When first informed of a potential combined Class 2A/1A league that would include four Grays Harbor schools, one area administrator reportedly expressed the belief that it would benefit Aberdeen but not necessarily the 1A teams.
Strangely, my first impression was precisely the opposite. The new league should represent a positive development for Southwest Washington 1A schools. But it represents a mixed bag for Aberdeen.
Plans for the proposed Evergreen 2A/1A League, which would begin operation next fall, were unveiled late last week. It would include existing Evergreen 1A members Hoquiam, Elma, Montesano, Forks, Tenino and Rochester (the latter moving up to the 2A classification), Class 2A Aberdeen and erstwhile Nisqually 1A League stalwart Eatonville for most sports over the next two years. Aberdeen is seeking to retain membership in the Evergreen 2A Conference in girls swimming and boys tennis, two sports that the combined league would not offer.
With the exception of potential mismatches in some sports (more on this later), the plan contains few negatives for the 1A schools involved.
A month ago, Evergreen 1A members were bracing for the possibility of a four-team league — with Elma and Rochester being projected moving up to 2A and Rainier dropping to 2B.
With Elma remaining at the 1A level, the retention of Rochester and the addition of Aberdeen and Eatonville clearly strengthens the league in several respects. The quality of competition will improve for 1A teams, scheduling should be simplified and attendance should increase. Old rivalries will be retained and interesting new ones will be created.
There are some benefits from Aberdeen’s standpoint as well.
There’s little doubt that scheduling Elma and Montesano on a regular basis will produce larger crowds than match-ups with River Ridge and Washougal, for example.
Aberdeen-Hoquiam contests in several sports have become an endangered species in recent years. Bobcat-Grizzly dual track meets, for example, have been few and far between of late.
Althought they’ve usually been staged, recent Aberdeen-Hoquiam confrontations in baseball and softball have been been subjected to numerous postponements due to policies that give league make-up games top priority in terms of scheduling. Now those games will be league affairs.
Aberdeen’s two-year football-only sojourn into the Greater St. Helens 2A League was a generally successful experiment, as the Bobcats were healthier (both literally and competitively) in that circuit than they had been against the likes of Tumwater and Chehalis in the rugged Evergreen 2A Conference.
That experiment, however, had evidently run its course and joining a combined 1A/2A league represented the most viable alternative to again running the gauntlet of Evergreen 2A football.
Yet some reservations persist about Aberdeen’s participation in an mixed-classification league for all sports.
Aberdeen athletic director Ken Ashlock’s contention that the Bobcats were playing for fourth or fifth place in the Evergreen 2A Conference applies to perhaps half its sports, at the most.
The Cats are traditional Evergreen 2A powers in boys soccer, girls swimming and girls golf. Aberdeen’s softball team usually ranks among the league’s title contenders. Only an inability to close out close contests prevented the Bobcats from sweeping three games from eventual state champion Chehalis in baseball last spring.
The old adage that tough competition makes you stronger is generally true. Bobcat coaches have legitimate cause for concern that a combined 1A/2A league could negatively impact their teams’ preparation for 2A postseason competition. The Evergreen 1A League traditionally has been strong at the top and weak at the bottom in most sports.
The Bobcats, for example, should be tested by such foes as Montesano, Hoquiam and Elma in softball. But an Aberdeen-Forks doubleheader in that sport, if both teams perform at their historic levels, would be such a rout that it is unlikely to do either party any good.
Any potential benefit to Aberdeen probably depends on how three questions will be answered.
• Can AHS officials schedule enough quality non-league contests to compensate for the occasional league mismatch?
These non-leaguers, for the most part, need to be spread throughout the season. The Aberdeen boys soccer team’s preparation for a district tournament in May would suffer if all its toughest contests are scheduled for March.
• Will the remaining members of the Evergreen 2A Conference, spurned in most sports, be willing to accommodate Aberdeen in girls swimming and boys tennis in addition to scheduling some non-leaguers in football and basketball?
There is, incidentally, some hypocrisy in the reported ire displayed by Evergreen 2A representatives over Aberdeen’s planned defection. Some Olympia and Lewis County teams traditionally have regarded road trips to the Harbor with the same degree of fondness they would apply to playing an Iranian team in Tehran.
• Will Aberdeen’s access to postseason competition be determined in an equitable manner?
Since high school athletic politics often make the Congressional budget squabbles appear mild by comparison, this could be a problem. Simply finishing ahead of Rochester in league play shouldn’t automatically qualify Aberdeen for postseason 2A competition. At the same time, a league champion Bobcat team shouldn’t be always shuttled to the back of the bus in terms of playoff access.
All things considered, I like the combined Evergreen 1A/2A League for football. The jury is still out on its viability in other sports.
The verdict may not be rendered until 2015.
Rick Anderson: (360) 537-3924 and email@example.com