A proposed merger of the region’s two largest high school sports leagues will move forward after the Spokane Public Schools board unanimously approved the move Wednesday night.
A merger of the Greater Spokane League and the Great Northern League would offer several major advantages, the board heard during a presentation by Shawn Jordan, the district’s director of secondary schools.
The merger would affect up to 16 high schools throughout Eastern Washington, which would compete in three different classifications during the regular season and the postseason.
It also would prevent the Rogers, Shadle Park and North Central high schools from moving to other leagues.
“It’s in our interest to keep all five of our high schools in the same league,” Jordan said.
But more than anything, it would offer something that some athletes at Rogers High School, for example, have rarely seen.
“It’s about hope,” said Herb Rotchford, director of both the Greater Spokane League and District 8 of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. “It’s about hope that providing kids with the idea that if we work as hard as the other school, we have a reasonable chance to be competitive.”
In the current alignment, Rotchford said, those athletes play in a system “that no matter how hard you work, you’re not going to be competitive.”
The move also is driven by a new rule, passed by the WIAA earlier this year, which factors demographics into the formula for determining classification.
Under the rule, schools with a high percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches may fall to a lower classification.
The proposal, which would go into effect next fall, now moves to the Greater Spokane League board, which includes athletic directors from all 10 GSL schools.
If approved, the schools would compete in three classifications in the regular season and the postseason.
Based on current enrollment projections, the 4A classification would include Lewis and Clark, Gonzaga Prep and Central Valley.
The 3A ranks would include Ferris, University, Cheney, Mead and Mt. Spokane, while the 2A competition would be among Rogers, Shadle Park, West Valley, East Valley, Pullman and Clarkston.
Projections for North Central currently leave it on the cusp between the 3A and 2A ranks. Likewise, Deer Park may move up to 2A and potentially join the new league.
Schools in 2A will not be scheduled to play 4A or 3A schools as a part of scheduling. However, schools may play each other, regardless of classification, if mutually agreed upon.
For Rogers Principal Lori Wyborney, the move would give her student-athletes a more level playing field, in all sports. Instead of facing the likes of Central Valley, LC and Mead, the Pirates would play smaller schools.
Rogers has won only two football games during the past two seasons, both against North Central.
“We don’t have any illusions that moving to 2A will make us state champions,” Wyborney said. “But this might reduce the numbers and the type of football injuries, which have been devastating.”
That message drew favorable comments from the board, including three new members elected last month.
“I like the concept of competitive equity,” said board member Jenny Slagle.
The proposal has some potential drawbacks, including longer road trips in all sports in what would be a far-flung league stretching from Deer Park to Clarkston.
That might take student-athletes out of classes earlier for those trips. However, Wyborney said the effect would be minimal.
For example, the Rogers football team would make at most one long trip per year to either Clarkston or Pullman.
Preparation for those trips “wouldn’t be any different” than now, Wyborney said.
However, Wyborney mentioned the possibility of playing some contests on Saturdays, a practice that Rotchford confirmed is common in other parts of the state.
Another potential drawback is a potential loss of revenue. Currently, all 10 GSL teams share gate receipts, but that would change under the new proposal.
Because their football and basketball crowds are generally smaller than at Central Valley and Mead, the Spokane schools would receive less money, perhaps a few thousand dollars less per school each year.
Looking further ahead, the local composition of the classifications could change, perhaps as soon as fall 2021.
That’s when the Central Valley School District will add a third high school, dropping CV into the 3A ranks. Also, Jordan said that Gonzaga Prep – which has enrollment commensurate with a 2A school but elects to compete at the 4A level – might drop to 3A.
That would leave Lewis and Clark as the only 4A school in the area in the 2020 football season, according to a chart displayed Wednesday night.
In that case, LC – which went 3-7 this year – would automatically receive a playoff berth.
“Now that’s hope,” said board president Jerrall Haynes to the biggest round of laughter of the night.
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