Gig Harbor High School made a big change prior to the 2016-17 school year, when Gig Harbor athletic director Bob Werner announced the school would drop down to Class 3A, after participating in the Class 4A Narrows League.
Two years into the move — and two to go before reclassification pops up again — it’s worth asking, how has the new classification and league gone for the Tides?
By all accounts, splendidly.
Since joining the South Sound Conference, Gig Harbor has racked up plenty of league titles, and has also added a state title in baseball, a state title in girls basketball, a state title in boys golf and state titles in girls and boys track and field.
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“We based (the decision to drop down to 3A) on a 12-year population forecast,” Werner said. “Looking at the numbers, there’s not an expected uptick at Gig Harbor High School for quite a while. We continue to get smaller, relative to everyone else. It’s been good competition for most of our programs.”
Werner and the school flirted with the idea of opting up to 4A, but eventually decided dropping down was in the best interest of the program.
“I’ve seen in the past, a lot of public schools that refused to drop down,” Werner said. “Then they had four to eight years of a pretty miserable experience. Their competitiveness declined.”
The WIAA is toying with an idea of basing classification not only on enrollment numbers, but on socio-economic factors, such as the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. A vote is scheduled for January.
For Gig Harbor, a relatively affluent area, the current proposal could force the school back up to 4A.
“They’d bump our enrollment 20 to 30 percent higher,” Werner said.
Werner said the formula proposal is a “step in the right direction,” but expressed concern that it doesn’t address another issue: private schools, which are able to draw student-athletes from a wider geographic area.
“Anything that makes schools more equal and competitive, I’m a fan of,” Werner said. “I’m not sure they have the right formula but it’s a step in the right direction. But it doesn’t deal with the private school issue.”
That issue will become clearer this winter. For now, Gig Harbor High is happy in the South Sound Conference. The biggest bonus of dropping down has been being in the same league as crosstown rival Peninsula High.
“The student bodies on both sides have done a better job making those (rivalry games) fun events,” Werner said. “And the scheduling with Peninsula has been way easier. You don’t have to negotiate when, where you’re going to play them anymore. So that’s been good.”
For Werner, joining a league with competitive programs, with good depth, from varsity to C-team, was the most important factor last time around.
“We have good depth at the sub-varsity level,” Werner said.
For Gig Harbor, the drop to 3A and move to the South Sound Conference has been mostly positive. But there have been a couple small negatives.
For one, traveling to schools like Yelm, Capital, North Thurston, and Timberline is a bit of a drive, and the Joint Base Lewis McChord area is generally not free-flowing.
And secondly, Gig Harbor had some quality, established rivalries in the 4A Narrows, against schools like South Kitsap and Bellarmine Prep.
“We loved playing those guys,” Werner said. “We had some longstanding rivalries and some great games. That’s the downside — we thought we’d be able to play them more.”
While Werner has tried to schedule out-of-league games against those schools, their league schedules are jam-packed and leave little room to play other schools.
It’s still early to look ahead to the 2020-21 school year and the next realignment cycle, but Werner said the school is happy where they are now.
“I think we’ll stay where we’re at,” he said. “I’m a fan of mixed classifications at the benefit of geographical composition. So if we were able to do a 3A/4A league, I’d be a big proponent of that. Having Central Kitsap, South Kitsap, Gig Harbor, Bellarmine and others involved, I think that’d be great. But if things are going well, we’ll just keep our league how it’s currently constructed.”