By Pat Jenkins
A year-long study has led to a decision that will put Eatonville High School’s sports teams in a league with schools in towns ranging from southwest Washington to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.
The new arrangement, which will have the Cruisers competing in the Evergreen League beginning this fall, “should be a good one long-term for our kids, programs and community,” said George Fairhart, Eatonville’s athletic director and football coach.
One of the biggest reasons the Eatonville School Board approved the move is for Eatonville to be aligned with other community-based schools that have most of the same interscholastic sports programs.
“A lot of the private schools” Eatonville competed against in the Nisqually League didn’t have junior varsity teams, which made it hard to fill up the Cruisers’ JV schedules, Fairhart said. Also, fan support for community-based public schools is more substantial than private schools, which makes for a better fan and competitive experience in games, he said.
Eatonville is a 1A-size school in enrollment, as are most of the other schools in the Evergreen League – Tenino, Elma, Montesano, Hoquiam, Forks, Aberdeen and Rochester. All are 1A schools except Aberdeen and Rochester, which are 2A. Aberdeen will join the league at the same time as Eatonville, while Rochester is staying in the league despite moving up to 2A in enrollment size.
The Evergreen has been all-1A previously. Eatonville is replacing Rainier, which is dropping to class 2B and going to a different league.
Eatonville officials reviewed league options for a year before settling on a switch that takes effect with the 2014-15 school year. Part of the study focused on distances their teams travel to other schools for competition. As a Nisqually League member, the Cruisers had some long drives to Port Townsend and Chimacum on the Olympic Peninsula. Fairhart said switching to the Evergreen creates total travel that will be “about the same overall,”.but some trips will become easier. For instance, for post-season district playoffs, Eatonville no longer will have to battle heavy traffic in the Seattle area when going north for Tri-District contests. Playoffs now will be south of Eatonville in West Central District 4, which could be easier drives for fans.
The distance between Eatonville and Forks, which is on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula, will be eased with some creative scheduling of contests. The schools will play their football games against each other in Aberdeen the next two falls, splitting the travel time relatively equally, Fairhart said. Special considerations are also being given to other sports, including baseball (doubleheaders will be hosted every other year by each school, rather than a home-and-away single game) and basketball games will be played during the winter break. Also, track teams won’t schedule each other. Instead, Eatonville will be part of three-way meets to make up for the absence of Forks on its schedule.
“”It should be exciting,” Eatonville girls basketball coach Davina Serdahl said of the new order.
Another scheduling anomaly is that Evergreen 1A schools don’t offer girls swimming and boys tennis, so Eatonville’s teams in those sports will compete against Aberdeen and Rochester, the Evergreen 2A schools.
During a School Board meeting, board member Roger Andrascik said he appreciates the cooperation of other Evergreen schools in trying to accommodate Eatonville in scheduling and travel-related issues.
Fairhart noted that a factor in Eatonville changing leagues is the shrinking of the Nisqually. Life Christian, which is switching from 1A to a 2B affiliation, and Chimacum, Port Townsend and Cedar Park are leaving for new leagues after this school year. Along with Eatonville’s departure, that leaves the Nisqually with five members for 2014-15 – Vashon, Wright, Cascade Christian, Bellevue Christian and Seattle Christian..
Eatonville has had an off-and-on relationship with the Nisqually League. The Cruisers left in 2010 to join the South Puget Sound League 2A despite having a much smaller enrollment (500-plus) than other SPSL schools (most of them topping 1,000) and, as a result, a competitive disadvantage because of a smaller pool of student-athletes. Eatonville returned to the Nisqually for the 2012-13 school year in order to compete against schools closer to its size.