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Shelton joins 3A Greater St. Helens League for football

Addition of Highclimbers from Mason County makes league 6 schools in football

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 8, 2024, 9:15am

The 3A Greater St. Helens League is expanding to six schools in football, and its newest member is a 2-hour drive for most Southwest Washington schools. 

Shelton High School, located 25 miles northwest of Olympia in Mason County, will join the 3A GSHL in football, said Camas athletic director Stephen Baranowski, the 4A/3A GSHL president. The agreement is for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, but Baranowski said he anticipates it will be extended for the full four-year classification cycle through the 2027 season. 

In January, the Highclimbers got reclassified to Class 3A — up from Class 2A — with an adjusted student enrollment of 982 in grades 9-11. The school lost its appeal to remain 2A. 

However, the 2A Evergreen Conference — Shelton’s home the past four years — invited the school to remain in the league as a 3A member, then go separately for postseason. 

No other 3A schools in District 4 are north of Kelso. For football, Baranowski said meetings with other school leaders eventually led to adding Shelton as a sixth member to the 3A GSHL, joining Southwest Washington schools Evergreen, Heritage, Kelso, Mountain View and Prairie. It’s too early to say if the 3A GSHL will gain an additional football postseason berth, Baranowski said. The league had two berths in 2022 and 2023. 

“We needed to create postseason pathways for them,” Baranowski said of Shelton. “And so we had some initial conversations to figure out what that was going to look like. … It became clear for football, the easiest way to handle it was to just literally get them into our (3A GSHL) schedule.

“Football is the only sport where they’re coming in fully fledged (league member).”

Shelton hosts Heritage on Oct. 4 to open 3A GSHL play. The Highclimbers went 3-6 in 2023 in Class 2A after reaching the Week 10 state preliminary round in 2022. 

For 3A postseason eligibility in other sports, Shelton must meet specific benchmarks that are being finalized, Baranowski said. Should those benchmarks be met during the regular-season, Shelton will qualify for a pigtail contest with a 3A GSHL team to determine a 3A bi-district playoff spot, he added. 

The addition of Shelton also means the league is dropping league-wide 4A/3A football crossover games for its previous nine schools. Some schools, Baranowski added, chose to schedule a 4A/3A crossover game for 2024. 

“That was a decision we made in the room as we brought Shelton on board,” he said. “We’re not going to mandate a (league-wide) crossover (for football). But in every other sport, we’re going to have one crossover.”