Four Federal Way high schools set to play in same SPSL 4A division

Everything seems to point toward all four Federal Way high schools playing in the same division of the South Puget Sound League (SPSL) in the fall.

The athletic directors at the current SPSL schools have already voted in favor of realigning the two Class 4A divisions, with Federal Way, Beamer and Decatur joining Thomas Jefferson in the SPSL North. The league's principals will vote on the proposal at their next meeting, which has been delayed to next month, according to Vince Blauser, the executive director of secondary schools in Federal Way.

"It's just logistics," he said. "It was just getting everyone together. I hope it's just a formality. It's now in the principals' hands. But we are definitely moving in that direction."

The new 10-team Class 4A North Division is set to include the four Federal Way schools, along with the four Kent high schools (Kentridge, Kentwood, Kentlake and Kent-Meridian), Mount Rainier and Tahoma. Both Auburn and Auburn Riverside, current members of the North Division, have opted to move down to Class 3A in the fall.

Federal Way officials announced their intentions to have all four schools in the same division in October when Decatur declared it would “opt up” to the 4A classification prior to the 2014-15 school year.

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. Next year, the 4A SPSL North will include seven schools — Puyallup, Emerald Ridge, Rogers, Spanaway Lake, Bethel, Curtis and Graham-Kapowsin.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) finalized its classification figures Tuesday for the upcoming 2014-16 two-year enrollment cycle and Beamer (1,315 students) and Jefferson (1,281) both fell into the 4A class, which ranges from 1,252 to 2,099 students. Federal Way (1,139), along with Decatur (1,032), will also have to officially "opt up" to 4A during the next two years.

With each reclassification cycle, the WIAA strives for 17 percent (roughly 64 schools) in each of the state's six classifications (4A, 3A, 2A, 1A, 2B and 1B).

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. Every other school district in the SPSL has always been grouped together in the same division.

The last time the Beamer, Federal Way, Thomas Jefferson and the Decatur athletic programs played in the same division was during the 2005-06 school year, when they competed in an old configuration of the SPSL North.

"We need to be the ones that are in the same division, like everybody else," Blauser said. "The SPSL has been great through this whole process. The leaders have embraced it and people have been really supportive. Everything has really worked out."

Since 2006, the four Federal Way schools have been shuffled around the league. 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 in 2011, 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. A portion of the school’s teams struggled during the last couple years as a 4A school, as well as the last two years in 3A, especially on the girls’ side. Those same officials are hoping that rekindling the rivalries with the other Federal Way schools will be a boon for Decatur athletics.

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.

"It's just good for our program," Blauser said. "It brings a city-wide competition. That whole feel of kids being able to compete against each other as rivals. It's also a boost financially."

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.

In football, the new-look SPSL North will be split into two mini-divisions in the fall. The four Federal Way schools will be grouped with Mount Rainier, and the Kent schools and Tahoma will play each other during the regular season. In week nine of the season, the two mini-divisions will hold crossover games to determine the division’s overall seeding for the postseason.

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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