Coupeville sports to move from Cascade Conference to Olympic League

In search of a more level playing field for its athletic teams, Coupeville High School will leave the Cascade Conference and join the Olympic League next fall.

In search of a more level playing field for its athletic teams, Coupeville High School will leave the Cascade Conference and join the Olympic League next fall.

Though the switch isn’t official (some procedural paperwork needs to be completed with the two leagues and the state), the move is a “done deal,” according to Coupeville High School Athletic Director Lori Stolee.

Two years ago, primarily because of concerns with injuries to football players, Coupeville parents, coaches and administrators started looking for a more equitable situation for their athletes.

Coupeville is the smallest school, by far, in enrollment in the Cascade Conference, and for years it and King’s were the only 1A schools in the eight-team league.

The Cascade Conference, beginning in the fall of 2012, allowed Coupeville to play as an independent in football, letting the Wolves skip the larger 2A schools.

The other Coupeville sports continued to play a full conference schedule.

The agreement for football was for two years, giving time for Coupeville “to build up its program,” Stolee said.

Coupeville’s enrollment, however, continued to drop, and next fall it will be the smallest 1A school in the state with 225 students in grades 10-12.

Other enrollments in the Cascade Conference range from Cedarcrest’s 691 to King’s 368.

Two years ago South Whidbey dropped from 2A to 1A and Sultan will make the switch next fall.

“The Cascade Conference has been very supportive,” Stolee said, and understands Coupeville’s situation and wish to move.

The change in leagues picked up momentum when the athletic directors from Port Townsend and Chimacum, both small 1A schools like Coupeville, approached Stolee.

Port Townsend is in a similar situation as Coupeville, being the only 1A school along with eight 2A schools in the nine-team Olympic League. (Port Townsend, however, competes in the 1A Nisqually League in football.)

Chimacum, a full-time member of the 1A Nisqually League, was also dissatisfied with its situation; six of the

nine league schools in the conference are private.

The Port Townsend and Chimacum athletic directors asked Stolee to consider forming a four-team 1A division within the Olympic League along with Klahowya High School of Silverdale, which will drop from 2A to 1A next school year.

The Olympic League accepted Coupeville and Chimacum Jan. 23 and will split into two divisions, 2A and 1A. Unlike the Cascade Conference, which will also have a mix of 2A and 1A schools, the Olympic League will not require the 1A schools to play the 2A schools; separate standings will also be kept for each division.

Port Townsend, with 327 students, and Chimacum, with 237, are similar in size to Coupeville. Klahowya, however, is the third largest 1A school in the state with 456 students.

The 2A members of the Olympic League are Port Angeles (939 students), Olympic of Bremerton (869), North Kitsap of Poulsbo (863), Bremerton (861), Sequim (743), Kingston (638) and North Mason of Belfair (535).

Philosophically, the Olympic League will be a better fit, Stolee said.

“Port Townsend and Chimacum are more like us; they think like us,” Stolee said. In her meetings with their athletic directors, the focus was always on “what is best for kids,” Stolee said.

Port Townsend and Chimacum are also similar to Coupeville in their isolation from the I-5 corridor, Stolee added.

The other Cascade Conference teams are much closer to the Seattle area and its off-season athletic opportunities, such as private coaches, academies and elite teams.

The move does include a few negatives, primarily in scheduling. With what will be essentially a four-team league, it may be difficult to find 14 non-league games to fill out a 20-game schedule.

Also, the Port Townsend ferry does not run as late as the Mukilteo ferry, so traditional starting times for some sports will have to change.

Coupeville football coach Tony Maggio is all for the change: “I love it. (The) teams are close to our size. It levels the playing field not having to play 2A powerhouses.”

David King, the head girls basketball coach and co-head coach of the softball program, said he is “fine” with the Cascade Conference but sees the benefits of the Olympic League.

“I like the competition we face in the Cascade Conference,” King said.

He also likes being familiar with the Cascade Conference teams and their playing styles. The Olympic League will present “a whole new set of teams to learn.”

On the other hand, he said, “Playing new teams is intriguing.”

“If it puts us on a more even playing field,” he added, “then I’m all for the change.”

The bottom line, Stolee said, is “at the end of the day, we did what was best for the kids.”