Going The Rounds — Given recent events, it is time to treat football issues differently

One post-retirement position I’d be interested in taking would be a currently non-existent job as the all-powerful czar of Southwest Washington prep athletics.

Not the District IV administrator’s post that Montesano athletic director Tim Trimble and his Tumwater counterpart Tim Graham will be sharing following the retirement of Rich Frazer. I’m willing to let them handle the day-to-day operations of the association, such as dealing with eligibility issues.

My dream job would entail becoming the final arbiter on scheduling, tournament siting and league composition matters.

The one stipulation is that my power would be as absolute as Third World dictators and the title character in “The Wizard of Oz.” No lawsuits or appeals to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association would be permitted.

While a certain amount of dissent would be allowed, some gulags might need to be constructed in the Vader area to house dissidents if objections to my rulings get out of hand.

Granted, the odds of these conditions being granted are slightly longer than San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh agreeing to hoist the 12th Man flag at a Seattle Seahawks home game. Nevertheless, here are the key planks in my platform.

• District playoff games in all sports would be staged at geographically logical sites whenever possible. A Hoquiam-Elma district baseball contest, for example, would be played in Aberdeen rather than Castle Rock.

• District and regional baseball and softball tournaments would be moved up a couple of days so that a single day of rain wouldn’t wreak havoc in state tourney preparations.

• Aberdeen would be allowed to join a combined 2A/1A league in football but would remain in the Evergreen 2A Conference in all other sports.

• The new Willapa Valley-Pe Ell combine would play in the Central League in baseball and softball and the Pacific League in football. Valley’s membership in the Pacific League would continue in the sports in which the Vikings would field independent teams.

My reasoning on the latter two topics can be summed up in eight words: Football should be treated differently than other sports.

By its very nature, football is one sport in which school enrollment and roster size makes a huge difference. It almost goes without saying that a gridiron squad that is able to two-platoon with a 60-man roster has a significant advantage over one that suits up 25 or 30 players.

Although the practice has come under fire of late, there is a long tradition of Southwest Washington schools competing in one league in football and another in other sports.

Aberdeen and Hoquiam played in the Southwest Washington League in football and the Black Hills League in other sports for many years a couple of generations ago.

Due to small turnout numbers, South Bend’s football team operated as an 8-man independent for a time without jeopardizing the school’s Pacific League membership in other sports. Thorp, a tiny school located west of Ellensburg, even faced the likes of Taholah and Lake Quinault in league play for a couple of years in football. It would have been ludicrous to require cross-state trips for those 1B schools in basketball or volleyball.

A remarkable run of female athletes enabled Wishkah to dominate the likes of Raymond, South Bend and Willapa Valley in Pacific League play en route to four consecutive district girls basketball championships (and one state title) in the mid-1990s. I don’t recall any Pacific League administrators at the time demanding that the Loggers play 11-man football as a condition for staying in the circuit in other sports.

Many leagues these days, however, have taken a harder line on dual membership. Aberdeen officials wanted to continue in the Evergreen 2A Conference in a handful of sports, but EVCO representatives rejected that option.

A lot of half-truths, both pro and con, have been circulated in the wake of Aberdeen’s controversial decision to join a newly created combined 2A/1A league for all sports.

One unmistakable truth is that Aberdeen’s 2011 football season, the last in which the Bobcats competed against the likes of Tumwater and Chehalis in the Evergreen 2A Conference, was one of the most injury-riddled in school history. Team trainer Trinity Parris spent as much time on the field during Bobcat home games that season as some of the AHS lettermen.

Outgoing Aberdeen athletic director Ken Ashlock is adamant that the future of all sports was considered before the shift to the 1A/2A league was undertaken. But when district officials cite safety and competitive concerns as the basis for the move, it’s a pretty good bet they are not talking about girls swimming, a sport in which Aberdeen routinely beat combined Tumwater/Black Hills and Centralia/Chehalis teams.

The current flap over the Willapa Valley-Pe Ell merger is more complicated.

Valley and Pe Ell, members of different leagues but each possessing enrollments that would put them in the 1B classification, have been opting to compete at the 2B level. Pe Ell has won recent state 2B championships in softball, boys basketball and girls track as a 1B-sized school.

Last month, however, the schools agreed to combine in softball, baseball and football — with declining male enrollments cited as the reason for joining forces in football. The combine is petitioning for Central League membership in the above three sports, with Valley hoping to remain in the Pacific League in the sports in which they would compete as an independent entity.

This plan has drawn fire from several quarters, particularly from Pacific League representatives upset about losing the traditional football rivalries with Valley and possible postseason allotments.

Although I’m not certain Saddam Hussein or Idi Amin expressed similar sentiments, one problem with being an all-powerful czar is that dissidents sometimes make valid points. There are several in this instance, ranging from the seemingly precipitous timing of the merger (several months after football schedules in both leagues had been drafted) to the rationale behind the decision.

“The difference here is that Valley and Pe Ell are both 1B schools that are opting up,” South Bend football coach and athletic director Tom Sanchez said. “Now they’re saying that their numbers are down enough so that combining is warranted. They’re defeating their first argument. Playing in one league in one sport and playing in another league in another sport, I have a hard time with that,”

Clearly, Willapa Valley shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the Pacific League in boys basketball and the Central League in girls basketball, for example. Football, however, represents a different animal.

Both geographically and competitively, a Valley-Pe Ell football combine would be a much better fit for the Pacific League than the Central. Erstwhile Class 1A school Rainier, which was dragged kicking and screaming into the Pacific League in all sports, could then be granted its wish to compete in the Central League to fill the vacancy created by Pe Ell’s departure.

Many of the disputes over league alignments, state allotments and the like could be avoided if the state adopted different classification standards for football (in which teams would not be forced to play opponents twice its enrollment size) than other sports.

Having seven classifications for football (with streamlined playoffs in some classes) and five in other sports wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Among other things, it would permit the restoration of the enormously popular unified state Class B basketball tournament.

If anyone’s asking, however, I’m not lobbying to become the all-powerful czar of the WIAA — as tempting as that might be. That position might be too much for one person to handle.

Rick Anderson: (360) 537-3924; randerson@thedailyworld.com.


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