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Bye, bye, bye Mid-Valley League

The historic Mid-Valley League, which helped produce some of the greatest moments in prep sports history in Washington state, is expected to be a thing of the past.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) representative assembly is expect to pass a measure in late April that will bring a new classification into the mix.

The end result of the new classification will leave the Mid-Valley League in shambles and Sunnyside High School searching for a home.

While it is not set in stone, the vote, creating a fifth classification, is expected to pass when the assembly meets in April, said WIAA District 5 Secretary Bill Gant. Gant believes the new classification measure will work well, giving smaller schools a chance to be competitive.

The new classification creates a 'C' division, which will serve the smaller schools in the state.

The enrollment counts, if the measure passes, would have the C division based on an enrollment of 0-83 students in the top three grades. The B ranks would carry enrollment counts of 84-177 students. The 1A division would have an enrollment count of 178-412 students. The 2A ranks would be for schools with 413 to 891 students. The 3A ranks would have between 892-1,324 students with the 4A counts anything above 1,325 students.

The WIAA is currently conducting enrollment counts from this January through the end of the school year and then from October to December of the 2005-06 school year. The months would then be calculated to come up with an average enrollment. The new classification system would take effect for the 2006-07 school year.

The point behind the new classification, said Gant, is to help equalize the number of schools competing against one another. Currently, the B ranks have 124 schools. Gant pointed out that some schools in the B ranks are taking on schools with double their enrollment.

The make-up for District 5 would change dramatically for areas schools, most notably in the Mid-Valley League.

Under the proposal, there would only be five schools that would be in the Mid-Valley League. The problem is that Southridge, Kamiakin and Hanford, which would make-up the Mid-Valley League with Sunnyside and West Valley, are more than likely going to be opting up to 4A. This would leave the Grizzlies and the Rams as the only two schools in the league. Gant said the problem for Sunnyside and West Valley is that the schools are located in such an area of the state where they don't benefit from their location, such as Hanford will under the realignment.

"Everybody is sympathetic to Sunnyside and West Valley," said Gant. "These are the two schools that are going to be impacted the greatest."

Gant, though, said he believes West Valley will opt up to the 4A ranks, leaving Sunnyside by itself in the Mid-Valley League.

"We are going to try and find a place for them (Sunnyside)," said Gant.

Sunnyside High School Athletic Director Bill Daley said what would ideally work for the Grizzlies is combining with the 2A schools in District 5, the likes of such former Mid-Valley League schools as Ellensburg, Prosser, Wapato and Selah. Selah sits on the enrollment bubble between 2A and 3A.

Gant said from his talks the 2A schools aren't opposed to welcoming Sunnyside into the mix in some way. Gant said if this happened, the Grizzlies would simply play a 2A schedule, but when the postseason rolled around. Sunnyside would play as a 3A school. Gant said Sunnyside will not be denied a 3A postseason berth.

Legally, the WIAA can't deny schools from opting up, said Gant. The WIAA can deny large schools from opting down to lower classifications.

Daley said he is looking at trying to get Sunnyside into the local 2A ranks for a number of reasons, mainly because of travel expenses. The nearest 3A competition would be up north or to the eastern side of the state, said Daley, which wouldn't make sense for the Grizzlies to take part in.

Daley said it is also unknown what the 3A schools up in Spokane, such as Mead and East Valley, are going to do if the measure passes in April.

Aligning with the local 2A ranks also make sense from an economic standpoint because many of the rivalries Sunnyside has had in the past with other schools, including Grandview and Prosser, would still be able to keep going. Daley said this would help with gate receipts.

"It wouldn't be new for them to see us," said Daley of the 2A schools.

The only other option for Sunnyside is to try to join the Big Nine ranks.

"They don't want you unless you are going to opt up (to 4A)," said Daley.

Daley said if the measure does pass in April he will begin immediately talking with the 2A schools about Sunnyside joining their ranks. Daley said he doesn't expect Sunnyside's enrollment count in the top three grades to change much, so Sunnyside will still be a 3A school.

"This isn't about size for us. It is about a place to be at," said Daley. "I can only hope Sunnyside has gained enough respect from these (2A) schools (to be taken into their league)."

Mabton High School is a school that is in pretty good shape, regardless of the outcome of the April vote.

Mabton, which is currently the largest B school in the state, will remain in the B ranks under the new classification. However, the Vikings will be bordering on the 1A enrollment counts, said Viking Athletic Director Denny Brown.

Mabton currently has 172 students in the top three grade levels. Brown said he expects that count to be near there or even higher by the time the new classification enrollment figures come out.

The B ranks under the proposed classification system would have Mabton in the same league as Riverside Christian, LaSalle, Lyle and White Swan. Brown said the Vikings would be more than competitive at this level, but he will be recommending to the school board that Mabton opts to 1A. Brown is expecting LaSalle and White Swan to opt up to the 1A level if the proposal passes in April. The area 1A schools would include Granger, Goldendale, Naches, Kiona-Benton and Zillah.

From a business standpoint, Brown said opting up to 1A makes sense. The rivalries between schools like Mabton, Zillah and Granger would be renewed.

"It is going to create more excitement in the Valley," said Brown.

Being in the 1A league would also make it easier to schedule non-varsity games. Brown said many of the B schools don't have junior varsity teams, which means he has to go out and find schools willing to play his younger squads.

Brown said he also feels his Vikings sports programs will be competitive at the 1A ranks. Brown said he would not propose opting up if he didn't believe the student athletes could compete.

Another school that will be greatly impacted is Sunnyside Christian.

The Knights would be in the C classification based on their enrollment count. Sunnyside Christian High School Athletic Director Dean Wagenaar said the Knights currently have 64 students in the top three grades.

Wagenaar said he would propose to the school board to stay in the C division.

"I think it is good for small schools," said Wagenaar.

What this would mean for Sunnyside Christian is an end to its storied history in the B ranks. The Knights basketball teams would no longer be eligible to compete at the B State tournament in Spokane, where both the boys and girls have been a mainstay.

"The thing we would miss is Spokane," said Wagenaar.

Wagenaar said it makes sense for Sunnyside Christian to stay at the C division with the smaller schools such Bickleton, Glenwood, Yakama Tribal and Trout Lake.

"We will still try to have a very tough non-league schedule," said Wagenaar.

While basketball has been successful, Wagenaar said it is getting harder each and every year for Sunnyside Christian to remain competitive against larger B schools.

Wagenaar said the two sports that would be affected the most at Sunnyside Christian, as far as scheduling, are baseball and volleyball.

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