It seems, sometimes, as though high school is the new college.
With boundary exceptions, and open enrollment for incoming freshmen, and families willing to pick up and move, athletes often hand-select their high schools for the purpose of joining a particular athletic program.
Goodness knows, Prairie has benefitted over the years from plenty of girls basketball players who happened to move into the district just in time for their freshman years. Same with Union football and Camas soccer and any other program that has a proven ability to compete for state titles and get athletes recruited by colleges.
"It isn't like high school sports anymore," said Carly Holboke, a senior all-league basketball player at Mountain View. "It's kind of like college, where you're bringing people in."
And why not? With the proliferation of club sports providing young athletes with high-level competition long before they enter high school, playing for an average prep program can be anti-climactic.
All of which makes it seem positively quaint when an elite athlete attends their local school without regard to its athletic success.
Take Brooke Van Sickle, a freshman volleyball player at Battle Ground. Van Sickle is, quite simply, the best freshman volleyball player in the entire metro area.
She could have attended Prairie, a traditional volleyball power that is in her local district. She could have attended one of the private schools in Portland, which have dominated Oregon high school volleyball in recent years. Instead, she selected a school that hasn't qualified for the state tournament in volleyball since 1989.
"I wanted to change the volleyball program," Van Sickle said. "They haven't won anything or gone to district in, like, forever.
"My first pick was Battle Ground. At first my parents didn't want me to go there, but I kept bugging them."
"It wasn't an easy decision," said Brooke's mom, Lisa. "We left the decision up to her. We just wanted her to have a positive experience.
"Brookie is over-the-top happy. I think we made the right decision for her, maybe if not for us."
Lisa Van Sickle let out a little laugh with that comment. But it points out the conundrum facing parents these days. For top-notch athletes, the thirst for competition takes precedent over playing for Good Ole Local High. While athletes once grew up competing at the neighborhood playground with the neighborhood kids, now they play on club teams that bring together like-minded competitors from all over.
Take Ellie Boon, a senior at Washougal who is such an accomplished soccer player that she has committed to national power University of Portland.
"My mom, before my freshman year, said, 'If you want to go to Camas, we can get you a boundary exception,' " Boon said. "I just looked at her and said, 'There's no way I'm going to Camas.' "
That might seem odd, considering that Washougal hasn't made an appearance at state since 2000, while Camas has made the state tournament its own personal playground.
Boon is spending her senior year training with an under-18 boys team rather than playing for the Panthers' girls team. But she has no regrets.
"I went to a game and I literally had tears in my eyes wanting to be out there with all the girls," she said. "I love it here. I love my school. I love my friends. I love the staff here."
Which, in the long run, is a strength of high school athletics. Students have choices these days, but there are many positives to be found in competing for your local school with longtime friends.
And for those athletes who hope to play in college? Well, Lisa Van Sickle points out the truth of the matter.
"Honestly, club is where it's at right now," she said, "as far as getting recruited."