The Washougal middle school athletics teams will be facing a new challenge next school year.
The Washougal School District board of directors approved a motion to move the Canyon Creek and Jemtegaard middle school sports squads to a league with schools from the Camas and Evergreen school districts at its Tuesday, Feb. 26 board meeting.
The move will go into effect for the 2019-20 school year. The Cougars and Huskies teams currently play in the Lower Columbia Middle School League.
Gary McGarvie, Washougal High’s associate principal and athletic director, has been talking to coaches and researching the pros and cons of the move for the past several months. He presented his findings to the school board during Tuesday’s meeting.
“For the most part, everybody’s all in (for the move),” McGarvie said. “I think nine out of 10 coaches were on board. They love the idea.”
Perhaps the top benefit of the move, McGarvie said, is its impact on travel. In the Lower Columbia league, Canyon Creek and Jemtegaard squads are forced to travel as far away as White Salmon, Stevenson and Castle Rock, Washington.
In the new league, however, the Cougars and Huskies will square off against Camas’ Liberty and Skyridge middle schools, as well as Shahala, Pacific, Wy’East, Cascade, Frontier and Covington middle schools in Vancouver.
The closest school in the teams’ current league is Hockinson Middle School, which is a 35-minute drive from Canyon Creek. In contrast, the farthest school from Washougal in the new league is Covington Middle School, which is 34 minutes from Canyon Creek.
“And there’s a chance Hockinson may drop middle school sports altogether,” McGarvie said. “If that’s the case, the closest school to us (in the current league) would be Ridgefield.”
Other benefits of the move, McGarvie told the school board, include: more games, sixth-grade squads, more competitive contests and earlier start times for games.
“I think the sixth-graders will benefit the most from this move,” McGarvie said. “They’ll have the opportunity to get involved in school (sports) and get their energy out. This will be a more competitive league — right now we’re winning (some basketball games) by 50 points, and there’s only one team that’s really competitive with us. I know the wrestling coaches, for example, are diehard about making this happen. Sometimes their (opponents) don’t have any kids to wrestle.”
The major change that will result from the move, McGarvie said, is the fact that the new league doesn’t offer football for seventh-graders. He told the board that Washougal seventh-graders will, however, be able to play football in the Clark County Youth Football (CCYF) league.
“I’ve spoken to CCYF, and they’re excited to have us for seventh-grade football,” McGarvie said. “They don’t turn any kids away. They want everybody to be engaged. Our kids already play CCYF through sixth grade, so this will add a year to us playing.”
In the new league, the Washougal boys’ cross country teams will run an independent schedule.
“The cross country team will be able to participate all of the invitationals they already do. The only difference is that they won’t have a district meet,” McGarvie said. “But I think the coaches will be able to figure something out. They’re excited about (the move) because they won’t have to compete with volleyball for kids.”
There will be changes in scheduling for some sports. Football and cross country will be offered in the fall; volleyball and wrestling will be offered in the first winter season; boys and girls basketball will be offered in the second winter season; and track and field will be offered in the spring.
Board members Cory Chase and Teresa Lees asked McGarvie if there will be enough gymnasium space to accommodate all of the teams in the new configuration, but McGarvie reassured the board that won’t be a problem.
Chase also asked McGarvie about the probability of the Washougal teams’ win totals decreasing as a result of the move to the new league, which includes bigger schools.
“I think everybody wants to know, will we be competitive?” McGarvie said. “I think our kids are talented. The one question I have, to be honest, is football. But we’re growing and getting better, and I think we’ll be fine. One of the negatives for the coaches was the ‘B’ teams. We think the ‘A’ teams will be fine, no question. But overall I think people will be surprised by how successful we’re going to be in a lot of (sports).”
McGarvie said the fact that there’s a chance that Washougal High School will be bumped to the 3A ranks in the near future should play into the decision to switch leagues.
“The question is, where do we want to go as a district? We’re growing as a community, and we’ve added 48 kids per year (to the high school) in the last three years,” McGarvie said. “These teams (in the new league) are the teams that we’ll be playing down the road. If this is the league that we’re eventually going to be in (for the high school), we can give the kids the opportunity now to be prepared for it.”
District looking at later start times
During the discussion about the middle school teams, Chase expressed his displeasure with early-morning practice times.
“Waking a seventh-grader up at 5:30 a.m. to get to a 7 a.m. practice is not fun,” he said. “I don’t think it’s good to get kids up that early.”
Later in the meeting, board member Donna Sinclair brought up a similar subject, asking superintendent Mary Templeton about the district’s start times.
“Research has shown that students do better in schools with later start times,” Sinclair said.
Classes at Washougal High School and Jemtegaard Middle School begin at 7:50 a.m.; at Canyon Creek Middle School and Cape Horn-Skye Elementary School, 8 a.m.; at Hathaway Elementary School, 9 a.m.; and at Gause and Columbia River Gorge elementary schools, 9:10 a.m.
“We’re looking at that,” Templeton told Sinclair. “We’re in the process of collecting information so that we can come back to you at a later date. We’re on the same page about that.”
Camas School District changed its start times in 2018 in an effort to give older students in middle and high school more time for sleep in the mornings.