Much has changed.
The 2016-17 high school football season begins Wednesday. If you don’t recognize the league landscape from a year ago, that’s because the South Sound underwent as great a shift as there’s ever been.
Nine districts make up the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. None experienced more transformation as a result of the newly implemented four-year classification cycle than the West Central District (District 3).
Wiped from existence are the 4A Narrows, 4A South Puget Sound League Northeast and Northwest divisions, 3A Narrows, 3A SPSL and the 3A/2A Seamount.
The Narrows League was the longest tenured of those. It had existed since 1980.
Born (or reborn) are the 4A North Puget Sound League Cascade and Olympic divisions, 3A Pierce County League, 3A South Sound Conference and 2A SPSL Mountain and Sound divisions.
All the change has transformed the 4A SPSL into what many area coaches believe will be the toughest league in the state.
“It’s going to be every week of downright getting after it,” Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle said.
Five of its nine schools played into the postseason last year, including Bellarmine Prep and Olympia when they were in the 4A Narrows last year, and Sumner as part of the 3A SPSL.
The four schools that didn’t make the postseason? South Kitsap has the highest enrollment in the state and 25 state tournament appearances in its history, Puyallup has the third-highest enrollment and has 14 state appearances, Rogers has the seventh-highest and 14 state appearances, and Emerald Ridge won the league title two years ago.
“It’s like the old NFC West,” Bellarmine Prep coach Brian Jensen said. “It’s going to be competitive, and, as a competitor, that’s awesome. That’s what you want.”
Bellarmine beat Curtis to reach the first round of the 4A state playoffs last year, and that was the first time the schools met in the playoffs since 1967 — despite being separated by less than five miles.
Jensen was a quarterback at Curtis when he won a state title there in 1990. Now he’ll be on enemy lines when Bellarmine and Curtis play regularly against each other in league games.
“I’m proud to say I graduated from there, but I’m super proud to coach the Bellarmine Lions now,” Jensen said.
“It’s unfortunate there’s no more Narrows League. Bellarmine had great relationships with those schools for a long time. But, that being said, we’re excited to jump into the SPSL and face some new programs.”
Just look at all the emotional ties South Kitsap coach Gavin Kralik has with this league.
He graduated from Sumner — which South Kitsap last played in 1929 — his brothers went to Puyallup, he coached under Kurle at Bethel and then against him and the rest of the teams in this league from 2005-13 when Kurle took over at G-K and Kralik at Bethel.
“I love this league,” Kralik said. “I think it will be exciting to play all the schools I used to coach and play against.
“But for the people who grew up and were a part of South Kitsap athletics for a long time, it has been hard on those people to see the Narrows go away and the history it had.”
Lincoln coach Masaki Matsumoto scheduled his first two games against O’Dea and Auburn Mountainview to get some tough games in the preseason. But that was before Lincoln joined the 3A Pierce County League, which will include five teams that reached the postseason last year — Bethel, Bonney Lake, Lakes, Lincoln and Wilson.
“I guess we’ll have a really tough schedule,” Matsumoto said.
Foss had opted up to the 3A classification in the last cycle. But in a move to make it more competitive in all sports, the Tacoma School District decided to keep Foss in 2A for the 2016-20 cycle.
Now it’s part of the 2A SPSL, which doubled to 16 schools from last year because it also added Eatonville and six schools from the 2A Seamount — Evergreen of Seattle, Foster, Highline, Lindbergh, Renton and Tyee.
“It’s definitely a good thing for Foss,” Foss coach Matt Johnson said. “When you have 700 kids in your school and you’re playing schools with double that … now our mentality is different. Now we believe we can win because we’re the same size.
“We did lose a couple of kids who didn’t want to play 2A, but I want the kids who want to be here. I’ve been preaching that Foss hasn’t been to the playoffs in 25 years — this is our best chance.”
This means Foss won’t share the same league as the other Tacoma Public Schools. It will open with a nonleague game against Wilson on Sept. 2, then the plan is to rotate with nonleague games against Lincoln, Mount Tahoma and Stadium the next four years.
“I want a kid who is a freshman to be able to play every Tacoma school before he leaves,” Johnson said.
Tacoma Baptist coach Tim Rasmussen has never coached eight-man football. He’ll get his first chance this year as part of the 1B Sea-Tac League instead of 11-man 2B Pacific.
