Coupeville High School found what it was looking for in the Olympic League — athletic success. Missed class time and the cost of travel, however, trumped those wins and the Wolves will be leaving the conference at the end of the school year, athletic director Willie Smith announced Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Coupeville joined the 1A division of the Olympic League in the fall of 2014 after a decade in the Cascade Conference.
In the eight-team Cascade Conference, Coupeville was one of only two 1A schools and by far the smallest in enrollment.
Predictably, the Wolves had trouble consistently competing against the larger schools and never won a conference championship.
The Olympic League 1A division includes four schools, and two, Port Townsend and Chimacum, are close to Coupeville in enrollment.
Competing on a level play field, the Wolves won nearly a dozen league championships in only three and a third years.
Leaving the Olympic League has nothing to do with Coupeville’s relationship with the other member schools, according to Smith.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about the Olympic League and its athletic directors,” Smith said. “They brought us in and re-worked an entire league in order to make it happen for Coupeville at a time when we desperately needed a change.
“It helped our programs get healthy again, kids turning out, and we have had a lot of successes in the Olympic League, but, and very importantly, it comes down to what is best for our schools and our kids.”
Coupeville Middle School will also be leaving the companion North Olympic League.
Coupeville athletes often leave school before noon to travel to away games and arrive home late into the night. District 3 postseason competition, often in Tacoma and as far away as Lacey, increases those travel times.
Those long trips pushed Coupeville $15,000 over its travel budget last year, Smith said.
“The amount of time and school our kids miss coupled with the reality of the costs has really made us look at where we were at, and a change was something that needed to occur,” Smith said.
Another factor in the decision is scheduling. The Olympic League is planning to decrease the number of league games against each opponent from three to two. This would leave only six conference games, forcing Coupeville to schedule as many as 14 non-league contests, a difficult task.
Working around the Port Townsend ferry is another problem, according to Smith.
“Neither the ferry or reservation system works as consistently as we need, and we had multiple re-schedules as well as cancellations due to ferry-related issues,” he said.
Coupeville is eyeing two landing spots, the Northwest 2B/1B League and the new North Sound 1A League. Both include schools Coupeville has a long athletic history competing against.
The Northwest League includes 2B schools Concrete, Darrington, Friday Harbor, La Conner and Orcas Island and 1B Mount Vernon Christian.
Washington schools are in the middle of the second year of a four-year cycle in which teams are locked into a classification based on enrollment. At the last count, Coupeville had 227 high school students and was placed among the 1A schools (214-461 students). Coupeville was the sixth smallest of the classification’s 57 schools that did not opt up.
Coupeville’s current enrollment in ninth through 11th grades is now in the 2B range, and Coupeville is appealing to the Washington State Activities Association to be reclassified.
Normally, schools have to wait until the end of the four-year cycle to change classifications.
“We don’t know what the WIAA will consider as significant change in enrollment, as this is the first time the WIAA has ever had to render these decisions,” Smith said. “Neither myself or WIAA representatives can really speak to whether we have a legitimate chance of winning the appeal, but we are appealing.”
The decision will be made Jan. 28.
The Cascade Conference is disbanding at the end of this school year, and some of its schools are forming a new conference, the North Sound 1A League, which will include South Whidbey, Sultan, King’s, Cedar Park Christian and Granite Falls.
Granite Falls is a 2A school, and, like Coupeville, is appealing to the WIAA to drop a classification.
“Nothing, other than exiting the Olympic League at the conclusion of this year, is set, and even that needs approval from District 3, District 1 and the WIAA which should happen but is not always 100 percent,” Smith said.
“There are a lot of documentation, hearings and legwork that are currently being done and will continue to be done before anything firm happens.”