Movin’ on up – to the Greater Spokane League

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Enrollment numbers put Cheney High School in 3A classification and new league for 2020-2021

CHENEY – While many aspects of local school enrollments may be unclear at this point, one thing is for certain — Cheney High School sports will be changing leagues and classification in 2020.

In a presentation to the school board on Oct. 23, high school Athletics Director Jeff Chandler said enrollment puts Cheney solidly in the 3A classification, and therefore precipitating a move into the Greater Spokane League. Cheney was last 3A in the GSL from 2002 — 2006 before changes in determining state classifications dropped the high school to its current 2A and into the Great Northern League in fall 2006.

“This is long term,” Chandler told the school board. “As long as we continue to grow, we’re going to be in 3A.”

Final enrollment counts are due in November, but as of October, enrollment at the high school averaged 1,008.22 students. In January, the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Representative Assembly adopted changes to the state classification system, discarding the system based on balanced percentages in favor of a return to classifications established through fixed enrollment numbers.

The 3A classification is set at 900 – 1,299 students. The assembly, in an attempt to create a competitive balance for schools in less-affluent areas, also instituted the use of free or reduced lunch rates to decrease enrollment for every 1 percent the school is above the state’s reduced lunch-rate average.

According to 2018-19 figures, 44.3 percent of CHS students were identified as low-income and eligible to receive free or reduced lunch. The state-wide average for the same timeframe was 46.2 percent.

“If you’re worried about having food on your table, you’re not thinking about playing sports,” Chandler said.

The changes will lead to a new-look GSL. The league will be a combination 2A/3A/4A alignment, with schools solidly in the 4A classification being Lewis and Clark, Gonzaga Prep and likely Ferris, with Central Valley and University also slotted in, depending on socio-economic adjusted enrollments.

Cheney, Mead, Mt. Spokane and North Central come in at 3A — with one exception regarding NC — while GNL members Clarkston, East Valley, West Valley and Pullman will join Spokane schools Rogers and Shadle Park as 2A members. Depending on numbers, Chandler said there is a possibility Deer Park may move up from the Northeast A League to the GSL 2A, while the new Ridgeline High School under construction in Liberty Lake could join as a 3A when it comes online in the 2021-2022 school year.

The exception in this has to do with one of the issues Chandler said athletics directors debated in creating the new league alignment — competitive equity. That exists mainly with football, where schools that lack facilities and are impacted by low turnout due to socio-economic factors can be at a disadvantage — such as NC.

To compensate, Chandler said North Central — which by enrollment is 3A — will compete as a 2A school in football, the only sport with this option. That option also exists for Cheney.

Other issues revolved around revenue sharing. In 2020, all schools or school districts will have their own football stadiums, with Mead and Mt. Spokane’s currently under construction and CV and U-Hi — along with Ridgeline — already having facilities.

G-Prep also has their own stadium, while the five Spokane District 81 schools will continue to use venerable Joe Albi Stadium. Each school will have its own venue for basketball, with revenues shared from GSL passes and advertising.

Chandler said 369 students competed in sports during fall quarter 2019, including 105 in football, 65 in volleyball, 61 in cross country and 39 each in girls swimming and soccer. From an academic standpoint, just 4.87 percent of athletes were on academic probation — meaning they were failing two or more classes and ineligible to play.

“Pretty minimal,” Chandler said of the probation numbers. “If we had a graduation rate of 96.13 percent, we’d be really happy.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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