PORT TOWNSEND — Already tied together for a number of prep sports offerings, the Port Townsend and Chimacum school districts plan to combine for all fall sports for the potentially upcoming WIAA Season 1 and compete as one of two Class 1A teams in a temporarily expanded Olympic League against teams from Clallam, Kitsap and Mason counties.
Reduced enrollment in both districts due to COVID-19 is the biggest reason for the arrangement, which for now would add volleyball and football to already cooperative sports such as boys and girls cross country (hosted by Port Townsend), girls swim and dive (hosted by Port Townsend), boys and girls tennis (hosted by Chimacum) and wrestling (hosted by Port Townsend).
Pre-COVID, Chimacum and Port Townsend also were planning to combine for girls soccer for fall 2020 and have struggled to find enough athletes to resurrect a combined girls softball team since 2018. Port Townsend also fielded low numbers for the 2019 baseball season and ended its season early that spring.
“We will still be the smallest school in the Olympic League; I think we are 437 [full-time equivalency] together,” Port Townsend dean of students, athletic director and football coach Patrick Gaffney said. “Together, the numbers keep us as a 1A school and still smaller than Klahowya, the other 1A school in the league.”
The combination is about providing access for student athletes while attempting to achieve some competitive balance, school athletic directors said.
“Try to be as competitive as possible while keeping kids safe and making sure kids have some athletic opportunities,” Gaffney said.
Chimacum athletic director Carrie Beebe, a Port Townsend High School graduate, shared Gaffney’s hopes.
“This is about the safety of our kids and making sure we have the numbers to compete,” Beebe said. “At both schools, the numbers of kids signing up for sports is low. So those kids who have signed up, they’ve had so many things taken away that we don’t want to take another opportunity away from them.”
The combination is being looked at on a trial basis for Season 1 (Feb. 1-March 21). Spring sports would run in Season 2 (March 15-May 1) while winter sports would close out the calendar, if approved, from April 26 to June 12.
“If the two schools want to provide a broad range of sports, this might be the direction we have to look at,” Gaffney said. “If we don’t go that direction and Chimacum is a 2B and PT is 1A, you may have to cut sports offerings, and I think both communities don’t want to see that. To be able to offer swimming and tennis and other sports that some small schools don’t provide is good for our athletes.
“At some point this year, we will have an idea of how it is going, any issues that arise or don’t arise, and I think those will be minimal,” Gaffney said. “We are all trying to do what’s best for kids, PT and Chimacum, and when you frame it that way, it’s hard to come up with an argument against doing this.”
If games can be played, which, for Season 1 and 2, is up to meeting state-supplied health metrics and the four-county Northwest Region advancing to Phase 2, there will be some changes.
Volleyball and girls soccer practices would be held at Chimacum, while football practices would take place in Port Townsend.
Beebe, who has high school volleyball coaching experience, may be the head coach for the combined volleyball squad with assistance from Port Townsend assistant Emily Zenz.
Robert Cantley would head up the combined girls soccer program with former Chimacum coach Kevin Racine assisting.
Gaffney would be the head coach for football, with Tony Haddenham and Emmanuel Abbott coming on as assistant coaches from Chimacum, along with Port Townsend holdovers Gabe Montoya, Noa Montoya, Lamont Thorton and Logan Stegner.
Football and girls soccer games would be held at Chimacum High School. Memorial Field is too soggy of a surface to sustain winter-time contests and is usually closed until at least mid-March.
“Matt Tyler with Jefferson County [Parks and Recreation] thinks there’s a chance to get some girls soccer games in there and maybe a football game at the end of the season,” Gaffney said.
Swim meets will be held virtually to abide by distance requirements.
Beebe also said athletic fees would be waived this year to increase participation.
As for what the teams will be called? Gaffney and Beebe were leaning toward “East Jefferson” after listening to community members.
Uniforms are also a work in progress due to the time crunch before Season 1.
“We’ve talked about wearing Chimacum uniforms one game, Port Townsend uniforms for another game,” Beebe said.
“It’s not going to be PT football with Chimacum,” Gaffney said. “We are going to say East Jefferson County Football, we are going to figure that out. We may have to change a few of the things we do or the things we say, but I know red, white and blue looks pretty good together.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or mcarman@ peninsuladaily news.com.