The Auburn schools went from the 4A SPSL three years ago, to the 3A SPSL the past two years, and for this cycle decided to opt up to play in the 4A NPSL.
The league hasn’t existed since 1990 and features 12 schools that opted up to 4A — in a 16-school league.
Capital went from the 2A Evergreen two years ago, to the 3A Narrows the past two years and now is part of the eight-school South Sound Conference. And that means no Spaghetti Bowl between it and Olympia — for the first time in 39 years.
There will still be a Fish Bowl between Gig Harbor and Peninsula. It will just take place Week 3 instead of the season opener, because the rival schools are now also league rivals in the 3A SSC.
The last time they were members of the same league was when they were Narrows members in 2000, and the then-Pierce County League before that.
So maybe things haven’t changed so much, after all.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
4A NORTH PUGET SOUND LEAGUE — CASCADE
Hazen, Kennedy Catholic, Kent-Meridian, Kentlake, Kentridge, Kentwood, Mount Rainier, Tahoma
▪ Most distance? — Kentlake to Kennedy: 23.1 miles
▪ Least distance? — Tahoma to Kentwood: 2.4 miles
4A NORTH PUGET SOUND LEAGUE — OLYMPIC
Auburn, Auburn Mountainview, Auburn Riverside, Decatur, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Thomas Jefferson, Todd Beamer
▪ Most distance? — Decatur to Enumclaw: 23.2 miles
▪ Least distance? — Federal Way to Thomas Jefferson: 2.6 miles
4A SOUTH PUGET SOUND LEAGUE
Bellarmine Prep, Curtis, Emerald Ridge, Graham-Kapowsin, Olympia, Puyallup, Rogers, South Kitsap, Sumner
▪ Most distance? — Graham-Kapowsin to South Kitsap: 46.2 miles
▪ Least distance? — Sumner to Puyallup: 3.7 miles
3A PIERCE COUNTY LEAGUE
Bethel, Bonney Lake, Lakes, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Spanaway Lake, Stadium, Wilson
▪ Most distance? — Bethel to Wilson: 20.1 miles
▪ Least distance? — Stadium to Lincoln: 3.1 miles
3A SOUTH SOUND CONFERENCE
Capital, Central Kitsap, Gig Harbor, North Thurston, Peninsula, Shelton, Timberline, Yelm
▪ Most distance? — Yelm to Central Kitsap: 65.5 miles
▪ Least distance? — Timberline to North Thurston: 4.3 miles
2A SOUTH PUGET SOUND LEAGUE — MOUNTAIN
Evergreen of Seattle, Fife, Foss, Foster, Franklin Pierce, Lindbergh, Washington, White River
▪ Most distance? — White River to Evergreen of Seattle: 40.4 miles
▪ Least distance? — Franklin Pierce to Washington: 3.1 miles
2A SOUTH PUGET SOUND LEAGUE — SOUND
Clover Park, Eatonville, Hazen, Orting, Renton, River Ridge, Steilacoom, Tyee
▪ Most distance? — Eatonville to Highline: 48.8 miles
▪ Least distance? — Clover Park to Steilacoom: 4.1 miles
2A EVERGREEN CONFERENCE
Aberdeen, Black Hills, Centralia, Rochester, Tumwater, W.F. West
▪ Most distance? — W.F. West to Aberdeen: 58.8 miles
▪ Least distance? — Black Hills to Tumwater: 2.1 miles
Bellevue Christian, Cascade Christian, Charles Wright, Chimacum, Port Townsend, Seattle Christian, Vashon Island
▪ Most distance? — Cascade Christian to Port Townsend: 94.6 miles
▪ Least distance? — Cascade Christian to Charles Wright: 14.1 miles
2B PACIFIC — MOUNTAIN
Adna, Chief Leschi, Life Christian, Morton-White Pass, Napavine, Onalaska, Rainier
▪ Most distance? — Chief Leschi to Onalaska: 76.7 miles
▪ Least distance? — Chief Leschi to Life Christian: 8.3 miles
Evergreen Lutheran, Muckleshoot, Quilcene, Rainier Christian, Seattle Lutheran, Tacoma Baptist
▪ Most distance? — Tacoma Baptist to Seattle Lutheran: 36.5 miles
▪ Least distance? — Tacoma Baptist to Evergreen Lutheran: 4.3 miles