Washougal School District to expand athletics program

Sixth-graders can now participate in cross country, wrestling

The Washougal School District is set to expand its middle-school athletic program.

Southwest Washington Middle School League (SWMSL) administrators have approved a proposal to immediately allow sixth-graders to compete in cross country and wrestling, Canyon Creek Middle School principal Jake Healea told Washougal School Board members during an Aug. 8 meeting.

“Our coaches will be on board with that, and we anticipate that our families will be really excited about that, especially after a time when we were talking about (having to possibly eliminate middle-school) sports (altogether), and people were really concerned about that,” Healea said. “Now we’re talking about potentially adding more sports, which gets kids excited about being part of their school and builds a pipeline towards high school.”

Previously, the SWMSL only allowed seventh- and eighth-grade students to compete in football, cross country, volleyball, boys basketball, girls basketball, wrestling, knowledge bowl, and track and field.

“There’s some really good coaches who are putting in a lot of time, and I know they’re going to be excited to see some of their sports expand to sixth grade because they’re always looking to recruit more kids and get more people interested in (athletics), especially wrestling and cross country,” Washougal School Board president Cory Chase said during the meeting.

“It’s exciting for me to hear that we’re expanding some of our programs because it’s a goal of ours to increase participation, not just in sports, but activities, the arts, and all of those things, to get kids engaged in something outside of their regular school day,” he continued. “We know it’s extremely important. This gives those kids at the sixth-grade level a chance to be a part of something and start feeling school pride. They’re already engaged, they’re already a Husky or a Cougar, and they’re looking to be a Panther. It’s good to have that.”

The Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek sixth-graders will compete together on combined teams, according to Healea, who added that the district should not incur any additional transportation expenses, but might have to hire additional coaches.

“The number of coaches is based on the number of players,” he told the Post-Record, “so there is the possibility that additional coaches could be needed if a large number of sixth-grade athletes turn out for the sports.”

Chase said that the SWMSL should allow sixth-grade students to compete in track and field as well.

“You would have all three seasons (covered), and they all would be co-ed,” Chase said. “In Washougal, historically, we have great turnout at the high school for track, and at the middle school level, we have pretty good participation as well. I think those three (sports) kind of hit the mark for our community. Cross country has good participation in middle school and high school, and similar for wrestling and track and field. If we could push (that proposal), that would be great.”

Healea said that he has been working with Washougal High School athletic director Brian Wilde to strengthen the bonds and create continuity between the middle-school and high-school athletic programs, an effort that drew praise from board members and Superintendent Mary Tempeton.

“One of the pillars of measurement in our strategic plan asks us to increase (the number of) students that are participating in some activity outside of school, and this is a way to do that,” Templeton said. “I’m very excited about the addition of the sixth-grade (athletics). I look forward to (adding) additional sports, maybe track and field. I love the collaboration and coordination as we think about our athletics and our activities and programs as something that we’re working on together. That siloing is gone, and we are creating a group of students who are successful and prepared for the future.”

Templeton and Chase thanked Washougal voters for approving the district’s educational programs and operations levy in April, and reiterated the fact that the district would’ve had to cut its middle-school athletic program entirely if the levy had failed for a second time.

“That was one of those things that we were a little nervous (about) in the first round,” Chase said. “But our voters did support us (the second time), and now, instead of talking about cuts, we’re talking about expansion. We are able to make good on what we told the voters what we were going to do, which is to continue to support our athletics and activities and the arts and (all of our extracurricular activities).”