Although all four Kent high schools will remain in the same North Puget Sound League divisions for 2020-2024 regular season play starting in the fall, Kentwood and Kentridge will compete in Class 4A state competitions while Kentlake and Kent-Meridian will participate in Class 3A.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which oversees the state sports competitions, on Sunday approved the next cycle of classification numbers for 2020-2024. The group tries to create equitable playing conditions between high school sports teams in the state, according to its website.
Kentridge (1,463 students) and Kentwood (1,416) qualify as 4A schools based on enrollments with more than 1,300 students. Kentlake (1,081) qualifies as 3A with enrollment between 900 and 1,299 students. Kent-Meridian’s total enrollment is 1,462 students, enough to be 4A, but the Royals were allowed to drop down one level because of a new change.
For the first time, free-and-reduced lunch counts were factored into the classification process as well, according to the WIAA. For any school with a free and reduced lunch rate greater than the statewide average of 47%, the school’s enrollment number was reduced for each percent that they exceed the statewide average, with a maximum adjustment capped at 40%.
That allowed Kent-Meridian’s enrollment to drop to 1,111 students. WIAA bases enrollment on the number of students in grades 9-11.
“We practice and promote equity and believe that this amendment will help address some competitive issues that schools deal with,” said Kent School District athletic director Brian Smith. “Having the multi-classification league allows for the movement of schools between 3A-4A without the fear of losing the league affiliation.”
Both Auburn and Federal Way districts said free and reduced lunch rates did not factor in to their classification decisions.
Auburn (enrollment 1,252), Auburn Riverside (1,290) and Auburn Mountainview (1,206) will compete in 3A. Decatur (enrollment 1,030) and Federal Way (1,196) have opted-up to 4A. Thomas Jefferson (1,213) and Todd Beamer (1,065) will compete in 3A.
“As athletic directors, we came up with the idea of a blended league to keep our divisions the same,” said Jerry Peterson, Federal Way Public Schools director of equity and athletics. “For a majority of the time, we’re together. We’re keeping our rivalries, keeping that relationship …”
Many individual sports, such as tennis, cross country, track and field or swim and dive, have different time standards between the classifications.
For example, the 2019 WIAA track and field qualifying standards for the girls 800-meter race is 2:14.84 for 4A and 2:17.04 for 3A girls. The 2019 boys 3200M run varies from 4A qualifying time of 9:17.84 to 3A’s time standard of 9:21.88.
Therefore, the idea with multi-classification is that more kids will compete at league, district and state tournaments, said Rob Swaim, NPSL president and Auburn School District director of athletics and activities.
Another benefit to the blended league is the geographic proximity to other NPSL member schools, which cuts down on out-of-class time for student-athletes, Smith said.
“The proximity of the schools in both the Olympic and Cascade division minimizes the transportation costs and time needed for the drivers to drop students-athletes and pick up for events,” Smith said.
The NPSL Cascade Division currently comprises Hazen, Kennedy Catholic, Kent Meridian, Kentlake, Kentridge, Kentwood, Mount Rainier and Tahoma. The Olympic Division includes Auburn, Auburn Mountainview, Auburn Riverside, Decatur, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Thomas Jefferson and Todd Beamer.
The divisions will remain the same for the next four years except that Hazen will join the 3A KingCo Conference and Enumclaw will join the 2A South Puget Sound League.
With the blended league, the 4A portion will include Decatur, Federal Way, Kennedy Catholic, Kentridge, Kentwood, Mount Rainier and Tahoma. The 3A schools will be Auburn, Auburn Mountainview, Auburn Riverside, Kentlake, Kent-Meridian, Thomas Jefferson and Todd Beamer.
Any choice to opt-up lasts the entirety of the four-year classification cycle.
The WIAA will now have 51 schools at the 4A level, 79 schools at 3A, 62 schools at 2A, 60 schools at 1A, 61 schools at 2B and 85 schools at 1B.
Yet with a blended league, one question still looms: What happens come postseason?
The WIAA board approved a two-year adjustment of the range for a 16-entry state tournament, which is now 50-68 member schools. 3A will have a 20-entry bracket for state tournaments, while 4A will have a 16-entry range.