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Kids Left Out As Wiaa Rule Sacks Tigercats

We’ve found ‘em: the Mark McGwire of high school football.

Not eligible for any title. No room for them in any record book. No question just how overpowering they are.

Well, some question.

Four games do remain for the LaCrosse-Washtucna Tigercats - each one of them a playoff.

“Just like our last game was,” said running back Phil Blankenship.

Top-ranked in Washington’s B-8 football poll, the Tigercats were nonetheless the first team eliminated from the state playoffs this season. Even though they have a decent chance to get through the season undefeated, they’ll still have one loss.

To a bureaucracy steered faithfully, but by a faulty compass.

The good news is, with a 5-0 record it’s obvious the Tigercats aren’t crying in their Gatorade.

“It really hasn’t brought them down at all,” said coach Jeff Nelson. “If anything, maybe it helps. I know they’ve been focused and ready every game.”

What the twin cities of LaCrosse and Washtucna weren’t ready for was the wicked reality of simple math.

Last year, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association undertook a Herculean reclassification of its membership. Inevitably, a little guy was going to slip through the cracks - or get snagged on a splinter.

The WIAA set 100 students as the magic number for Class B football. Schools with more were obliged to play 11-man football; the rest could play 8-man. The catch: the formula - effective the next two years - is based on 1996-97 enrollment.

Which at LaCrosse-Washtucna was 102.

This year, it’s 89.

Twenty-one of those 89 turned out for football - Blankenship being the only senior. So the towns got together for a meeting and decided eight is enough for them.

“We decided to play 8-man for safety reasons,” said Nelson. “We’re starting one freshman now. If we played 11-man, we’d probably start a couple and have to play others. You’re putting kids on the field who haven’t developed physically - kids who shouldn’t be competing against a fully developed senior.”

Hey, it still happens in 8-man. Schools under 75 students can suit up eighth-graders.

Laudably, the WIAA allowed the Tigercats their wish. It just wouldn’t allow them to play for a state championship.

The school, of course, appealed. The WIAA, of course, denied it.

Any reclassification appeals that were approved dealt with alternative school students; the Tigercats’ appeal was based on two of the 102 being foreign exchange students who were ineligible for varsity sports.

“It was the board’s decision that all schools have some students who aren’t eligible for various reasons - foreign students and others,” said WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese. “And they all count.”

Reasonable. And fair.

But the notion of basing future competition on out-of-date enrollments certainly seems flawed - even if it’s the best method the WIAA has developed. And you wish the appeals board could be allowed the latitude to use current enrollment as a mitigating factor.

Either you do what’s best for the kids involved, or you defend the integrity of a number. It shouldn’t be a hard choice.

Beyond the mini-drama of LaCrosse-Washtucna, however, is an evolutional struggle in which eight-man football is the dinosaur.

Only 20 schools are playing the game this fall - less than the WIAA usually requires to conduct a state championship, though that limit has been waived for the Crazy 8s. But with only 37 schools remaining as B-11s after reclassification, that bracket is threatened, as well.

“I don’t know how much longer the B’s can survive playing two levels of football,” said Colbrese. “One suggestion I’ve made is to have all B schools play 9-man. You just take out the two tackles. Then, if your schedule forces you to play an 11-man team, it’s not that tough an adjustment. But I don’t think I’m getting through to them.”

There’s a task force in place looking at that and other options. One would move the cutoff to 110 or 120 students; another would split the B’s into half 8-man, half 11-man.

Keep your fingers crossed. It’s a game too good to die.

“There’s a certain mentality to playing 8-man football,” said Pateros coach Joe Worsham, who reluctantly moved his team into B-11 this year. “If you don’t like the creativity and wildness of it, it scares off some guys. They like rock ‘em, sock’em football and that’s OK, too. But there’s just something about 8-man that’s hard to resist.”

It’s true in LaCrosse and Washtucna - with or without the chance at a championship.

“If we win them all,” reasoned Tigercats quarterback Greg Whitman, “we might go to the Gridiron Classic and just tell everybody we would have won.”

Just not by the numbers.

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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