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Jim Meehan: Team format makes sense for state golf tournaments

Michelle Grafos provides tips to 10-year-old Gabriel Mitchell at the 2017 Spokane Golf and Travel Show. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Michelle Grafos provides tips to 10-year-old Gabriel Mitchell at the 2017 Spokane Golf and Travel Show. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

I’ve seen quite a bit in three decades as a sportswriter, but prep golf has supplied some of the more surreal moments.

Nearly every spring at the Greater Spokane League’s District 8 tournament, a playoff was necessary to break a tie for the last spot, or spots, to the state tournament. In the last few years, playoffs have come into play to determine a spot(s) for a District 8 qualifier with the Mid-Columbia Conference, where additional state berths were up for grabs.

Playoffs are typically pressure-packed and dramatic, but these often included an awkward component of teammate versus teammate, as well as players from other schools, for the right to advance.

It happened to Gonzaga Prep a couple of years ago. It happened to a trio of Mead High players about a decade ago.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it with Central Valley, Mead, Lewis and Clark’s girls,” G-Prep coach Dennis Dougherty said. “It’s really hard. A few years ago Jack (Reeves) beat Patrick (Parelius) to go on (to the District 8 qualifier). Here Jack wins it and he feels terrible for his teammate.”

That shouldn’t be an issue anymore with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association recently approving a change to a team format for State 4A and 3A tournaments. Sixteen teams per classification will qualify along with a minimum of 34 individuals from nonqualifying programs. (Smaller schools, where it can be difficult to field five-player teams, will remain under the old system.)

The field will be trimmed to eight teams (five players, four scores count) and the top 20 individuals and ties after the first day at state.

It’s a long-awaited change that puts Washington in step with most states, including neighboring Idaho and Oregon. The old format, with players battling for a specified number of berths in each district, had been in place since 1989.

“I’m not exactly sure why it stayed in place so long,” Mead coach Paul Peters said. “I liken it to some federal program that gets stuck; it’s just there. In my younger days, I was beating the path and didn’t seem to get anywhere. I just think there were enough people that had explored this idea in their minds and there was enough consciousness and momentum (to change).”

The new system levels the playing field for teams at state and eliminates some programs with six or seven qualifiers perhaps having an easier road to the title. The team format expands the number of players that will experience a state tournament from 80 to the mid 110s.

“The worst year for me was when I’m leaving a kid home out of districts that was one of the top 15 in the state,” said Lewis and Clark girls golf coach and athletic director Michelle Grafos, who served on a WIAA committee that helped foster the format change. “I can’t get her out of Spokane because we’re so good. We took second that year. It’s a testament to the power of Spokane golf how much our teams have won despite the fact we haven’t had a lot of kids go to state.”

To be sure, the best team is going to win state most years, regardless of the qualifying process. Bellarmine Prep has had a remarkable run of girls and boys teams. Gonzaga Prep nearly doubled second-place Tahoma en route to its first boys title last month.

The new format has an added benefit: It puts an emphasis on “team.”

“The whole idea of doing something together in a ‘we’ format versus individually is the main thing,” Peters said. “I think you see it at the collegiate level and the guys on the pro tour love those team formats so much, pulling together and for each other.”

The team concept is a welcome change, but some particulars still need to be worked out. State allocations have yet to be announced, but it’s likely District 8 (GSL/MCC) will get two team berths and possibly a third in certain years. Grafos anticipates meetings to determine if the two conferences divide or compete for the berths.

Dougherty played at Bellarmine Prep and experienced the format change in 1989.

“I remember not liking it at all (in 1989),” he said, “especially after three years of the team concept.”

Peters has guided Mead to state titles in 1988 (team format) and three straight from 1991-93 (individual format) in his 31 years as coach.

“I’ve waited 30 years for this to turn around,” Peters laughed. “I might as well stick around and see what it looks like.”


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