Seated at a table at Mazatlan Restaurant in Aberdeen, representatives of the Twin Harbors’ smallest schools gathered just before the Christmas holiday for what would become the final meeting of the Coastal League.
On Dec. 21, five of the league’s six athletic directors voted to dissolve the small-school league and turn independent. Before the final vote, the league handed down postseason bans on Taholah High School’s track & field program and the school’s athletic department overall.
The meeting was the final act of a long drama that began in April, but has roots in issues, complaints and actions for years, according to documents received through Freedom of Information Act inquiries. All that is left are appeals to the actions taken and more questions to be answered.
On Jan. 10, lawyers for the Taholah School District filed an appeal of both actions taken against its athletic programs and an appeal against the league’s dissolution. Jerry Walther, Taholah’s head girls basketball coach and interim athletic director, noted that he was unable to comment, based on the advice of attorneys.
On Jan. 10, WIAA District IV director Rich Frazer received certified mail from lawyers representing the Taholah School District that the school was appealing all three decisions handed down at the Dec. 21 meeting.
While it is unknown when the district will meet with Taholah and its lawyers to address the issues, one area of concern for the six Class 1B schools — Taholah, Lake Quinault, Mary M Knight, Oakville, Wishkah and North River — is the status of postseason play.
“Right now, I am in conversations with several parties over crieteria and rules that will govern the district (basketball) tournaments,” Frazer said last week.
The district will have to draw up two formats for the basketball tournaments — one with Taholah included and one without the Chitwhins— in anticipation of a resolution to the current situation, noted Frazer.
Another issue concerning postseason play is the inclusion of District V in Eastern Washington, which must be included in the process to draw up the postseason criteria and tournament, according to Frazer.
The WIAA Class 1B regional tournaments are scheduled to begin on Feb. 22-23 and the state 1B tournament in Spokane starts one week later.
The dissolution of the league nullified the league’s regular-season schedule, allowing the schools freedom to schedule any games they wish to as independents. Currently, three former Coastal League schools — Lake Quinault, Mary M. Knight and Wishkah — have cancelled basketball games with Taholah, which hasn’t played any games since Dec. 28.
One cause for the cancellations was the main reason stated for the league’s dissolution: issues over sportsmanship, compliance/eligibility and safety with Chitwhin teams.
“I’ve been concerned for a few years about different things that I didn’t agree with that Taholah have done,” Lake Quinault athletic director and District IV 1B board member Keith Samplawski said. “I thought it was because of our rivalry. But then, talking to other schools inside and outside the league, most other schools had the same concerns. So, why would I then subject our students to playing Taholah if others (inside and outside the league) won’t?
“This is the ending to a long story that has been written over the last few years.”
How did this transpire?
There were three actions taken during the Dec. 21 meeting that are now central to the story — two of them dealt with postseason bans for Taholah’s track & field program and Taholah’s entire athletic department and the last decision on a 4-1 vote to dissolve the league.
Prior to the final vote to dissolve the league, the five school representatives — Samplawski, Mary M. Knight superintendent Beth Daneker, North River’s Sean Pierson, Oakville’s Ron Hawley and Wishkah’s Mark Maxfield — took action on the items concerning Taholah. Frazer was also present but there was no Taholah representative on hand at the meeting. Samplawski, the former president of the league, noted that Taholah was told about the Dec. 21 meeting, but no one showed up.
The first action was a postseason ban for the Taholah track & field program for the 2013 season in response to a WIAA fact-finding over “misleading” information given to gain eligibility of then-junior track sprinter Justin Curleybear.
The second action was a one-calendar year postseason ban on the entire Taholah athletic department “as a result of numerous sportsmanship, compliance/eligibility and serious safety issues,” as stated in the minutes of the Dec. 21 meeting.
Both postseason ban actions were ratified by a 5-0 vote, according to the meeting minutes report.
In a summary of previous league athletic director meetings, Taholah was represented by then-athletic director Melissa Straka, superintendent Lynn Roberts, school board president Mel Adams and interim athletic director Walther.
Walther asked why Straka was excluded from previous meetings at a Nov. 30 meeting in Aberdeen. Samplawski insisted that this was not the case and “it was Taholah’s decision not to have (Straka) attend or be dismissed from these meetings.”
During a Nov. 13 league meeting with Roberts and Adams present, the athletic directors expressed a long list of concerns regarding the Chitwhins. Roberts and Adams said that they would take those concerns to a school board meeting on Nov. 19.
Those remedies — have police and medical personnel at home games, having an administrator at all home and away games and community meetings to discuss issues — were given at a league meeting on Nov. 26.
“After talking with other athletic directors, I feel the lack of remedies to the league concerns ultimately led to the decisions that were made,” Samplawski said. “It appeared to the league that most of the remedies offered by Taholah were already in place and the league did not see how this would calm our concerns. As a league, we were hoping to get answers to our concerns that made it feel like a change would occur. The extended time (between the incidents, meetings on issues and the final decisions) was simply a way to allow Taholah with more time to respond to our concerns.”
At the Dec. 11 meeting, the league asked Straka and school board member Ken Stevens for further remedies to their concerns. After several attempts at communicating with Straka, according to Samplawski, no response was given by Taholah. On Dec. 21, the league voted to dissolve.