Students will benefit from league changes

Once again, high school sports officials are shaking up league assignments. The 30-year-old Narrows League is about to add Capital, North Thurston, Timberline and Yelm high schools to the conference, making it a multi-classification league with schools of different enrollments.

The realignment is good because high school athletes won’t have too far to travel for their out-of-town games. That’s important on school nights when student athletes need time to do their homework and get sufficient sleep to be alert for classes the next day.

In the late 1990s some local league assignments were way out of whack.

Olympia and Capital high schools, for example, belonged to the Rivers League until 1999 and had to travel to Camas and Vancouver for their away games.

When Capital soccer students were involved in a minor traffic accident on one of those two-hour road trips, the mishap raised awareness over the crazy league alignment.

Students were spending four hours an evening traveling to sporting events, not to mention the time in competition. They missed too much class time, and team buses weren’t returning to the school parking lot until after midnight. Yet students were expected to be at class – with their homework complete – early in the morning.

With a spread-out league, it’s also difficult for parents and school supporters to find the time for long commutes to out-of-town competition. Parents want to be supportive of their teenage sons and daughters, but lengthy travel schedules limit parental involvement.

As that frightening soccer team incident demonstrated, more time on the road increases the risk for accidents – for athletes and their supporters.

With steady leadership from school administrators, principals and high school athletic directors, a move to establish a local league for local schools took root.

While no system is perfect, at least most local teams have spent the last decade competing relatively close to home.

The new 15-member Narrows League, which is scheduled to take effect with next fall’s sports schedule, is drawing local support.

“This is a good fit for us and (Capital, North Thurston and Timberline),” said Yelm athletic director Thad Nelson. “We really got put in a bind two years ago when the Western Cascade Conference went down to four teams. That was far, far from ideal.”

Committees are working on schedules and league divisions. The current maximum 10-12 enrollment for 3A schools is 1,280 students. That number may change because state rules say 4A schools will be made up of the largest 17 percent of the high schools. Yelm is one of those schools on the edge between 3A and 4A with 1,240 students.

River Ridge could be in the same position as Yelm. The Class 2A school had 900 students in grades 10-12 two years ago, and was 18 students short from becoming 3A.

Four Narrows League schools – Bellarmine Prep, Gig Harbor, Lincoln and Wilson – “opt up” to compete in 4A.

Of the projected 15 teams in the new Narrows League, six are in South Sound – Capital, North Thurston, Timberline, Yelm in 3A and Olympia and Shelton in 4A. The remaining nine are in Pierce and Kitsap counties.

The good thing is, most participating schools will be within a one-hour travel window.

Athletics are an important part of the high school experience for those students who choose to participate. But athletics must not be their main goal. Getting a solid education and learning to think critically should be every high school athlete’s primary mission.

Having an athletic schedule that complements – and does not compete with – classroom work is the responsibility of principals, athletic directors and coaches. The realignment of the Narrows League fits that goal.