A year ago, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Representative Assembly voted for major changes to the state’s high-school athletic landscape.

Those changes are officially being felt this week as schools adjust to enrollment numbers for the 2020-24 cycle, which were approved Sunday by the WIAA Executive Board.

Last January, the Representative Assembly, a 53-person body made up of educators from across the state, voted to add a socioeconomic factor to how schools are classified, using free-and-reduced-lunch numbers to place schools in classifications (4A, 3A, etc.) in which they may be more competitive. It also voted to change how the state’s classifications are decided, leaving balanced, percentage-based classes behind in favor of set numbers. And the number of schools in each classification will decide the size of a state tournament’s field.

(Illustration by Rich Boudet / The Seattle Times)
What separates the haves and the have-nots of high-school athletics — and Washington’s plan to fix it

Eighteen schools are playing in a smaller classification because of their free-and-reduced-lunch percentage. The WIAA is hoping to make less-affluent schools more competitive.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction with that,” WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said. “… It’s definitely the first step for the first step.”

For the first time since 2007, the state’s classifications (from Class 4A down to 1B) will be unbalanced. And the 79-school 3A classification will trigger a 20-team state tournament, which will be a first.

Advertising

By the numbers

Classifications for the 2020-24 cycle

Class, enrollment range, number of schools
Class 4A, 1,300+, 51
Class 3A, 900-1,299, 79
Class 2A, 450-899, 62
Class 1A, 225-449, 60
Class 2B, 105-224, 61
Class 1B, 1-104, 85

Just how a new state tournament format will work for a 20-team field is still to be decided. An Executive Board committee will be working on that, and Hoffman said the new plan could be unveiled in the spring. The vote last year required 53 schools in a classification for it to keep a traditional 16-team state tournament. The Executive Board, a 13-person statewide board comprised of school administrators, voted to make a two-year exception and kept the 51-school 4A classification with a 16-team state bracket.

In May, the assembly voted to allow schools to be able to “opt down” a classification if they could make a convincing case for it.

Ten schools successfully appealed their classifications and are playing down (including Roosevelt and Ballard, which remain in Class 3A), and an additional eight schools opted down for football only, including Interlake (2A) and Newport (3A). Forty-six schools opted up to a bigger classification.

As each new enrollment cycle does, several leagues will be altered for the 2020-21 school year. Here are some of the bigger changes:

  • The KingCo 2A/3A Conference will grow as Hazen, Lindbergh, Renton, Foster, Highline, Evergreen and Tyee are leaving the South Puget Sound League, SPSL officials said.
  • The North Puget Sound League will become a multi-classification league with 4A and 3A schools (it currently is only 4A), and it will be smaller as Hazen is leaving and Enumclaw is dropping down to 2A and joining the SPSL, according to NPSL president Rob Swaim.
  • WesCo is deciding how best to divide 21 schools over three classifications. It will have five 4A schools (three less than this year), 14 3A schools and two 2A schools. Mount Vernon and Oak Harbor are leaving for the Northwest Conference. Last week, the league decided to continue using three divisions for football: 4A, 3A North and 3A South.
  • There will be a new Class 1A league. The Emerald City League and the North Sound Conference are merging to create the Emerald Sound Conference.

Complete classification information can be found here.