Okanogan will join Tonasket and Brewster in becoming 2B schools starting next fall.
The Okanogan School Board heard testimony at a special meeting Monday night for more than 100 minutes from coaches, administrators, parents and a girls basketball player on whether the Bulldogs should opt up to 1A.
Okanogan fell into the 2B ranks according to enrollment during reclassification counts last spring and this fall.
Several coaches and a community member noted there appeared to be a rift, with some wanting to play at 2B and others wanting to play at 1A.
“There’s a lot of emotion that goes into this,” Okanogan football coach Erick Judd said. “I know there’s been a lot of bickering back and forth. After tonight, I hope we can all go back to playing together.”
Judd said playing at 1A would mean picking up six non-league football games, which would be difficult.
Several Okanogan coaches, athletic director Steve Chamberlin and principal Bob Shacklett said that at this time, with the information they had, they thought being in 2B was the best way to go.
Reasons cited for being a 2B school included shorter commutes to games, less money spent on travel, the ability in some sports for eighth-graders to play and students and coaches/teachers in the classroom more.
Reasons cited for opting up to 1A included challenging student athletes to compete at a high level.
Boys basketball coach Mike Carlquist said he felt ideally it would be great to play in 1A.
“I coached in the B’s and I like the A’s better,” Carlquist said.
When no motion was made by a board member to opt up to 1A, the meeting was adjourned.
That meant Okanogan is going with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s assessment that the Bulldogs become a 2B school.
No vote was needed since no motion was presented, Superintendent Richard Johnson said.
Tonasket learned Friday that several teams opted up to 1A and moved the Tigers into the 2B range, which Tonasket agreed to.
Brewster decided at least a month ago to play where it was assigned, which is 2B.
That leaves Omak as the lone 1A school in the region. The remaining Caribou Trail League schools also include Chelan, Cashmere and Cascade.
The North-Central Washington League could include Okanogan, Tonasket, Brewster, Oroville, Bridgeport, Liberty Bell, Lake Roosevelt and Manson. The league could also include White Swan and Mabton. It’s not known if the league will split into northern and southern divisions.
It’s not clear where 1B Waterville (92) and Entiat (87) will land, since they are close to being 2B teams.
Pateros will remain a 1B school, as will Curlew and Republic.
Tonasket and Okanogan dropped into the 2B ranks last month after WIAA eliminated 10 schools listed as 1B schools, but without varsity teams.
WIAA assigns each classification based on a percentage to keep the classes fairly even, which allows for teams to have 16-team state tournaments.
The Okanogan School Board needed to decide if it wanted to opt up to 1A at the special meeting Monday because the WIAA deadline for opting up was Tuesday.Soccer coach Dean Klepec said he’d get his players ready to play no matter what level, although he preferred playing as a 1A school.
A poll of his players showed the majority wanted to play in 1A.
Wrestling coach Andy Knutson said no matter what level the school played, he could find good competition at various tournaments.
Golf coach Aaron Nickelson said a change to 2B would give the team access to other courses, which could help golfers on the larger greens at state.
Softball coach Darin Radke favored going to 2B since the Bulldogs would be graduating two quality pitchers and would be in a rebuilding year next fall.
Several coaches said the addition of eighth-graders to compete would mean more players for junior varsity and C-squad play, and an additional year of instruction.
Track coach Zach Spaet believed 2B would give Okanogan a chance to compete against schools of similar size, and more athletes would advance to state.
Volleyball coach Michelle Daling, choking back tears and trembling with emotion due to the hard feelings on the subject, said 2B was best for her program.
“We’ve been the second smallest team in the Caribou Trail League (behind Brewster),” she said.
Girls basketball coach Bryan Boesel stressed that his players wanted the challenge of playing at a high level, which only 1A competition would give it.
Boesel, who has won three state 1A titles in his 12 years coaching in the CTL (16 total years as a coach), said, “Going to 2B is not getting them to the next level.”
Boesel offered to pay the difference between estimates of travel costs for 2B compared to 1A competition.
Johnson said he’d learned Colville and Deer Park were moving from 2A to the Northeast 1A League, which competes against the CTL for berths to state. The added schools to the east and the reduction of the CTL to four schools would mean fewer state berths here.
Ron Oules, who has a daughter on the basketball team, stressed he wanted his daughter to play in 1A.
“The bottom line is students don’t suffer by athletics,” said Oules, who called competition from 2B teams in the area “pathetic.”
Jill Townsend, a member of the girls basketball team, stressed that she and her teammates wanted the challenge of playing in 1A, and that board members should seek out players and find out what they wanted.
“We’ve always been the underdogs,” she said. “That’s what life is, doing something greater.”
“I don’t have any problem with it,” Oroville athletic director Tam Hutchinson said of Tonasket moving to 2B. “It means less travel. What we need is an Okanogan league again.”
“If we get 40 schools at 2B we can have a full bracket at the state wrestling tournament,” Oroville wrestling coach Chuck Ricevuto said.
He was happy with reclassification efforts this year, meaning more schools should be in the 2B ranks.
When Cle Elum, Stevenson and River View decided to opt up, it moved Tonasket (220 students) into the 2B range behind Warden (224).
If Tonasket stayed in 1A, it would be one of the smallest schools, going up against the likes of Omak (307) or, at the top of the classification, Eatonville (464).
“We did not see that being a real positive things for us,” Tonasket Athletic Director Kevin Terris said.