MENLO — Willapa Valley and Pe Ell will join forces for three sports beginning next fall.
The school boards for both districts unanimously voted Monday to combine for football, baseball and softball in the 2014-15 school year, Willapa Valley Superintendent Rob Friese reported.
The Vikings and Trojans will field independent teams in other sports. While Willapa Valley will remain in the Pacific League while operating independently, the combined teams will petition to play in the Central League.
That would mean reshuffing Valley’s previously formulated football schedule and at least temporarily end its gridiron rivalries with Raymond and South Bend. Friese said District IV officials discouraged membership in different leagues for different sports.
“I would love to continue to play in the Pacific League (in football),” Friese said. “We have to do what’s best for District IV and what’s less impactful.”
Declining enrollment was the primary reason for the most recent merger. Willapa Valley and Pe Ell, both Class 1B-sized schools, have opted up to play at the Class 2B level for the past couple of years and currently rank as the state’s two smallest 2B schools.
As importantly, neither school was able to field a junior high football team last fall. Valley’s enrollment in ninth through 11th grades is projected to be 67 students in two years.
“When you are playing teams three times your size in football, you need more kids and there is a concern about safety,” said Friese, Willapa Valley’s former football coach.
Increased travel and potentially smaller gate receipts were among the factors weighing against playing at the 1B level.
“In reality, our community doesn’t want to see eight-man football and I don’t think Pe Ell wants to see eight-man football,” Friese said. “I think that’s one of the reasons for not taking the 1B option.”
Willapa Valley students, meanwhile, will be playing high school baseball and softball for the first time and will be joining established Pe Ell programs in both spring sports. Valley will be the first Willapa Harbor school to offer either sport since South Bend dropped baseball in the 1980s.
“It’s been talked about for quite a while to get baseball and fastpitch for the school,” Friese said.
Friese said the combined teams will likely split home games between the two sites. Other decisions, such as the team name, mascot, colors and coaching staffs, are pending.
“That’s the $1,000 question,” he noted. “We will probably open those (coaching) positions very soon, have a hiring committee and make those decisions.”
Willapa Valley and Pe Ell are joining a growing trend of Southwest Washington schools offering combined athletic programs.
Morton and White Pass have been very successful of late joining forces in all sports. Wishkah and Lake Quinault combined for baseball this spring and will merge for all boys sports next season.
Friese conceded that the merger could expand in future years.
“If this works out well, there is a possibility (a combine) would be coming in all sports in a few years,” he said.