would appeal to move from 2A to 1A — either just for football or as an entire athletic department — but athletic director Tim Ahern declined to say whether the Tigers did intend to make that request.
“We have gathered a lot of input from folks within our district and community regarding next steps moving forward to assess what suits the students of our district best,” Ahern said in a statement. “We will be holding a community input meeting in the near future to discuss the classification process and options that are available to us and will follow proper procedures based on where we land with the input we receive.”
The classification could drastically alter the landscape of high school sports at just about every level. Multiple schools from each of the recently-completed state football brackets are set to move, and while most of those are schools on the larger end of their previous classifications moving up, a few will go the other way.
Freeman High School, which made the 1A state tournament in all three fall sports this past season, clocks in at 221 students and therefore is set to come down to 2B. The same is true for Seton Catholic, which just made a cinderella run to the 1A football semifinals, and King’s Way Christian and the Bear Creek School.
Meanwhile, four separate teams from the 2B state football tournament — champions Okanogan, along with Goldendale, River View and Brewster — are all in a middle zone where their raw averages are high enough to constitute a move to 1A , while their adjusted numbers barely squeak under the threshold.
Currently, Kalama is the only school to make any 2B state tournament this past fall that is set to move up to 1A.
After the Dec. 22 deadline to apply for reclassification, there will be a month before the WIAA executive board meets to consider appeals. The finalized classifications will be announced.Jan. 21; only after then will leagues be able to reform with the new formats in mind.
On top of reclassification and appeals based on school size and competitiveness, there may also be attempts to move up and down the ladder for travel purposes, especially at the 1A and 2A levels. With Rochester and Shelton set to change classifications, the 2A EvCo would be down to five teams, with no other 2As closer than Longview, and more 1As in Thurston and Grays Harbor Counties.
“I think it’s up to every individual school,” one area athletic director said. “Even more now. Thankfully it hasn’t impacted me too much, but I know a lot of school districts are exploring trying to stay more regional for economic factors … It’s definitely a balance.”