"BHS may hop aboard MetroThe Olympic League disbands, bringing big changes"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 7:38 PM
"Goodbye, Olympic League.Hello...?The Bainbridge High School athletic program, on the brink of being abandoned by the schools with which it has played everything but football and club sports for the past five seasons, is scrambling for membership in a new league in which to begin play for the fall 2001 sports season.Recent talk has centered on Seattle's 13-school Metro League, but other possibilities are the Narrows and Pierce County leagues in the south Puget Sound region, as well as the Nisqually League, which includes most small schools around the Olympic Peninsula.There's really no telling just how things will shake out at this point, Bainbridge athletic director Neal White said. We have to wait and see what everyone else is going to do first.White and BHS principal Dave Ellick, who have been exploring and monitoring the Spartan program's possibilities for the past few months, have echoed the voices of several coaches who say their preference - from both a cost and competitive perspective - would be to join the well-regarded, trophy-laden Metro League.We would match up very well size-wise and athletically with their schools, and they have given some indication they would be willing to accept us into their league, Ellick said in a Nov. 1 letter to school board members, who heard a presentation on the topic at their Thursday night meeting.Spartan boys' basketball coach Jeff Eller put it more bluntly: If you're going to be the best, you have to play the best.'Compete with the best'The Metro League has a valid claim to being the best in several sports. In the past school year, league members have won state championships in boys' basketball (Seattle Prep) and girls' track (Holy Names), and have been top-five finishers in girls' basketball, football and swimming, among others.You've got to look across the board at all the programs, and Metro clearly makes the most sense because of its proximity and overall level of competition, said Eller, who coached in the South Puget Sound League before coming to Bainbridge in 1997.Bainbridge girls' basketball coach Penny Gienger agreed.Being in a hard league sets you up for success at state, she said. It makes us work harder every game.Ellick and White have made preliminary overtures to Metro officials, who have offered a mixed response. The private schools in the league - including such state-championship perennials as Blanchet, Eastside Catholic, Holy Names, Lakeside, O'Dea and Seattle Prep - are ready to welcome their public-school counterpart with open arms, said Holy Names athletic director Jana Porter, who serves as the league's president.The public schools, however - including Ballard, Chief Sealth, Nathan Hale and West Seattle - are adopting a wait-and-see attitude, citing potential impacts to their travel times and transportation budgets, Porter said.I personally think it's a good thing, and would like to see Bainbridge Island with us, Porter said. It would be a nice change for our kids to ride the ferry, to stay loose and do their homework on the ferry.A final vote among Metro League athletic directors and principals is due to take place by Nov. 30.This all begs the question: Just what's wrong with the Olympic League?Despite the fact that it's always been a bit of an ill fit for Bainbridge - just one of two 3A classification schools in a nine-school organization of schools scattered between Bremerton and Port Angeles, creating a competitive imbalance in some sports - the Spartan program probably would have stayed put if all eight other schools hadn't decided to bolt.Earlier this year, the Olympic League's five 4A schools - those with more than 1,200 students in grades 10 through 12 - decided their competitive interests would best be served by playing in a league composed of similar-sized schools, White said. As such, they have crafted a proposal that would enable Bremerton, Central KItsap, North Kitsap, Olympic and Port Angeles high schools to join with Gig Harbor, Peninsula and South Kitsap to form a Bridge division of the exclusively 4A Narrows League.At the same time, the league's smaller schools - 2A members Klahowya and Port Townsend, along with 3A Sequim and 3A Pierce County League school North Mason - banded together to propose a split from the Olympic League and join the 2A/3A Nisqually League.Both proposals were accepted this week by Narrows and Nisqually athletic directors. A final, binding vote by principals from the schools in both leagues is set for Monday.It appears to me that it's a done deal, Ellick said.Neither Bainbridge nor the schools from those two leagues particularly want Bainbridge, White and Ellick said.The Narrows League, in fact, has already rejected the idea of accepting Bainbridge as a 3A school - meaning that the Spartan program would have to opt up as a 4A program and play exclusively 4A schools. That would cause not only a potential competitive imbalance - imagine Bainbridge's football team playing perennial 4A state championship contender South KItsap - but create 3A playoff qualifying problems for virtually every sport, White said.Bainbridge would have similar problems from the opposite end of the spectrum in the Nisqually League. The Spartans would be likely league champions in several sports, but many of those contests would be non-competitive - as they have been in, say, Bainbridge girls' basketball games against Klahowya and Chimacum in recent years. And with no other 3A league opponents than Sequim and North Mason, two schools that just barely rise above the minimum 3A allocation standard of 600 students in the upper three grades, 3A playoff qualifying and preparation would also be a problem, several Bainbridge coaches say.Another possibility is the Pierce County League, in which Bainbridge has played football for the past several seasons. While it meets the crucial standard of being an exclusive 3A league, with a reasonable competitive balance across the sports spectrum, it's seen as an unattractive option for Bainbridge because of travel time and expense.Imagine how fun it would be having our kids traveling to White River (in Buckley, in extreme east Pierce County) for a Tuesday night basketball game, Ellick said.Cheaper to go by ferry?According to White and Ellick, the budget-crunched school district would save money transporting its athletes across the ferry to Seattle for Metro League games. Their preliminary calculations show that each round trip to Seattle for games would take about the same as time as trips now to Pierce County - approximately seven hours. Bus mileage costs more than ferry fare, however, they say, and as such the average visit to a Metro League school - about 20 road miles - would cost the district $215, as opposed to $250 for the average Olympic League trip and $335 for the average PCL jaunt of more than 150 round-trip miles.Because travel times would be similar, there would be no fewer early dismissals from school for athletes, White and Ellick said. In fact, White told school board members bluntly: I think it's on the edge of being worse.It's a situation not unfamiliar to Spartan athletics, however. Bainbridge competed in the WesCo Conference, composed of schools in Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties, for 10 seasons in the mid-'80s through mid-'90s.I've always thought it's better for the kids to take the ferry to a game than just ride on the bus, said Bainbridge girls' basketball coach Penny Gienger, whose tenure stretches back to those WesCo years. You can do a lot more on the ferry - get up and walk around, pull out books and do homework. It's better than riding to Port Angeles and having the bus driver yell at you to get your legs between the seats because you're trying to stretch out.The Metro League scenario is not without its problems, however.For one, its golf season is in the fall, meaning that Spartan golfers who also play a fall sport now would have to drop one of those activities. Another problem is that the Metro League has a co-ed swim-and-dive season in the winter, which would clash with the championship-caliber Spartan girls' program and its current fall campaign.If Bainbridge moves into the Metro, the swim-and-dive girls would be placed in the awkward position of qualifying in non-league meets for 3A district and state events - then launching into their regular season. A more likely option would be to allow that program to opt out of the Metro into another 3A league with a segregated fall season, such as the KingCo League of eastern King County schools.If one program is allowed to opt out, however, that could set a precedent of other programs attempting to do the same to serve their own competitive interests - thus potentially causing the thread to fray and possibly unravel as it's being woven.For now, however, all talk is purely speculative. But, as Ellick put it, things around Bainbridge sports are moving fast.The cement is becoming harder each day, he said. "