Big changes are coming to the Narrows League.
The 30-year-old sports and activity league has granted admission to Capital, North Thurston, Timberline and Yelm high schools, ensuring that the conference will increase in size and become a multi-classification league.
“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.”
If no other schools join, the Narrows League will have 15 high schools. Any changes will take effect beginning next fall.
No decisions regarding schedules or possible league divisions have been determined. However, two committees have been formed to explore various scenarios.
One idea gaining momentum is to play round-robin schedules in every sport except football. For football, teams would play league games against schools from the same classification.
For the past two seasons, the football teams in the four-school 3A Western Cascade Conference have joined forces with the 3A schools in the Olympic League to form an eight-team Olympic Western League for football only.
And there’s another factor.
The enrollment counts for the 2010-12 cycle won’t be released until December and a handful of Narrows League schools are hovering near the 3A/4A cut-off. For the 2008-10 enrollment cycle, the maximum population of 10-12 graders for 3A schools was 1,280 students. That figure will fluctuate, however, because classifications are based on percentages – the largest 17 percent of the state’s schools will be 4A, the next 17 percent will be 3A and so on. Just how high or low that dividing line will move, no one knows.
At Yelm, Nelson is anxiously waiting for the final tallies. The Tornados are currently the fifth-largest 3A school.
“From January to June, we were at 1,240 students,” he said. “In September, we’re 1,301. I was a lot more confident in June that we would be 3A. Right now, I would say we’re borderline.”
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. For Capital, it will rejoin the Narrows League for the first time since 2006 when it was 4A.
There has been speculation that Peninsula, which is in the same school district as Gig Harbor, might seek to join the Narrows League. Seahawks athletic director Curtiss Hall said his school will remain in the SPSL 3A.
The SPSL, the largest conference in Washington with 27 schools, could find itself the target location of at least one reclassified school.
Mount Rainier’s enrollment is creeping close to the current dividing line of 1,280 students. Athletic director Darren Rawie admitted that it is possible that the Rams could be reclassified into 4A. Mount Rainier’s location in Des Moines makes the SPSL an obvious candidate to take in the Rams if they become 4A, but Rawie said he did not want to speculate on what league the school might be affiliated with next fall.
“We are watching the enrollment count very carefully,” he said. “At the moment, I think we will be 3A size. We’ll know a lot more in December.”
Olympian staff writer Meg Wochnick contributed to this report.