Prep notebook: Falling enrollment hurts local 8-man football programs

Eight-man football, by its very nature, is meant for small rosters and small schools. For Lake Quinault and Wishkah, even that is beginning to be challenged.

Over the past few seasons, roster numbers on the Elks and the Loggers have steadily dropped. This season, both teams began the season with less than 20 players eligible to play. In the future, those roster numbers may get even smaller, even for eight-man standards.

“For us, it comes from a declining enrollment due to the economy,” Lake Quinault athletic director and baseball coach Keith Samplawski said. “We just don’t have as many kids as we’ve had before. We’re shrinking and it’ll get worse as years go on.”

“At Wishkah, the number of boys in high school is decreasing,” Wishkah athletic director Mark Maxfield said. “We just seem to be in a cycle right now. We have a total of nine boys in grades 6-9. While our numbers are OK in the 11th and 12th grades, we’ll be in trouble after next year.”

In Eastern Washington, the majority of eight-man schools are combine schools, most notably Almira-Coulee-Hartline (ACH), Lacrosse-Washtucna and St. John-Endicott. The next season or two may be OK for both Wishkah and Lake Quinault, but is a combine in their future after the 2013-14 seasons?

“I wouldn’t be surprised; that is something at Quinault that’ll be looked into in the near future,” Samplawski added. “Wishkah is shrinking pretty bad right now, too.”

“Keith and I have had a couple of preliminaty discussions about combining, but we are hoping that the numbers change in the next couple of years and we don’t have to combine,” Maxfield added. Maxfield noted that combining the two schools could push them out of the eight-man threshold in enrollment into the 11-man 2B classification.

And, it isn’t just a football problem for these schools either, especially for Samplawski’s beloved baseball program. Baseball at both Quinault and Wishkah have had low numbers over the last two seasons (the latter school also offers track & field).

“A few years ago, we had a Taholah kid play baseball,” Samplawski said. “Now, it wouldn’t be just a luxury, but a necessity. Right now, it’ll get looked at next year or the year after. People aren’t coming out here to live anymore.”

Right now, the programs are safe and will field teams in 2013-14. The future, however, is as cloudy as a fog bank rolling through the forest that surrounds both schools.

Playoff update

Although both teams would have win play-in games to make it happen, fourth-ranked Hoquiam and state poll leader King’s could indeed meet in the opening round of the state 1A playoffs.

This unusually early playoff matchup of state contenders would be the byproduct of district seeding.

The Southwest Washington 1A district assigns its state seedings from the outcomes of four district crossover games on Nov. 2-3, with the Evergreen and Trico league champions alternating as the top seed. So while Evergreen champ Montesano received the top-seeded state berth last year, that distinction would go to Trico League champ La Center (provided that that the Wildcats won their play-in game against the No. 4 Evergreen seed) this year.

With a win over the Trico No. 4 in the play-in game, Hoquiam would therefore claim the district’s second seed. King’s is part of a tri-district operation and also appears destined for something lower than a top seed.

If this matchup materializes, the Grizzlies would have the choice of fields. Hoquiam athletic Brian Grun is hopeful that contest could be played at Olympic Stadium, rather than Aberdeen’s Stewart Field. While the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association mandates that all games from the state quarterfinals on will be played on artificial turf, first-round contests can be played on district-approved grass fields.

Hoquiam is already assured of the Evergreen 1A’s top-seeded playoff berth, with Montesano, Tenino and Elma securing the other three slots. Montesano could lock up the second seed and home-field advantage for the district crossover playoff with a victory Friday at Elma. An Elma victory in the East County Civil War would likely force a three-way tie for second place. In that event, the second through fourth seeds would be determined by coin flips, according to Elma athletic director Rick Rakevich.

Around Southwest Washington

Mark Morris 48, Washougal 0: The state-ranked Monarchs locked up the Greater St. Helens League 2A title with a dominating performance against Washougal. Austin Johnson scored on runs of 42 and 15 yards, while the Mark Morris defense forced five turnovers….Ridgefield 55, R.A. Long 27: Michael Knox scored three touchdowns and Clayton Farr broke a 51-yard scoring run as the Spudders locked up a playoff berth. Ridgefield will host Aberdeen in a Greater St. Helens finale next Friday…Capital 42, Chehalis 15: A battle of state-ranked 2A teams turned into a Cougar romp, as Kia Van Sickle rushed for 214 yards and four touchdowns.

Reports from The Daily News in Longview and The Chronicle of Centralia-Chehalis were included in this article.