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WIAA gets it right in case of Archbishop Murphy

Life is rarely like a math class.

The answers you seek in real life are rarely neat and tidy, and they often present another set of problems that will need attention.

I have to give credit to the WIAA, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, for finding a solution to a problem no one else wanted to deal with. But then again, that’s part of the job description for a group that oversees interscholastic athletics.

This particular problem will harken back memories of days gone by on this side of the state.

Here’s the sticky wicket the state is trying to fix:

Archbishop Murphy is a co-educational private Catholic college-preparatory high school located in Everett (thank you, Wikipedia). It played sports as a Class 2A school in the Class 1A/2A combined Cascade Conference, but started out as a Class 1A member.

I say played, past tense, because that seven-team conference decided to disband in December. Five of those schools, Granite Falls (a Class 2A school) along with Class 1A members Cedar Park Christian, King’s, South Whidbey, and Sultan will form the new North Sound Conference.

All seven members of the conference met for a conversation about how to move forward, and the Class 1A members voted to dissolve the conference.

Archbishop Murphy wasn’t invited to join the new conference. In fact, one would surmise, that the whole ordeal was undertaken because it’s easier to cancel one league and start another than it was to kick a school out.

There were accusations of wrongdoing aimed at AMHS. Mostly, however, its crime was being too good for the rest of the league.

You may remember that five of the seven teams in the old Cascade Conference opted to forfeit scheduled games with AMHS in 2016 rather than face them on the gridiron. They were significantly bigger and stronger than the small-school opposition.

Granite Falls coach Tim Dennis was adamant.

“The level of athletes they’ve been able to bring in on one team doesn’t match up with a lot of the teams in our league,” he was quoted saying at the time. “It’s not that we’re afraid to play the game, it’s an injury issue.”

A Granite Falls mother was even more pointed: “My 14-year-old son is 5-foot-8 and weighs 117 pounds. They’ve got 18-year-old players that are 6-5 and weigh 330 pounds.

“That’s like putting a Volkswagen Bug against a truck.”

The North Sound Conference wasn’t about to invite them to join. Unfortunately, neither were other leagues in the area.

You can’t shove a school out and hope that it goes away. But at the same time it’s not exactly like trying to find a home for an extra puppy, either. No one stepped forward, so the problem of what to do with Archbishop Murphy fell to the WIAA.

Their solution was to forge a spot for the school in the Class 3A/4A Western Conference. Despite the fact that, according to published reports, none of the 21 athletic directors in that conference wanted them.

“It’s being forced upon us,” Edmonds-Woodway football coach John Gradwohl told the Seattle Times. “Nobody wants them because they don’t play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

The Wildcats will play all sports but football in the Western Conference beginning in the fall. They will play football in a newly arranged 2A Northwest Conference that will include former Western Conference member Mountlake Terrace and Cedarcrest, which played in the Cascade Conference last year.

The football alignment is considered to be permanent according to published reports. We can assume that “permanent” means for as long as Murphy remains a Class 2A football school.

The WesCo alliance has a probationary period and athletic directors in that league will be consulted to determine if the school opts to compete in Class 3A for the allocation cycle that begins in 2020-21. Whether that means that it would become a full member of the conference in all sports remains to be seen.

To make this work, there were a set of guidelines agreed to that include a plan for AMHS to update its facilities as well as have any future transfers of athletes reviewed in an eligibility hearing.

The Western Conference has some top-flight facilities. The Shoreline School District, Edmonds School District and Everett School District all have lighted football stadiums their individual schools share, and Snohomish has one all its own. Archbishop Murphy will be expected to meet that standard.

The complaints that have been thrown around sound so much like the ones that used to be aimed at Gonzaga Prep back in the day – specifically that they recruit the best players.

I know the football coaches involved with the program at Archbishop Murphy. Terry Ennis came out of retirement to start the football program after long and successful runs at Bellarmine Prep, Renton, Stanwood and Cascade High in Everett, where he won a state football championship with a two-way starter at fullback and middle linebacker named Jerry Jensen, who went on to play for the University of Washington and is now filling his old coach’s shoes at AMHS as athletic director and football coach.

Before he died in 2007, Ennis won two state Class 1A championships at AMHS and had the Wildcats in a third championship game. Jensen guided the Wildcats to a state Class 2A title in 2016.

It would absolutely shock me if either of these men circumvented rules.

But at the same time, I recognize the quality program they’ve built and maintained and can see how it attracts players. If I had a son who wanted to play football, these are two men on a short list of coaches I would want him to play for and Terry Ennis topped that list.

Criticizing the WIAA comes easy. And when it gets something right, it should be applauded.

This time, it got it right.