Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

Reclassification shuffles the deck for area schools


Every two, and four years in the state of Washington there is lobbying, nervous pacing and the accompanying disappointment that comes with not winning the day.

And this has nothing to do with elections and politics.

When reclassification time rolls around for the state’s high schools, there’s plenty at stake. And like what takes place at the ballot box, what is decided can have some lasting ramifications.

The newest round of reclassification is now set and will carry schools in the state through the 2016 school year when numbers will be crunched again and some adjustments can take place.

In the previous cycle, which took place four years ago, Medical Lake was the center of attention as falling enrollment, due in large part to changes in personnel stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, left the school on a tenuous tightrope. The school was teetering between being the little fish in the big 2A pool, or one of the top dogs in the 1As.

Ultimately Medical Lake was denied a special request to drop to 1A when enrollment was still barely in 2A, but when numbers officially allowed after two years, the Cardinals jumped from the AA Great Northern to the Northeast A League.

Now, Cheney is in the classification crosshairs, not like Medical Lake was with its enrollment, but rather because two GNL member schools, Colville and Deer Park, have seen their numbers fall to the 1A level and will join the NEA this fall.

Problem is that leaves Cheney in the new five-team GNL a situation that has caused headaches for athletic directors as they try to figure out scheduling for the next couple of years.

GNL athletic directors were asked to comment on the changes but none responded for this story.

“Every four years we go through this process trying to make each classification as equal as possible,” Washington Interscholastic Activities Association District 7 director, Russ Brown, said. “It’s kind of a crapshoot as to what happens.”

Cheney, faced a similar situation in 2002 when changing numbers forced them, along with West Valley and Clarkston, to an experimental stay as a then 3A school competing in the 4A Greater Spokane League through 2006. It is a time that is not looked back upon with much fondness.

“Everybody’s playing where their numbers are, and that’s where Cheney is going to play – where our numbers are,” Cheney athletics director Jim Missel said in a Jan. 16 Cheney Free Press story. “We learned our lesson.” Cheney currently has 893 students in grades 9-11.

New enrollment numbers shifted the range in the 2A schools from 472 to 990.8 from the previous 512-1,085. And as a result Deer Park’s 461 students in grades 9-11 and Colville’s 449, shuffled down a tier.

The Northeast A League is the beneficiary with a new look that will now include eight teams in the revised 1A class that features enrollments between 225 and 471.9 students. Medical Lake lists a 9-11 enrollment of 413. “It’s looking really good for us,” Medical Lake athletics director, Chris Spring said. “It’s a really solid league with no byes.”

“No matter what you do there’s going to be unhappy schools at one end or the other of the spectrum,” Spring said. “It’s never perfect for everybody. We’re just glad we’re still an A school.”

That’s more than can be said for some Caribou Trail League schools in Central Washington which lost four schools. The league, located in a remote section of the state, saw three move down to 2B and Quincy up to 2A.

“That decimated that league,” Brown said. “There’s a process that they are going through trying to survive.”

Actually the league is down to three – they’re called the “Three C’s , Chelan, Cascade and Cashmere – because Omak, the other 1A school is going to play as an independent in a 2B league,” Brown explained.

In a way the same thing happened to the GNL, Brown said.

“So what we did in District 7 is we invited some Idaho schools, starting with Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, Priest River, Lakeland, Moscow, etc. to come to our meetings,” Brown said. “We were trying to fill the holes for nonleague activities for the next two years and it worked out very, very well.”

For the most part football was the focus, Brown said, but the group conferred on all sports.

The WIAA tends to be the target every time reclassification rears its head. But it’s the member schools that make the recommendations and rules they live by regarding classification, WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said.

“The membership has to decide if they believe their number one philosophy is to equalize the number of schools in each classification,” Colbrese said. “As long as that’s the number one philiosophy then that’s going to drive everything we do.”

“I can tell you there’s not a state association where everybody thinks their classification system works,” Colbrese, who has worked in similar associations in Montana and Wyoming before assuming the lead of the WIAA, said.

(Next week: We look at how Idaho and Oregon compare with Washington when it comes to classifying their schools for activities.)

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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