PREPS: Coupeville leaving Olympic League 1A next year

PORT TOWNSEND — The ship has sailed on Coupeville’s tenure in the Olympic League 1A Division with league counterparts Port Townsend, Chimacum and Klahowya.

Founded in 2014-2015 as a four-school group, Coupeville will depart the league in all sports at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 school year.

Coupeville athletic director Willie Smith informed fellow league ADs of the school’s decision at a meeting last week.

He explained that the cost of ferry travel to participate in every away league contest was too high a price, financially and in terms of lost classroom time for student-athletes.

“We rely on the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry for every game we travel to the Olympic Peninsula,” Smith said.

“That includes our league games with Klahowya, Chimacum and PT or any 2A school we play like Sequim.

“Last year we accumulated a $15,000 overtime bill mainly due to league and nonleague travel to the peninsula and to district tournaments in the Tacoma area. If our district tournaments are two-day events, and most of them are, we have to stay overnight, accumulating hotel and food costs.

“The costs were untenable, and the amount of class time missed was high. Sometimes it can be a 10:30 a.m. departure to go play a game.

“Those pieces combined, we looked at it, and we aren’t able to make it work.”

Where they’re headed

Coupeville, a school with the sixth-smallest enrollment in the 65-school 1A classification as of 2016, has lost more students since a count of 227 full time equivalent students was conducted for the most recent Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s enrollment certification in 2016.

Smith said the school has submitted an appeal letter to re-classify as a 2B school for next season, with the intention of joining former Northwest League foes such as La Conner and Darrington.

If Coupeville stays at 1A, they will likely join the new North Sound Conference with South Whidbey, King’s, Cedar Park Christian, Sultan and Granite Falls. That league rose out of the ashes of the 1A/2A Cascade Conference after multiple teams refused to play powerhouse Archbishop Murphy in football.

The sudden nature of Coupeville’s decision caught fellow 1A schools unaware.

Effect on PT, Chimacum

Reached for comment last week, Port Townsend athletic director Lysa Falge declined to discuss potential paths for Port Townsend and Chimacum. The two schools worked together when the Olympic League 1A was formed in 2014.

“As for our path, it is far too soon to speculate what Port Townsend and Chimacum will be doing,” Falge wrote in an email. “We have a lot to consider. As I just wrote to our coaches, ‘This decision will not be taken lightly, but we must consider all angles … bus expenditures, post-season opportunities, seat-time for classes, and what’s in the best interest of kids.’ ”

Klahowya athletic director Todd Winters told the Kitsap Sun that news of Coupeville’s impending exit came as a surprise, but he understands why the Wolves are leaving. With Olympic League 1A teams playing each other three times a season in most sports, travel often proved to be problematic.

“That trip for us has been difficult with the [Hood Canal] bridge and ferry to navigate,” Winters said. “No coaches are disappointed that they won’t get to go to Coupeville any longer. I certainly won’t miss scheduling nightmares because of ferry times.”

The Olympic League 1A Division could move forward with three schools or mix in more games with Olympic League 2A counterparts in a seven-team, two-division format. This format was in place for much of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Port Townsend, Chimacum and Klahowya currently compete in a combined Olympic-Nisqually League for football, but a move to the Nisqually League for all sports isn’t likely as travel costs would be prohibitive that league’s large geographic footprint (Bellevue south to Puyallup).

“The Olympic League was great to us,” Smith said. “We had a lot of success and formed a lot of good relationships with the other athletic directors. It was a tough decision, one that was not made willy-nilly and we’ve worked really hard to come together as a group, I will miss that.

“But when you are looking at athletic programs, you have to look at what is best for kids and for the school, and this is what we will have to do.”

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