February 20, 2014 | Vol. 117 -- No. 44

Reclassification: Looking how our neighbors approach it

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series looking at high school reclassification.)

There’s a lot that’s alike when it comes to how the schools in the state of Washington, and those in the neighboring states of Idaho and Oregon, organize their athletics and activities.

But there are significant differences, too, in how each reaches its end result.

Each state has six classifications with similar enrollment numbers, which allows a Cheney to play a Lakeland and a Medical Lake to compete against Milton Freewater on the football field.

Each state, however, populates those classifications differently.

Washington had decided in 2006 to try to make each of their classifications have as close to an equal number of schools as possible.

The six classes range in size from 59 in the 2Bs to 65 in the 4A and 3As. Washington’s largest classification is 4A where schools are 1,252.4 and bigger. The smallest, the 1Bs, are between 26-89.9 in enrollment.

“The difference between what we do in this state and what other states do, is that our system requires that there be an equal number of schools in each classification,” Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association said.

Initially, that seemed like a good idea, Colbrese said, but then when the rule got added by the membership that WIAA had to honor opt-ups as part of that equalization, “It is an administrative and emotional nightmare,” he said.

In neighboring Idaho the classes range from 5A with schools of enrollments of 1,280 and over – Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston among them – to 1A Division II where Mullan and Clark Fork compete in the 99 and lower class.

Oregon’s top classification, 6A features schools of 1,480 and larger. Their 5A’s range from 870-1,479 while on the opposite end Oregon’s 1A class is 105 and smaller. There are 293 schools in the Oregon School Activities Association.

“We were under a four-class system for along time,” Peter Weber, OSAA assistant executive director, said. “In 2006 we went to six classes and that was pretty controversial, as are most discussions around classifications.”

The driving point at the time was competitiveness, Weber explained.

“Specifically in two of our classifications at that time our 4A, the largest one and our 2A, our ratios had gotten pretty significant to the point where they were over a 3-1 ratio,” Weber said. “For example at the 4A we had 900 competing with schools of 3,000. The schools of 900 were not very happy about that,” he said.

Oregon has floated the idea of equalizing the numbers in classes but talk is as far as it went. “We’ve talked about it, say hey, we have 300 schools in six classifications, 50 each, draw the line and away you go,” Weber said.

“What we have starting next year our 6A will be 51 schools, our 5A is only 33 schools just because where people fall,” Weber explained. “It isn’t necessarily ideal, we think it’s going to work and give us some decent league sizes.”

There are no major changes planned in the immediate future in Idaho, John Billetz, executive director of the Idaho High School Activities Association said. That might be because things have been relatively stable there.

“I’ve been here for eight years and we haven’t changed, ours has been pretty much stationary,” Billetz, who will retire this summer, said.

That may change down the road. “One thing we have found, we’re growing on both ends,” Billetz said. “We’re growing at our big schools and we’re growing at our smaller schools.”

Bigger, urban schools, primarily in the Boise, Idaho Falls and Pocatello areas grow as more families move to the city. The lower classifications grow because of charter schools

“We’re really starting to lose some of our 3As and 2 As,” Billetz said. “Our fours and fives seem to be growing, and our ones seem to be growing.”

As with Washington, both Idaho and Oregon went through the reclassification dance. Each works on two and four-year calendars.

“Ours is a two-year cycle, we reclassify every two years,” Billetz, said. “We’ll start our new process next year,” he said.

At the beginning of the cycle in 2015-16 the IHSAA will take enrollment numbers from the State Department of Education. “We’ll get those in November and March,” Billetz explained. “We take the two add them together and divide them by two; that’s where you fall in relation to classification.”

There are some tweaks that then take place with the addition of alternative programs, home schooled and virtual school students.

Any changes in classification or movement of schools is then given to ISHAA’s classification committee. “We meet, we sit down, we entertain proposals from our schools,” Billetz said, but the status quo will probably still rule the immediate future.

Notable changes in Oregon out of their reclassification came with the formation of what Weber called “hybrid” leagues which combine some classes. “We did that in areas of the state where there just weren’t enough to have one classification,” he said. Oregon has three combination leagues featuring 5A and 4A schools and one 3A, 2A.

Washington operated with a single classification until 1945, went to two in 1942 – splitting off the B schools. Two became three from 1958-68 when the 1A class formed. In 1969 a 2A class formed and in 1998 came the split of the B schools.

There are no major changes on the radar to the present construction of the WIAA, maybe just a little remodeling. “We’re looking at the system, and what can we do to make it better,” Colbrese said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

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