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Sunnyside Grizzlies join new Big Nine

The WIAA's musical chairs continues as Sunnyside High School finds itself in yet another new league formation.

Say goodbye to the Columbia Basin League and, at least for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, say hello to the Columbia Basin Big Nine Athletic Conference.

The WIAA re-evaluates school classifications every two years and, with the Kennewick schools opting up to the 4A level, that left just Sunnyside, West Valley and Hanford in the 3A ranks.

The result was two divisions of the Big Nine formed, literally, by drawing names out of a hat. Sunnyside High School Athletic Director Bill Daley said the 13 schools of the former CBL couldn't agree on a new league format, and that led to the blind draw.

And, with the luck of the draw, Sunnyside starting this fall will find itself in the Big Nine's Columbia Division along with Davis, Kennewick, Southridge, Pasco, Wenatchee and Moses Lake. The other half of the Big Nine, called the Cascade Division, will have Eisenhower, Kamiakin, Hanford, Richland, Eastmont, West Valley, Walla Walla and starting in 2009, Chiawana, a new high school that will be formed in Pasco.

The following sports will compete with all the other opponents in both divisions, with all of them counting as league games: cross country, volleyball, soccer, swimming, bowling, golf, tennis and track. These will see 13 game schedules for this fall and 14 next year when Chiawana begins play.

Sunnyside will see divisional play in the other sports: football, basketball, wrestling, baseball and fastpitch softball. Contests against Columbia Division foes will count in league standings for these sports, while play against teams from the Cascade Division will be considered non-league contests.

With only six league opponents during basketball season, Daley said that means the Grizzlies will renew hoop rivalries with Grandview and will also schedule Prosser.

The news, though, isn't so good in football. Sunnyside and Grandview will continue their rivalry in the 2008 season, but will not lock horns in the 2009 campaign because of Chiawana's addition to the Big Nine.

As the only 3A school in the Columbia Division, Sunnyside would at first blush look to be facing an uphill struggle.

But Daley says the Grizzlies will still battle. "You're there to win a division. We're going to go out there and compete."

Whatever happens, Sunnyside will still have the opportunity to square off against 3A opponents in the postseason.

In fact, with fewer 3A schools in the league, the Grizzlies may have a better chance at reaching Regionals and have a shot at claiming two of the State berths in team sports that the three 3A Big Nine schools and the five Greater Spokane League schools will tussle for starting this fall.

Daley explained in team sports-like football, soccer, basketball and baseball-Sunnyside, Hanford and West Valley will face each other in a mini-district playoff, with two of the three advancing to Regionals.

In short, Sunnyside has a two-in-three shot at reaching Regionals in all team sports beginning this fall.

For that reason, even though Hanford and West Valley will be considered non-league opponents during the regular season in some sports, Sunnyside will still play them to determine seeding among the three after the regular season.

"This provides some access to the postseason," said Daley. "But we still have to win."

In other league news, Daley noted that the state wrestling Regionals will be in Sunnyside the next two years.

On another note, Daley said the WIAA is making it tougher for schools to jump up a classification, as happened this year with three schools in the CBL.

Under a new amendment, schools will now need to declare they are moving up before classifications are re-set every two years. After that, schools must receive permission to make the move. This, Daley observes, will keep schools from sitting back and opting up after they see how other schools are classified.

Though the WIAA will do the re-classification process all over again in two years, Daley's confident Sunnyside's league arrangement will become more constant after that.

"We think this will balance the classifications," he said.

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