High schools in Kitsap County do not have to worry about transfer portals, Name, Image and Likeness deals or coaches heading to colleges like Alabama anytime soon.
But big changes are coming. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has released new classifications for the 2024-28 school years that will greatly impact the landscape of high school sports.
The biggest change in Kitsap will be Bainbridge High School dropping from 3A to 2A.
The highest classification is 4A for schools with 1,201 or more students. Afterward, 3A is for schools with 900-1,200 students, 2A for 450-899, 1A is for 250-499, 2B is for 105-224 and 1B for 1-104 students.
Bainbridge’s enrollment has dropped from 1,023 to 885, so the Spartans dropped to 2A for the first time in decades. Bainbridge will become the second-largest 2A school in the state.
“The current focus is really on scheduling for next year,” Bainbridge athletic director Luke Ande said. “We are excited to be in the Olympic League and at the 2A classification.”
Bainbridge discussed opting to stay 3A, but Ande said there were more obstacles than benefits. “We did think about appealing to 3A, but that would have meant trying to find another league to play in,” he said. “The format for a lone 3A school playing in a 2A league is not ideal. Our classification numbers have us as a 2A school, and we are currently in a 2A league so it made sense to remain.”
Staying 3A would have meant continuing to have play-in games to get to postseason play. Many BHS coaches didn’t like that because of safety concerns.
BHS football coach Dan Schoonmaker previously said: “We would (have to) play Friday, Tuesday and Saturday, which is absolutely unsafe. I’d rather do a coin flip than risk injuries to their kids or our kids.”
In addition, the transportation to games would cost more in 3A, especially in the postseason. Lastly, Bainbridge had mixed results against the bigger 3A and 4A schools. In the past four years, football had a 5-3 record, boys and girls soccer 9-14-1, boys and girls basketball 11-20 as of Jan. 26, baseball 16-5 and softball 3-1.
BHS did much better against 2A or smaller schools. Football had a 13-13 record, boys and girls soccer 32-6, boys and girls basketball 59-30 as of Jan. 26, baseball was 39-4 and softball was 7-29.
“I do not believe the size of the school correlates to the quality of the teams,” Ande said. “We have some amazing programs here at BHS and we will look to continue to have high expectations.”
Despite the change, BHS is still planning to compete against schools in all classifications. “We will still have many non-leagues to schedule, and we value competition,” Ande said. “We will reach out to schools of all classifications for non-leagues.”
The Bucs will remain 2A and be the smallest 2A school in the state with 452 students.
“When Kingston first opened, the district was strict on the boundary lines,” Kingston’s athletic director Ed Call said. “Over time, things have shifted and we have fallen on some hard times.”
Although Kingston missed dropping to 1A by just two students, the Buccaneers plan to stay in the Olympic League in 20 of the 21 sports.
“At this moment, I have informed the Olympic League athletic directors that in football I am seeking other options at this time,” Call said. “They are aware of it and supportive at this time of me doing what I need to do to keep my kids safe.”
When the WIAA released the classification numbers, Call immediately appealed to compete 1A in football.
“The primary focus was all about safety,” Call said. “I shared with WIAA that each of the last two seasons, we had an excess of twenty concussion injuries causing kids to miss multiple games and over twenty physical injuries that caused them to miss more than a single game.”
Call added the depth and size of his players are not ready to play “in a very talented league where we have North Kitsap, Olympic, Port Angeles and Bainbridge.”
Kingston’s football record against 2A and larger schools from 2020-24 was 2-22. On the other hand, the Bucs went 4-6 against 1A and smaller schools.
WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman called Kingston a few days later with their decision. “Mick was calling me to say the panel unanimously, and I began pumping my fists in my office,” Call said. “Then he said the word denied, and I was shocked. He said the district directors and committee were very impressed with our work at Kingston and had never seen a package focus on injury data as much as I had.”
The WIAA’s reason for denying Kingston’s appeal was they believed Kingston had the resources to keep them safer and didn’t need the WIAA’s help.
Call was upset but respected the decision and began looking forward to the next plan. “I told them we don’t care if we moved to 1A for football, and they would say we were not eligible for the playoffs for the first two years,” Call said. “The playoffs are not my main objective, but growing my program, keeping my kids safe and not being everyone’s Homecoming game so they can run the score up on us.”
Since Kingston was denied, Call decided Kingston would not field a varsity team next season. “That would make my team play other team’s sub-varsity teams,” he said. “But that would mean my juniors and seniors would play a Monday afternoon experience compared to Friday Night Lights, which is not acceptable. That is not what my kids or community deserves.”
So, Call has not scheduled any Olympic League teams, except for North Mason. Call does have Kingston’s schedule set for the next two seasons but is awaiting approval.
“I feel like if I presented to the community Plan B as if it was a done deal then it fell through, I would lose my integrity,” Call said. “There are rumors about if kids need to transfer or if we have a program. We will have a football program and put them in the right environment so they can safely grow.”
Call’s independent schedule is to rebuild Kingston’s program from the youth level to high school. “We have a robust feeder program through the Kingston Youth Sports Association and restarted at Kingston Middle School,” Call said. “We know it will take a while at the high school level to reap the rewards.”
The new classifications will also impact Central Kitsap and South Kitsap high schools. Even though the Cougars will remain 3A with 1,145 students and the Wolves will remain 4A with 1,793 students, some teams in their leagues will be moving up or down.
Central Kitsap competes in the 3A South Sound Conference with seven other schools. But Yelm jumped from 3A to 4A, as have Bonney Lake and Spanaway Lake in the Pierce County League.
As a result, the athletic directors are planning to merge the conferences. CK will find itself in the new conference that has yet to be named.
CK athletic director Rob Clements said: “As of today I am still under a ‘No Comment’ agreement. I hope to have some more information soon as final appeals by other districts are being finalized at the WIAA level.”
Meanwhile, Bellarmine Prep, a private Catholic school in Tacoma, has competed in the 4A South Puget Sound League with South Kitsap despite having just 678 students. The Lions have dropped to 3A for the new classification cycle.
As a result of the changes in those two leagues, South Kitsap will see a larger conference with new teams. SK athletic director Lindsey Foster did not reply for comment. Likewise, two WIAA officials did not return requests for comment.
Lastly, North Mason appealed to become a 1A school. However, the Bulldogs were denied and will remain 2A. Although North Mason is not in Kitsap County, the Bulldogs compete in the Olympic League.