The focus at Fort Vancouver High School isn’t so much on the Friday Night results, but rather, building a program by first finding its footing.
Numbers, health and safety of players and competitive equity are the chief factors why officials at Fort Vancouver and Vancouver Public Schools feel it’s in the best interest long-term for the Trappers to leave the 3A Greater St. Helens League in favor of an independent status starting next fall.
The move impacts football only beginning in 2019, said Albert Alcantar, district athletic director for Vancouver Public Schools. While not concrete, playing independent is expected for the next two to three seasons, Alcantar noted, and is supported by the 3A GSHL, District 4, and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
Alcantar said first-year coach Neil Lomax made a push to school and district leaders that in order to build a program right, a step back needs to happen.
“This is going to be the best move for us,” Alcantar said.
Starting next season, the Trappers will play a non-playoff eligible independent football schedule with hopes of building a program with increased participation numbers and better developed players to create a competitive experience.
Fort’s struggles go beyond this year’s winless season. The program’s current 23-game losing streak is second-most across Class 3A, and it hasn’t won more than two games in a season since 2007.
Then there’s safety and competitiveness. Fort scored eight touchdowns in nine games this fall, were shut out five times, and lost games by an average score of 45-5 against opponents whose roster size was doubled or tripled the Trappers. Fewer participants meant more players on both sides of the ball, putting them on the field for longer stretches and a greater risk for injury over a nine-game season.
Alcantar, a former multi-sport coach in the district including an assistant football coach at Bay, sees the move as a win-win. Players can build their skills and knowledge against teams of identical size or lower-level classification teams and giving players the best chance at success. Alcantar noted many Fort players do not play football in area youth leagues and once at the middle school level, play flag football as seventh graders and tackle football as eighth graders.
“I think going independent for a couple of years can build the numbers back up,” he said. “… build their football knowledge and prepare them safety-wise for everything about football.”
At its peak this season, Fort had more than 50 football players turn out across all four grades, and fielded two teams (varsity and C-team). That number dwindled by the time its season finale came against league-champion Mountain View, which went onto the play in the 3A state semifinals.
Leaving the 3A GSHL means Fort is not eligible for the postseason, and the team’s departure from the league will not impact the league’s playoff allocations, Alcantar said.
School and district leaders are trying to formulate a plan to map out Fort’s independent stint and eventual return to a league. That includes creating a game schedule for 2019 which should be finalized by February. Alcantar said it’s too early to determine Fort’s opponents, but said school officials are in contact with leagues and teams in Washington and Oregon, including the Portland Interscholastic League. He added the annual Peace Pipe game against rival Hudson’s Bay likely will be played.
Alcantar said school and district officials consulted with other teams statewide before making the move to go independent. Teams that have made the move of late have found success. Class 2A schools Bellingham (2014, ‘15) and Sehome (‘17) went independent only to return as healthier programs. This season, Sehome reached the 2A state playoffs in its return to Northwest Conference play and defeated perennial power Archbishop Murphy in the state preliminary round.
Fort becomes the second Clark County team in three years to play an independent schedule. Seton Catholic went independent in 2017 one year after playing a co-op season with neighboring King’s Way Christian. The Cougars returned to a full 1A Trico League schedule this past season.
And that’s why Fort believes building — starting with sustainable numbers and competitive equality — is foremost in reshaping the program starting next fall.
“All the kids want to do is be competitive,” Alcantar said. “If they know there’s a chance to be competitive, the buy-in is there.”