Archbishop Murphy High School will join Wesco 3A for non-football sports beginning in the 2018-19 school year, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced Tuesday.
Wesco previously had denied Archbishop Murphy’s application to join the league. The private, Everett-based Catholic school appealed first to the Northwest District Board — which upheld Wesco’s decision — and then to the WIAA.
Representatives from both Archbishop Murphy and Wesco agreed to terms Sunday after speaking in front of the WIAA District Directors Appeals Board.
Archbishop Murphy, a Class 2A school, was searching for a new home after its current league, the seven-team Cascade Conference, voted in December to dissolve at the end of the school year.
“We’re obviously excited about the opportunity for our student-athletes,” Archbishop Murphy athletic director and football coach Jerry Jensen said. “This conference change is to benefit them. We know this is the right fit competitively, logistically and academically, and that’s why we so passionately petitioned to get into Wesco.”
Wesco and Archbishop Murphy agreed to conditions of membership for the next two school years, which will serve as a probationary period. The two parties will revisit the conditions after the 2019-20 season, which marks the end of the current statewide classification cycle.
“The only thing I’ll say is we’ve got to start developing a positive relationship with Murphy, and we’re going to move forward,” said Greg Erickson, Wesco president and Marysville School District athletic director. He declined to comment further.
Archbishop Murphy will play football in the Northwest District’s newly formed 2A football league. The district recently finalized a two-tiered system for its 2A football programs to improve competitive balance and help struggling teams.
The upper tier will include Archbishop Murphy, Burlington-Edison, Lakewood, Lynden and Sedro-Woolley, according to Northwest Conference president and Burlington-Edison athletic director Don Beazizo.
The lower tier will include Anacortes, Bellingham, Blaine, Mountlake Terrace, Sehome and possibly Cedarcrest.
“We were trying to take all the 2A schools here in District 1 and come up with some sort of system to take care of those schools that are really struggling at the bottom end, as far as numbers and getting the kids to turn out and participate,” Beazizo said.
It is believed Archbishop Murphy will be the first private school to join Wesco since Seattle Prep and Bishop Blanchet left the league in the 1970s.
Critics claim private schools such as Archbishop Murphy have a competitive athletic advantage over public schools because of the significantly larger area they draw from. Students can enroll in private schools if they live within a 50-mile radius of the campus, whereas public-school students must reside within the boundaries of their school district.
“I think it’s bad all the way around,” Meadowdale boys basketball coach Roger O’Neill said of Archbishop Murphy joining the league. “Wesco ADs and coaches have been unanimous on (Archbishop Murphy not joining). … And then the WIAA steps in and says, ‘Too bad.’
“Maybe you’ll get a couple (Wesco coaches) that are indifferent to it,” he added, “but I have not come across one person who would be in support of this. … I think a lot of people are upset.”
Archbishop Murphy’s conditions of Wesco membership are listed below, as stated in a press release from the WIAA.
■ All transfer students enrolling at Archbishop Murphy must go through an eligibility hearing in front of the Northwest District Eligibility Committee.
■ For the next two school years (2018-19 and 2019-20), any Archbishop Murphy transfer within a 50-mile radius will be eligible only for regular-season participation during the student’s first calendar year of enrollment at the school.
■ Wesco schools will put in writing any perceived or actual Archbishop Murphy violations and provide them to the school. Archbishop Murphy will respond in writing, per WIAA regulations.
■ Wesco athletic directors will determine whether they want Archbishop Murphy to opt up to 3A for the next classification cycle, which begins in 2020.
■ Within the next year, Archbishop Murphy will provide Wesco with a facility upgrade plan that includes a five-year plan for improvements to the school’s athletic facilities. Archbishop Murphy will rent facilities as needed to meet Wesco expectations for hosting events that can’t be accommodated by the school’s current facilities.
■ Archbishop Murphy will meet all expectations outlined in the Wesco conditions of membership application, including a full audit of the school’s athletic program. The WIAA will conduct the audit and assign the auditor.
“This allows us to work closely with the Wesco schools and maybe, hopefully, change some perceptions that are out there,” Jensen said.
According to Northwest District athletic director Jim Piccolo, representatives from both Archbishop Murphy and Wesco spoke in front of the WIAA District Directors Appeals Board during Sunday’s appeal hearing. After listening to both sides and asking questions, the board dismissed the Archbishop Murphy and Wesco officials. The board then developed the conditions of membership, Piccolo said.
Archbishop Murphy and Wesco officials each agreed to those conditions that afternoon. Both sides had the option of rejecting the stipulations and appealing to the WIAA Executive Board, but decided not to, Piccolo said.
Wesco 3A currently consists of 13 public schools: Arlington, Edmonds-Woodway, Everett, Lynnwood, Marysville Getchell, Marysville Pilchuck, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace, Oak Harbor, Shorecrest, Shorewood, Snohomish and Stanwood. Mountlake Terrace is the league’s lone 2A school.
Despite playing in a 3A league, Archbishop Murphy will continue to compete at the 2A level for the postseason, as does Mountlake Terrace.
Jensen said the idea of Archbishop Murphy eventually moving up to the 3A classification has been discussed.
“That’s something that we may revisit later,” he said.
Archbishop Murphy’s football team made national news during the 2016 season when five Cascade Conference teams forfeited to the eventual 2A state champion Wildcats. The forfeiting schools cited player-safety concerns over facing an ultra-talented and physically superior Archbishop Murphy team that featured four linemen who weighed 260 pounds or more.
There were no forfeits to Archbishop Murphy’s football team this season, but the Cascade Conference’s future was in flux. In September, current league members Cedar Park Christian-Bothell and King’s applied to join District 2’s Emerald City League. Their applications were denied.
In December, five of the Cascade Conference’s seven schools — CPC-Bothell, Granite Falls, King’s, South Whidbey and Sultan — announced plans to form a new 1A league called the North Sound Conference that begins play this fall.
That left the Cascade Conference’s remaining members — 2A schools Archbishop Murphy and Cedarcrest — needing to find a new home.
At about the same time, the NWC was moving toward creating a tiered, district-wide 2A football league.
“It was open to all the 2As in District 1,” Beazizo said. “We opened it up to everybody, even Archbishop Murphy. We weren’t opposed to that at all.”
“When the Cascade Conference dissolved,” Jensen added, “the Northwest Conference was very proactive in trying to figure out how they could best serve the needs of football (in) 2A and the Northwest District.”
Class 2A schools Liberty of Issaquah and Sammamish also were invited to join the new two-tiered league, but both schools will remain in District 2 for regular-season play, Beazizo said. The two schools, currently members of KingCo 3A/2A, will continue to compete in the Northwest District during the postseason.
Jensen said playing in the NWC for all sports wasn’t feasible because of the long distances teams would have to travel for road games in Skagit and Whatcom counties.
“When you look at the travel distance and the time that our student-athletes would be out of the class and coming home late, it was not a good fit,” Jensen said. “We’re able to do it for football because it’s one night a week.
“(But) if you take an example of a basketball season where we could potentially have a game on Wednesday night up in Blaine and then another game on Friday night up in Lynden, … it’s just not a good fit.”
Archbishop Murphy applied to join Wesco back in 2015, but the league denied the school’s request. Archbishop Murphy applied to join Wesco again this winter, and once again its bid was denied. That prompted the school to appeal.
“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of give and take on both sides,” Jensen said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at what’s best for the kids — our kids and the kids of Wesco.”