Oak Harbor begins 3A era

Oak Harbor’s football game with Mountlake Terrace tonight is the beginning of the 3A era for Wildcat athletics.

The enrollment at Oak Harbor High School dropped about 50 students last year. The new total of 1,237 also dropped Oak Harbor from 4A, the highest athletic classification based on enrollment, to 3A. This fall will be the first time in 33 years Oak Harbor hasn’t been in the state’s largest classification.

The state conducts enrollment checks every two years to determine athletic classification.

In the past, the Western Conference split its 19 schools in to two division, North and South, and sprinkled the five 3A schools (this number has varied slightly over the years) among the 14 4A members.

With the new counts last year, Mountlake Terrace and Shorewood, like Oak Harbor, also dropped to 3A. That gave Wesco eight 3A schools and the league decided to divide into three divisions: two for the 4A schools (North and South) and one for the 3A schools.

Everett, Lynnwood, Glacier Peak, Shorecrest and Meadowdale are also 3A.

The top 17 percent (66 schools) in enrollment in the state are 4A, the next 17 percent 3A, etc. The state counts just the top three grades because some high schools do not have freshmen.

The theory is that by putting schools in groups of similar size, the athletic contests will be more competitive and the teams on a level playing field.

Oak Harbor, which was always one of the smallest 4A schools in the state, has struggled recently to be consistently competitive on the 4A stage. The new move to 3A, where the Wildcats will be one of the largest schools, should help Oak Harbor in the win column.

Before Oak Harbor jumped to the largest classification in 1977, it was a dominant force in Northwest League athletics. Since then league championships have been few and the success of individual sports sporadic.

Facing schools of comparable size should help Oak Harbor in the long run, but the new division will include its own powerhouses. Everett went undefeated in girls soccer in 2009 while playing against seven 4A schools in the Wesco North and Glacier Peak and Meadowdale finished tied for second in the South ahead of most of the 4A teams. Glacier Peak also defeated Everett in the playoffs.

Glacier Peak is nationally ranked this year in girls cross country and its football team, along with Meadowdale, has been a force recently. Shorewood and Shorecrest went 1-2 in the girls swim standings last fall.

A disadvantage for Oak Harbor in its placement in the Wesco 3A division is the travel. Most of the Wesco 3A schools are those which are the farthest south, adding additional miles and time to already demanding bus rides for Oak Harbor athletes and coaches.

The Western Conference will still have just two divisions in some individual sports, such as cross country, because league standings do not determine post-season participation. This will cut down on travel and missed class time for all schools.

3A schools Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley and Ferndale are more geographically friendly to Oak Harobr than the 3A schools in the Western Conference; however, they compete in the Northwest Conference. That league includes 2A and 1A schools as well, covering Skagit and Whatcom counties. Oak Harbor chose not to explore the possibility of switching leagues.

Oak Harbor athletic director Nicki Luper said last year that Oak Harbor did not pursue that option because there is a strong possibility the Wildcats could jump back up to 4A in the future and did not want Oak Harbor to bounce back and forth between conferences.

Wesco 4A North


Lake Stevens





Wesco 4A South






Wesco 3A


Glacier Peak



Mountlake Terrace

Oak Harbor



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