Crazy season awaits high school football fans

Realignment of leagues leads to some odd schedules

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High school sports fans should be used to this by now.

Every two years, reclassification tweaks a few things here and there. A few programs move up, some others move down. Leagues change.

The cycle continues.

Only this time, that cycle has made the Southwest Washington high school football scene a little dizzy.

The Class 3A Greater St. Helens League is not so great in numbers anymore, with just four teams. One team moved up, while another dropped to 2A.

The 4A GSHL has expanded from six to seven teams.

The 2A GSHL lost one and gained two.

While the changes will affect all sports, football is different than the other team sports in that traditionally teams only play each other once a year.

That is still going to happen this year, but that was not a sure thing once reclassification was finalized in January.

“We had to make choices. To fill the schedule is difficult,” said Mick Hoffman, director of athletics for Vancouver Public Schools. “Did we want to play each other twice? The 3As had to play each other twice or get creative.”

The creation made for one strange schedule. In a perfect scenario, the four teams would play six non-league games in the first six weeks, then have a three-game league schedule, a sprint to the championship at the end of the season.

There is nothing perfect about a four-team league, though. The is no way to schedule six consecutive non-league games unless there are other four-team leagues nearby to support one another.

Instead, athletic directors from the 4A, 3A, and 2A GSHLs got together to try to find competitive non-league games, trying to fill all the non-league holes in the schedule.

It is not as easy as putting Team A vs. Team B because there was an open date, though. No one wants to see Fort Vancouver go up against Camas, for example.

“We don’t know if it’s the best thing. It’s something different,” Hoffman said. “But we’re trying to get away from 70-6 non-league games.”

The 4A GSHL also has games with South Puget Sound League and the Narrows League to fill in some of the non-league holes. With a seven-team league, there is at least one hole every week of the regular season.

But if bizarre is what you are looking for, head to the 3A GSHL.

When Columbia River plays Fort Vancouver in a 3A GSHL matchup on Oct. 10, it will be River’s first league game and Fort’s final league game. Fort Vancouver plays its league games in Weeks 4, 5, and 6. Columbia River will play league in Weeks 6, 8, and 9. Meanwhile, Prairie and Kelso open 3A GSHL play in Week 3. Follow?

Columbia River coach John O’Rourke’s reaction when he first saw that schedule: “How did that happen?”

He has been around long enough to remember a five-team league. His job is to prepare the Chieftains for a run at a league title, but he cannot control the number of teams in a league nor the schedule.

“What we will focus on is continuing to get better all the time,” O’Rourke said.

He does not believe his players will have a hard time finding motivation for the six non-league games anyway.

“We ask them to give us an honest effort. We challenge them to give up honest preparation,” O’Rourke said. “Those are the things we can control. We have to really focus on ourselves.”

Hoffman said the 3A GSHL will get two teams to advance to the Week 10 playoffs.

The top three teams in the now seven-team 4A GSHL will make the playoffs.

After four seasons as a 3A program, Mountain View is returning to the 4A GSHL. With the addition of the Thunder, all four teams from the Evergreen School District — including Evergreen, Heritage, and Union — will be in the same league for the first time since Union opened its doors in 2007.

“Business as usual for us,” Mountain View coach Adam Mathieson said of his program’s preparation. It is a new league, but familiar opponents.

“We’ve played these teams. Union. Evergreen. Camas was in our league just two years ago,” Mathieson said. “People want to see these games. We’re excited to play ball.”

One thing is certain, something will have to give come playoff time. Heading into the 2014 season, Camas has made the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons. Skyview has a run of nine years in a row. Union is at six in a row. And Mountain View was a playoff team all four years at the 3A level.

The 2A GSHL welcomes Woodland from Class 1A and Hudson’s Bay from Class 3A. Aberdeen will return to wherever it was that Aberdeen came from. That will make the 2A GSHL a seven-team league, as well.

La Center hopes to reign in the Trico League. The Class 1A league is now at six teams, with a seventh in plans to arrive next season. King’s Way Christian is playing a hybrid Trico-independent schedule this season, its first as an 11-man football program, while hopes of being a full-time Trico League member next season.

The high school sports scene is always changing.

Some changes are bigger than others. This year, yeah, this is different.