A few weeks ago I wrote a column in which I called out the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) for failing to address the competitive imbalance in 1A girls soccer — where private schools have completely dominated over the past two decades, winning 17 of the last 19 state championships.
The season had just concluded, and the Cascade loss weighed heavily on the sports desk all week. It was the talk of several debates, so that’s where the focus of the column went.
Little did I know, we had only scratched the surface with the private vs. public school debate, which it turns out, has created rifts in other sports and classifications as well — though it seems to be contained mostly to the B or 1A classification where there is a higher percentage of private schools.
However, there are some notable examples in 2A as well, primarily in football with Archbishop Thomas Murphy (ATM), the lone private school in the classification. Three years ago, ATM made national headlines when five of the six Cascade Conference opponents it faced forfeited, with parents citing potential injury concerns for their kids lining up against an ATM line that featured six guys weighing 250-pounds or more.
ATM throttled every team by an average of 35 points that season and eventually won the 2A state title 56-14 over Liberty.
But, that was also just a one-time thing. ATM, while recognized as a football powerhouse, has won only one state championship the past five seasons. And overall, there have been just four private school football state champions (across all classifications) in the last five years — Eastside Catholic (2019, 2018, 2015), O’Dea (2017), Gonzaga Prep (2015) and ATM (2016).
For the B and 1A classification, private schools are almost nonexistent when it comes to football. Over the last 19 years, only two private schools have won the state title in 1A — ATM (2002, 2003) and Cascade Christian (2010, 2014) — and in 2B, DeSales (2007) is the only private school that has brought home the hardware.
Meanwhile, Royal has won the state title in 1A seven times, including four of the last five years.
So, at least in football, things are split between public and private.
Where that ratio starts to skew is in soccer and volleyball.
In girls’ soccer, the discrepancy is obvious, but the boys are much more even; 10 of the last 18 state champions and 20 of the 36 teams that made the finals were private.
While Chelan won the state volleyball championship this season, there has been only one other public school in the last six years to win the title (Lakeside). And of the 24 teams to make the Final Four, 14 of them were private — with really only Cascade, Chelan, Freeman or Lakeside cracking the top four.
The statistics are even worse in basketball.
In 1A girls, five of the last six state champions were private and only four of the 12 teams to reach the finals were public.
For boys, Zillah, Toledo and Vashon Island were the only public schools who have won a state title in the last 13 years — basically, since Brewster had their big run in the mid-2000s.
But if things look dire in 1A, the competition level for the B schools is a disaster in soccer and basketball.
Only three public schools have won the state title in both girls’ and boys’ soccer over the last 12 years — Orcas Island (2009) and Okanogan (2015) for girls and Waitsburg-Prescott (2011, 2018) for boys.
Though they represent just 15 percent of the total schools in 2B, 72 percent of the teams that were in finals over the last 12 years in both girls’ and boys’ soccer were private (35/48). And for the boys, just 11 of the 48 teams in the Final Four were public. Now that is an eye-catching statistic.
Basketball is more mixed. Colton (public) is a clear powerhouse in girls basketball, winning 10 of the last 11 state titles. No private school has won since 2006. But the numbers tell a different story for the boys, where 12 of the last 19 state champions have been private — largely due to Sunnyside Christian, who have won 10 state titles since 2002.
Is there a problem with the competition level? In my opinion, the answer emphatically is yes — especially in 1B and 1A where small public schools are competing with schools that can recruit any top athlete within a 50-mile radius.
But there are some caveats with certain public schools dominating individual sports — i.e. Royal (football) or Cashmere and Colton (girls basketball).
Unfortunately, this is going to remain the status quo unless the WIAA institutes some actual change or emulates a “success” factor like the one in Indiana I pointed out in my last column.
A system like that would bump schools up a classification in certain sports based on their "success" during a given cycle – they reclassify every two years in Indiana. Cashmere, for instance, would be playing in 2A for girls basketball.
This wouldn't necessarily get rid of rivalry games against Chelan or Cascade, those would likely still stay in the schedule as non conference games, but Cashmere would also face stiffer competition on a game-by-game basis – probably in the CWAC.
I can say from personal experience, the sky wouldn't fall. My high school went through something similar. While we were good in baseball and boys soccer, our football team was terrible. Baseball and soccer both played up a division in 5A while our football team was relegated to the second division in 4A.
A "success" factor would only adjust the teams that are consistently dominating and put them against larger schools.
Instead, the WIAA is instituting a reclassification for next school year that is based on the percentage of free-and-reduced lunches, which is meaningless considering it will only allow schools to move down.
Apparently the WIAA holds the belief that affluent kids are more athletically inclined than disadvantaged, which is certainly up for debate.
Do they have more opportunities or benefits than the underprivileged? Yes. But I'm sure there are plenty of players in the NFL, NBA, MLB and MLS that might disagree with that assumption.