The Coupeville football team practices on Wednesday, Aug. 21 in Coupeville. The Wolves will play an independent schedule this season. (Jim Waller/ Whidbey News-Times)

The Coupeville football team practices on Wednesday, Aug. 21 in Coupeville. The Wolves will play an independent schedule this season. (Jim Waller/ Whidbey News-Times)

Coupeville to play independent football schedule this season

The school cites expected low turnout and concerns over size disparity as the reasons for the decision.

The Coupeville High School football team is forgoing its North Sound Conference schedule to play an independent slate during the 2019 season, citing an expected low turnout of players and concerns over size disparity.

“We were concerned that the majority of our kids coming back were not very big kids. Our linemen are really young,” Coupeville Athletics Director Willie Smith said. “… Looking at our league’s teams and who they had coming back, the majority of the teams are bringing back veteran linemen and big linemen. So we just didn’t feel like it was going to be a great matchup for us putting our kids in that position.”

It seems unlikely that the Wolves will rejoin the North Sound Conference for football in 2020, with expectations of dropping to Class 2B during the new classification cycle that starts in with the 2020-21 school year. The classification alignments will be announced in January.

“Once we get down to 2B, our preference is to join the Northwest 2B Conference,” Smith said. “Right now there’s the beginning of discussions about all kinds of different leagues being formed because of the reclassification. So my guess is that no we wouldn’t join the North Sound Conference as a 2B because it wouldn’t make sense for us to do that.

“We have a 2B conference that we belonged to (in the past). It’s a real natural place for us. It makes a lot of sense for us to do that.”

Coupeville’s decision leaves the North Sound Conference with just five football teams this season — Cedar Park Christian, King’s, Granite Falls, Sultan and South Whidbey. The Wolves will participate in the conference across all other sports during the 2019-20 school year.

“The league was obviously very good with it, very supportive,” Smith said of playing an independent schedule.

Coupeville started the 2018 season 3-1 in non-league games before injuries started to mount after a 20-14 loss to King’s to start conference play. The Wolves lost each of their last four games by at least 28 points and were shut out twice.

Ten of the 23 players listed on the Wolves’ 2018 roster were seniors and just two non-seniors were listed at 200 pounds or more.

Smith said the community has gotten behind the decision after explaining what playing the independent schedule would entail and the reasons for doing so. It also helped that Coupeville’s rival school on Whidbey Island, South Whidbey, made the same decision in 2017 with successful results.

“Because they saw it 20 minutes down the road and they saw the benefit and saw what happened in (South Whidbey’s) program, it makes it a lot easier,” Smith said.

The school has put together a schedule with schools from Classes 2B-3A, including 2A Anacortes, which announced this summer that it would not field a varsity football team this season. Coupeville will still play its annual rivalry game with South Whidbey on Oct. 18.

Smith said that participation numbers have dropped as the football program has gone through a coaching carousel after longtime coach Ron Bagby stepped down after the 2009 season. Bagby led the Wolves for 26 seasons, and the program has had five head coaches in the nine seasons since.

With head coach Marcus Carr set to embark in his second season with the program, Coupeville believes it has the right coach to help bring stability to the program.

Although the new classification alignments haven’t been announced, Coupeville’s drop to 2B seems fairly certain.

The school’s enrollment for grades 9-11 (the three years taken into consideration for classification alignments) during the 2018-19 school year was 207, according to the Office of Superintendent and Public Instruction, which is 17 students below the 2B cap set under the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s new classification rules that go into affect next school year.

Coupeville unsuccessfully petitioned to move down to 2B before joining the North Sound Conference prior to the 2018-2019 school year after a dip in enrollment saw the school drop below the current 1A line of 214.5 in just two years.

Smith said the school planned to join the Northwest 2B Conference had it’s petition been accepted.

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