Give me one reason to stay here, as the great Tracy Chapman sang, and I’ll turn right back around.
Bainbridge Island School District officials are apparently taking a page from the Cleveland singer-songwriter’s book and asking students, coaches, parents, and community members to weigh in with their reasons for and against a possible departure from the Metro League via an online survey, which closed earlier this week after a brief input period.
BHS athletes currently play in the highly competitive Metro League, and school officials recently said they will conduct an extensive exploration of its options for alternative league affiliation.
Potential factors in the decision to change (or not) the school’s current athletic categorization include instructional time concerns, travel requirements and the general level of competition, according to school officials.
The idea to switch leagues has come up before, but proved unpopular with many Spartan athletes and their parents, while BHS coaches were split on the proposal to move to the Olympic League.
The school board ultimately decided in December 2013 to remain in the Metro League.
Yet the issue is not as settled as it seemed.
In the seeking of individual input, the recent polling effort by district officials included three different surveys, and participants were asked to take the one “based on which best describes you.”
Options included a survey for a “Current high school parent,” “Current high school staff” and “All others,” which was said to be for school district parents of elementary to middle school-age children, district staff in elementary and middle schools, and other community members.
Results of the survey were not immediately available. Joe Power, BHS associate principal and athletic director, said the process is still in the early stages.
“We are still gathering feedback from our stakeholders and will report to the school board at the next meeting on [Thursday] Jan. 30,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Review reached out to several BHS coaches for direct comment on the issue.
Boys basketball team Head Coach Steve Haizlip said that although there were likely benefits to a switch, he had no personal preference.
“I don’t know if I have an opinion,” he said, “but I think it would be nice to play games over here.
“There would be, I think, a lot of good rivalries. I also think it would reduce our travel. It can be pretty brutal. It’s hard on me, I couldn’t imagine what it’s like on these kids who are trying to go to school and take tests.”
Ultimately, Haizlip said he’d coach the Spartans in any league.
“I’m not trying to get too involved with it,” he said. “But I do think the rivalries on this side and, most importantly, the time that would go away from the travel, that’s the most important. I can handle it, it’s tiring, but these kids, it’s tough on them.”
Contrariwise, football team Head Coach Jeff Rouser said he definitely preferred to remain in Metro.
“We’re rebuilding the program and we’ve had some success and we’re slowly working our way up,” Rouser said. “We’re getting more confident, we’re getting more players.
“In our mind,” he added, “if we went to Olympic, it would kind of reverse all that.”
Whereas once, Rouser said, he might have understood why those involved with programs that struggle to compete in the Metro — including, previously, football — would want out rather than having to face the same formidable opponents every season, recent changes within the league and the creation a new division has already addressed that concern.
“The Metro, it’s a great league,” Rouser said. “What they did in terms of the dynamic movement of teams within the three divisions, based upon how each team competes in the division year-to-year, is a beautiful thing.
“[Metro] is a very well run conference and it’s highly respected by college coaches and players and that makes a difference, it makes a huge difference.”
Rouser’s own daughter, the coach explained, benefited from what he called the league’s “credibility.”
“Most of the sports at Bainbridge that are in the Metro do well,” he said. “My daughter was a diver at Bainbridge. She was recruited; she’s going to the Naval Academy right now. If she was not in the Metro League she would not be at the Naval Academy right now.”
The coach said he was unaware of a desire to switch leagues at any level of the football program.
“I haven’t heard anybody say that they want to change leagues,” he said. “My mode, and from the players that I’ve spoken to, and the parents that I’ve spoken to, and the boosters that I’ve spoken to, we’re all in sync that we want to stay in Metro.
“At the end of the day, most of our kids aren’t going to play at the next level. But some of them will. And the opportunities that come within the Metro are the best that they’re going to get. So by taking that away, we’re going to lose kids that we’re getting today and we’re going to lose more in the future.”
Having been a coach in the Olympic League, Rouser said the idea BHS students would have more time in class if the school left Metro is untrue.
“We go across [on] the ferry, within 15 minutes we’re at our game,” he said. “The ferry’s not lost time. We can eat, we can tape, kids can study. And once we get there, 15 minutes [and] we’re at the game. That, versus driving to Port Angeles, to Sequim, to North Mason … Metro makes it easier; Metro takes less time.
“I’ve made those hauls,” he added. “I used to be at Kingston [High School], [they’re] in that league, and Bainbridge is further.”
Varsity baseball team Head Coach Geoff Brown was also very much in favor of remaining in Metro.
“As long as I’ve known Bainbridge High School, even back when I was in high school and we played Bainbridge, they’ve been a part of the Metro League,” Brown said. “Competition-wise, when we look at sports, there’s no benefit for us leaving. I know essentially why a lot of kids, when they play sports at Bainbridge, is to play in Metro because they’re going to get seen by potential colleges or they’re going to play against some of the best competition in the state or even the West Coast.
“It’s super competitive,” he added, “and that’s what kids want when they’re looking to play at the next level.”
Brown also agreed with Rouser’s opinion that a move would not mean more time in class for island athletes.
“From my experience … it seems like a lot of the kids on Bainbridge are really high academic students and they take care of business,” Brown said. “I know my team … a lot of them are above a 3.5 GPA. So I don’t think if affects them either way travel-wise.
“When we travel to Seattle,” he added, “it’s a 30-minute ferry ride and then a lot of the schools are in the Seattle Metro area so it’s another maybe 10 minutes, which isn’t that bad.”
Additionally, Brown said, juggling the demands of practice and travel alongside homework is part of what a student signs up for when they join the team.
“I think it’s better for us to be in the Metro,” he said. “I know with ferry times and stuff like that they do have to leave class early, but that’s part of being a student athlete. That’s just kind of how it goes. As long as you communicate with your teachers … most teachers will work with you. I think that’s just part of it.”
At least one coach asked for their thoughts on the subject declined to comment, and several others did not respond, but Kristin Gellert, assistant coach of the boys swim and dive team, said she was “100 percent for staying in the Metro League.”
“I think the level of competition would decrease and our athletes would not be pushed in the way that we are now in the Metro League,” she said. “The only benefit I can see would be for a select few sports whose win/loss record could improve with weaker opponents.”
Gellert is also a physical education specialist at Carden Country School and head coach of both BHS girls and boys water polo (which isn’t currently a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association recognized sport and would not be impacted by a league change).
“If we move from the Metro League, top athletes will have fewer chances against strong opponents to be pushed and be seen in recruiting settings,” she said. “Elite club athletes will be less likely to compete for BHS as the competition will be less stimulating and will not push them like they are getting from the Metro League.
“Athletes will not be pushed throughout the season and will have an even bigger shock when it comes to post-season competition.”
For swimming specifically, Gellert said, each meet is an opportunity to get times that qualify a swimmer for post-season competition.
“The weaker the opponents throughout the league meets, the less push the athletes will get to get best times, if only racing a clock,” she explained. “This will make achieving those times much more difficult. Coaches will be forced to schedule more non-league meets against Metro teams in order to get fast meets and to create opportunities for athletes to race tougher opponents [and] more meets added to the schedule will result in more time away from school, and a tougher schedule for athletes to keep with their demands from school and other outside commitments.”
The program’s success, Gellert said, is proof the move unnecessary.
“As a coach of a team who has won three straight state titles, and has not lost a league dual meet in years, we are definitely not looking to move to a less competitive league,” she said.