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Goodbye Narrows, hello Olympic League

POULSBO — The old days of the Olympic League could soon be back again.

After only seven years in its affiliation with the Narrows League for high school athletics, the North Kitsap School District, joining the ranks of others in the area, is showing support for reforming the classic league, one formerly utilized for decades.

Out for North Kitsap would be routinely-played match ups with Tacoma schools like Wilson, Mount Tahoma and Foss. These would be replaced by league contests with high schools like Bainbridge, Sequim and Peninsula.

For district officials like Al Gleich, NKHS athletic director, the timing of the possible league recreation for the district comes one year too early. Currently a 4A high school, North will be switching to a 3A level when the 2A high school in Kingston is built in 2007. The formation of the Olympic League is slated to start by 2006-07.

Regardless, Gleich said, when the move comes, it will be welcomed.

The three largest motivators for bringing back the Olympic League, Gleich commented, are curbing rising transportation costs, increasing game attendance and restoring local high school rivalries.

Rising gas prices, combined with a tightened financial belt buckle among most of the state’s school districts — NKSD alone is looking to cut almost $700,000 for next year — is likely the single greatest driving force behind the change.

“All of the budget problems are starting to dictate leagues,” Gleich said. “And so schools are looking for how they can reduce transportation costs.”

North Kitsap can save on its transportation budget by competing locally in a restored Olympic League, especially if its Viking teams never have to cross the Narrows Bridge for a league game.

Many area athletic directors also believe that localizing team play through the new Olympic League would also result in greater attendance at games, as spectators would be more likely to travel to away contests.

And heightened attendance would likely give way to revitalizing local rivalries, which would already be more competitive in a newfound head-to-head league match-up rather than their current non-league format. A prime example is the renewal of league play between Agate Pass opponents Bainbridge and North Kitsap.

“The local areas have a strong tradition,” Gleich said.

A move by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which is looking to even out the number of schools in each of the 4A through 1A classifications, will also see changes in league alignments around the state. The Kitsap Peninsula is no exception.

Increased enrollment requirements will knock many schools down in their classification and spread out teams from the packed 4A and 3A leagues to the lighter 2A and 1A leagues.

North Kitsap High School is currently in the Narrows League, which consists of two divisions: the “Bridge,” made up of high schools from Gig Harbor to Port Angeles, including North, South and Central Kitsap High Schools, and the “Bay,” which includes schools in Tacoma and Olympia, from Wilson to Capital High Schools.

A move into a restored “Olympic League” would likely consist of 3A and 2A schools, some of which will be moved to those classifications after the WIAA adjustment. The 3A level could include: Peninsula, Olympic, North Kitsap and Bainbridge high schools. Bremerton could be included as well if their Skills Center — a technical school whose students bolster the school’s enrollment but who do not play sports — sees its students waived from the official WIAA count. Port Angeles, too, could be added but if the school district’s levy there isn’t passed May 17, athletics will be cut entirely.

Joining the Olympic league at the 2A level would be: North Mason, Sequim, Port Townsend, Chimicum and the yet-to-be built Kingston High School and Klahowya Secondary School.

Gig Harbor, Central Kitsap and South Kitsap would likely be the lone hold-outs for remaining in the Narrows, Gleich said.

The negative aspects often cited with making the Olympic switch are that teams on both the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas wouldn’t gain valuable experience — to prepare themselves for the playoffs. Gleich said there are ways around that, however.

“Come playoffs, we’ve gotten better since being in Narrows,” he admitted. “But there’s a trade off — you can put more non-league games (with Narrows teams) on your schedule.”

A similar change at the junior high school level could be in affect at the same time. North Kitsap will also shift from a seven-through-nine to a six-through-eight grade level configuration in 2007-’08 with the opening of the new high school in Kingston, and will thus be competing already with other aforementioned school districts in an Olympic League. Logically, if the high schools compete, so would their younger counterparts at the middle-level.

Each school district that wants to join the Olympic League will have to approve doing so through their local school board. Gleich mentioned he doesn’t want indecision on the matter, as going in and out of leagues is a challenge.

“It’s very difficult to get in out of league,” he said. “You have to get all ducks in a row.”

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