Decatur High School set to 'opt up' to Class 4A next fall

If Federal Way officials have their way, all four district high schools will play in the same division of the South Puget Sound League next fall.

District officials recently took the first step in making that dream a reality when Decatur High School declared its intention to “opt up” to the 4A classification prior to the 2014-15 school year.

“This is the right move at the right time,” said Vince Blauser, executive director of secondary schools for Federal Way Public Schools. “We really, really want to be together. That’s going to be our intention.”

Currently, Decatur competes in the SPSL’s 3A Division, while Jefferson plays in the 4A SPSL North Division. Federal Way and Beamer compete in the 4A SPSL South.

Having all four schools in the same division of the SPSL has been a long-standing battle between Federal Way and the rest of the league. The last time the Beamer, Federal Way, Thomas Jefferson and the Decatur athletic programs played in the same division was in 2005-06, when they competed in an old configuration of the SPSL North.

Since then, the four schools have been shuffled around the league like a deck of cards. Beamer was the first to move when, after a year and a half of discussions, the school was shipped to the SPSL South in 2006.

The four Federal Way district athletic directors didn’t participate in the vote to move Beamer because it was their stand that the four schools should be kept together in the North Division.

In 2010, Federal Way High School joined Beamer in the SPSL South, while Jefferson remained in the SPSL North Division. That is also when Decatur dropped to the SPSL 3A because of lower enrollment numbers.

During the last enrollment cycle, Beamer had the highest student population in the district with 1,464 students. Jefferson followed with 1,447 students and Federal Way was right behind at 1,322. Decatur is the smallest high school in the city with an enrollment of 1,129.

At the time, officials believed dropping into the 3A classification would have a positive effect for Decatur in sports. The school’s teams struggled during their last couple of years as a 4A school, especially on the girls’ side.

“For us, it’s a win, win, win,” Blauser said. “It’s good for the community. These kids grow up together and play against each other in middle school.”

Having all four Federal Way schools in one division of the SPSL will create more of a sense of community, but also generate more money from ticket sales at the games because fans aren’t traveling as far to watch. It will also cut down immensely the money schools spend on travel expenses.

By moving back into the 4A classification, Decatur alone will save thousands of dollars the school currently pays to bus student athletes to games. In the Federal Way school district, the individual school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) must cover transportation costs to extracurricular events.

Moving into the SPSL’s 3A division cost Decatur an extra $8,500 a year because of the longer bus rides to places like Peninsula and Enumclaw. Before moving to 3A, Decatur’s ASB spent between $30,000 and $35,000 a year on transportation costs competing in the SPSL South Division.

According to Blauser, a lot of work needs to be completed by both the Federal Way school district and the SPSL. Federal Way has had preliminary discussions with the league about moving all four schools into the same 4A division, but no decisions will be made until after the the first of the year, he said.

The current SPSL South includes Graham-Kapowsin, Bethel, Spanaway Lake, Emerald Ridge, Puyallup, Rogers, Beamer and Federal Way. The SPSL North includes Auburn, Auburn Riverside, Kent-Meridian, Kentwood, Kentridge, Kentlake, Tahoma and Jefferson.

One possibility would be to create three 4A divisions by school district and geographical location. The south section could include Graham-Kapowsin, Bethel, Spanaway Lake, Emerald Ridge, Puyallup and Rogers, a central division with the four Federal Way schools along with the two from Auburn, and a north division with the four Kent schools, plus Tahoma.

“This is well overdue,” Blauser said. “This is going to benefit our community and our kids. We are just looking for a viable option right now. It’s still early in the process. But the folks at the SPSL seem to be on board.”

The Federal Way district has been in a version of the SPSL since it was called the Pierce County League in the 1950s. The name changed in the 1960s to the Puget Sound League, then to the SPSL later in the decade.

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