School officials at Fort Vancouver High are thinking outside of the box when it comes to rebuilding numbers and confidence within Trappers athletics.
Two programs — girls basketball and girls soccer — will go independent in an attempt to increase participation and build competitive teams long-term, said athletic director James Ensley.
“We had to try something different to rebuild a program,” Ensley said. “It’s taking a chance, and we need to take one.
“Let’s try something out of the box because what’s in the box right now isn’t working.”
Fort is in its second year as a Class 2A school, and won’t face any 2A Greater St. Helens League opponents in girls soccer this fall. Instead, the Trappers play a handful of 4A and 3A GSHL sub-varsity teams, including Skyview and Camas’ C-squad teams, and junior varsity from Kelso and La Center. Varsity opponents include Evergreen, Seton Catholic, King’s Way Christian, Stevenson and Muckleshoot Tribal.
Scheduling details are still being finalized for girls basketball, but Ensley said the Trappers won’t play a full 2A GSHL basketball slate.
Talks surfaced about independence during last spring’s COVID-19-condensed seasons when both girls soccer and girls basketball struggled through winless seasons. Its girls soccer team scored one goal in its nine-game season in a league that’s been a perennial power on the state level and home to two state champions since 2016. Girls basketball last won a varsity league contest in 2012-13 as a Class 3A member.
Going the independent route is a common trend, specifically in high school football, for struggling programs that are often outmatched as a way to rebuild. Teams can schedule opponents of their choosing outside of their own league.
This fall, King’s Way Christian is playing an independent football schedule after a one-year program hiatus. In 2019, Fort’s football program went away from the 3A GSHL and snapped a 29-game losing skid as an independent. The Trappers now play football as a 1A Trico League member.
Ensley points to the progress Trappers football has made in player turnout for why the independent route is best for girls soccer and girls basketball — two programs that continue to struggle to be competitive.
“Football will be successful at some point,” he said. “That’s a long-term process and this is a long-term process.”
Ensley said decisions on an independent status will be evaluated annually. Girls soccer and girls basketball are still playoff eligible, but must meet specific criteria.
But the postseason isn’t on Ensley’s mind.
“I’m worried about giving experience to our kids and that they’ll be able to cherish a game for the rest of their lives,” he said. “And they’ll be able to get all those things out of it that normal kids get out of it.
“It’s about experiences and if kids aren’t having good experiences, it’s not going to help anybody. And it doesn’t help the teams we’re playing. And it doesn’t help us.”