Sports

BHS A.D. no fan of pre-Metro days

“When are we getting out of the Metro League?” is a question that BHS athletic director Neal White has been asked on more than one occasion during the past few months.

“When we move the island closer to Olympia,” is his stock response.

When the Olympic League disbanded, Bainbridge basically had two choices, White explains.

One was to join the Pierce County League, in which the Spartan football team already competed in.

“But that would have meant a lot of trips across the Narrows Bridge,” he said. “That’s okay for district competition, but not on a regular basis.” Geography favored the other choice, which was Metro.

The problem was a familiar one: the teams faced something similar during their 10 years in the Wesco League, from the mid-80s to mid-90s.

“There were five Edmonds-area schools,” White explains. “Taking the ferry became a way of life for us. It was better for the kids than driving. But trips that took 45 minutes then are now up to two hours.”

When Bainbridge rejoined the Olympic League in 1995, it was with visions of several additional teams in the same category. But Bremerton soon moved up to 4A, while the new Klahowya never moved up to 3A. That left Bainbridge and Sequim as the only remaining 3A schools, and virtually automatic state tournament berths for many Spartan teams.

There was actually a third option in addition to Metro and PCL, White adds: moving up to the 4A level.

But with Bainbridge solidly in the center of the 3A classification – the school currently has a stable population of about 930 students in grades 10-12, and the 4A level begins at 1201 – he doesn’t foresee that enrollment increase happening for at least a decade. In the meantime, playing 4A would probably place the Spartans at a significant competitive disadvantage.

A fourth option – based on a couple of iffy propositions – is possible, though not likely.

If the North Kitsap district adds a second high school, both the new school and NK might come in at the 3A level. If Klahowya rises in enrollment from its 2A level – which White views as unlikely – that might form the nucleus of a new league which would also include Sequim and North Mason.

“So as a middle ground 3A school, I don’t feel like we had any choice at all,” White says. “The administration and the student body have supported the move, and so has the community for the most part.

“I still feel like it was a good move for us, and there haven’t been a lot of surprises,” White said.

There are certainly a number of positive elements of playing in Metro, White said:

* There’s been better coverage from the Seattle media.

* The longest trip off the ferry is 20-25 minutes, and the kids can study while they’re on the boat.

* The teams visit multi-cultural communities.

* The level of competition in sports such as basketball helps to raise the level of Spartan programs.

* Parents who work in Seattle can often go directly from their jobs to watch their kids play.

Nevertheless, there have been some concerns and disappointments:

* The league suffers from a lack of frosh programs and an occasionally haphazard scheduling process among the public schools.

* Transportation costs are high, and will become even greater in the spring, when many sports such as soccer don’t travel together as JV and varsity.

* Because many public schools play on unlighted fields or use community fields that are booked in the evening, students miss a lot of class time, especially with the recent shift to a later start time. Another factor in lost class time is “quad-header” basketball games, in which both the girls and boys JV teams play, followed by the respective varsity squads.

* Many sports feature either high level teams or those “not as competitive,” White says tactfully. “There isn’t much middle ground.”

* Every sport has different divisions. Some are balanced by strength, while others are hard/easy. That meant, for example, that girls soccer was thrown into a division with several state-caliber teams, while the volleyball team faced weaker opponents, which likely had repercussions when they faced better teams.

That final concern will be resolved next year with the shift to public/private divisions. Bainbridge will be lumped with the private schools, a move that hasn’t met with universal approval from Spartan coaches.

But with the public schools driving the proposal – “They want to assure themselves of representation in district competition,” White says – it seems virtually certain that Bainbridge will compete in the same division as Bishop Blanchet, Eastside Catholic, Holy Names/O’Dea, Lakeside and Seattle Prep.

“After weighing the pros and cons, I still think that Metro is the right way for us to go,” White concludes. “I don’t see us changing, unless things change on the Kitsap Peninsula.”

Or unless the “Big One,” the earthquake that geologists assure us is imminent, pushes the island about 30 miles to the south.

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