Cascade Conference preview: Teams pledge to face Wildcats

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After last year’s string of forfeits that sparked a statewide debate and drew national attention, all five Cascade Conference opponents on the Archbishop Murphy football team’s schedule plan to play the Wildcats this fall.

Cedarcrest, Cedar Park Christian-Bothell, Granite Falls, King’s and Sultan each confirmed with The Herald that they intend to play defending Class 2A state champion Archbishop Murphy this season as scheduled.

South Whidbey, the other team in the seven-school conference, is playing an independent schedule this fall while working to build up the program’s participation numbers.

“Each school has said that they will play, and I don’t anticipate anything differently,” Archbishop Murphy coach/athletic director Jerry Jensen said. “So that’s how we’re going in and approaching it.”

Five Cascade Conference teams — South Whidbey, Sultan, Granite Falls, CPC-Bothell and Cedarcrest — forfeited to Archbishop Murphy last season, citing player-safety concerns over facing an ultra-talented and physically superior Wildcats team that featured several Division I-bound college players and four linemen who weighed 260 pounds or more.

The only Cascade Conference school that played Archbishop Murphy last year was King’s, which lost 38-0 to the Wildcats in the teams’ conference opener.

The forfeits began after Archbishop Murphy steamrolled its first three opponents by a combined 170-0 margin, cruising to blowout wins over 4A Issaquah, 3A Bishop Blanchet and King’s.

“I think those early games against larger schools and the scores they beat them by put some concern into the 1A/2A league we play in,” longtime King’s coach Jim Shapiro said. “And mostly (it) put concern into the parents’ minds.

“It put administrations in a bind, because these parents were concerned and they were voicing their concern. And I think there’s probably not an administration in the world that’s going to go against a parent community that was so upset and concerned.”

Archbishop Murphy lost numerous key players from last year’s dominant squad, which rolled to the state title while outscoring opponents by a combined 463-44 margin. But the Wildcats return plenty of talent and are once again the favorites to win the state crown.

Jensen said Archbishop Murphy has explored the idea of joining another league for football and will continue to do so, especially with this season marking the end of the two-year statewide scheduling cycle.

“I think that once this season comes to an end and we’re looking at having to reschedule teams, that should open it up to where there can be some more statewide conversation on what’s the best way to get competitive balance,” Jensen said. “Is that through an RPI system at the state level? Is that through an RPI system at the regional level? There’s definitely some conversations that need to be had.”

Archbishop Murphy isn’t the only Cascade Conference school considering a potential league change.

According to District 1 athletic director Jim Piccolo, King’s and CPC-Bothell are exploring the idea of moving to another district after the conclusion of the upcoming school year. The two schools have contacted the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association regarding the process of a potential change, a WIAA official confirmed.

Cedar Park Christian athletic director Todd Lundberg responded to The Herald via email that he had “no comment” on the matter. King’s athletic director Rick Skeen could not be reached for comment.

King’s and CPC-Bothell, both located in King County, are two of the southernmost schools in District 1.

Asked about the future of the Cascade Conference if King’s and CPC-Bothell leave the district, Jensen said, “I can’t imagine the Cascade Conference being a viable conference at that time.”

Piccolo said the district will meet in September to discuss football-related issues such as declining turnout and competitive imbalance. Football participation is decreasing nationwide, and Piccolo said there are programs within the district that are struggling to survive.

“There’s some real concerns in District 1,” Piccolo said. “I have (school) districts that have told their athletic directors (that) if they don’t straighten out football, they’re going to be without football. … We may not have football at some schools. And that is serious talk among superintendents and school boards.”

Piccolo stressed the need for schools to work together for the good of the group, a sentiment Jensen echoed.

“There’s definitely a group of haves and have-nots,” Jensen said. “And the haves don’t want to have these blowout games every night either. That’s no fun for their kids and it doesn’t get them better. And the have-nots are wondering why they’re suiting up on Friday nights.

“So definitely something has to be done. We’ve all got to put our heads together and look at the collective good of the group.”

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