State juggles prep sports classifications

That level playing field the state, coaches, athletes and fans like to see may get a little shake this holiday season.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the governing body of Washington state's prep sports, is in the process of reconfiguring the classifications of schools - a biennial process that keeps schools of similar size playing each other in leagues and state tournaments.

The move has reclassified three Olympic League schools - including Port Angeles, North Kitsap and Olympic - as 2A schools, the same classification as Sequim.

Sequim, like the other 2A schools in the Olympic League, can sleep easily knowing that the Wolves are nearly assured of staying put at the 2A ranks.

"We were never really in danger of going anywhere else," said Dave Ditlefsen, athletic director at Sequim High School.

Ditlefsen and other Olympic League athletic directors met last week to discuss the numbers. All were in agreement that if each 3A school wound up in the 2A classification, the situation would look "clean" and not alter anything.

After the first round schools "opting up," it showed that only Bremerton remained a 3A school. Knights athletic director George Duarte said his school is likely headed away from the Olympic League, according to the Kitsap Sun.

"(The shifting) makes it tough for 3A teams; it's tough for them to get decent seed in district tourneys," Ditlefsen said.

"We walked out of the meeting not knowing (our future)," he said. "Regardless of class, we still value our league."

Number problems

The process of reclassification hasn't changed greatly from 2007 to this year - the top 17 percent of schools play in the 4A ranks while the next 34 percent play in the 2A and 3A classification.

But that process has hit a snag. Several schools in the state are seeking to opt up from 1A and 2A classes up to 3A or 4A.

Schools used to be divided by a hard cap number; for example, schools with 1,201 or more students were classified a 4A school and the ladder then put schools in smaller classifications by size. The problem was, some classifications grew to outsize others as student populations shifted. Some classifications had 80 or more schools while others had fewer than 50.

The percentage format was created as the solution. The option of "opting up" - schools playing in a larger classification because their teams can and want to compete on a larger scale, such as private schools Archbishop Murphy and Bellarmine Prep - shifts schools from the bottom of a larger classification to the top of another.

That movement creates the potential that the 2A classification, Sequim High School's own, may have a large gap between its largest and smallest schools: from 515 students at Mount Baker to 1,085 at Interlake High School. (Olympic would be the 2A's second-largest 2A school, Port Angeles, fourth, and North Kitsap, seventh.)

Other classifications, Ditlefsen noted would all be within about 300 students from top to bottom.

The problem with banning the "opt up" option, notes Tacoma News Tribune prep sports blogger Doug Pacey, is that teams like Archbishop Murphy (a team already confirmed as opting up to 2A from 1A) and Bellarmine Prep (opting up to 4A from 2A) would dominate the classifications they'd be forced to play in.

Officials from the state association said they hope to have each school's decision to either opt up or compete in the classification they're put in by this week (Dec. 21-25).

Sequim, for the record, has declared the Wolves will play in whatever classification they're put in, as have Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Forks, Crescent, Clallam Bay and Neah Bay.

The association announces its "finalized" list of classifications on Jan. 4, although a second round of "opt-ups" is slated for Jan. 15 and those could change the classification picture further.

Reach Michael Dashiell at

See WIAA's new prep classification numbers online at:

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