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Athletes petition Winlock as board remains undecided on combined soccer

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Members of the Toledo/Winlock boys soccer team (background) implore the Winlock School Board April 16 to remain a part of the program, after Toledo had decided to withdraw from combined girls soccer, baseball and fastpitch in February. Board members had first been adamant about keeping all shared sports programs combined, but now some say they are uncertain if neglecting to develop independent Winlock programs would be the best for students.

The Winlock School District has yet to commit to a combined or independent high school boys soccer program as members of the District Board appear split on the issue.

Though the matter had been discussed during their April 16 meeting, a vote was tabled in light of the absence of Board Members Scott Wienert and Kay Raupp, with Chairwoman Pam Spencer stating the matter “warrants a full board’s decision.”

The future of the program had been called into question in February when the Toledo School District shared their intent to withdraw from combined sports programs after being reclassified from 1A to 2B by the WIAA, allowing their teams to compete with more local 2B schools.

While Winlock had been pushing to retain all combined programs, Toledo’s board voted Feb. 20 to withdraw from combined baseball, fastpitch and girls soccer, while retaining boys soccer, wrestling and cross country as shared programs.

Though Winlock’s board approved a continuation of cooperative wrestling and cross country during their March 19 meeting, board members said they were uncertain if they wished to continue with combined boys soccer, and said they would like to examine alternatives such as finding another local high schools interested in such a program.

Both Winlock and Toledo, at the time, said they did not want to split boys soccer because, in doing so they would have to compete at the 2B level, and the closest 2B league is located in the Tacoma area and is active during the fall sports season.

However, during the Winlock School Board’s April 16 meeting, Athletics Director Brian Maley reported Winlock would still be able to compete at the 1A level if they split the program, as WIAA would allow them to “opt up” due to the lack of a local 2B league.

“If a league is not available to you, you may choose to do so,” he said.

With this information, board members said their decision on whether or not to continue with the combined program became more complex, with Board Member Duane Bryant stating it continues to be the board’s obligation to act in the best interests of their constituents.

“I’m a big proponent of the blended programs at our schools,” said Bryant. “The bigger they are, the more they have to offer… However, do we do that at the expense of never developing our Winlock programs to never be self-sustaining?”

Bryant said Toledo’s decision to dissolve combined baseball and fastptch just two years after the programs were created indicates a level of uncertainty in the two districts’ ability to commit to the long-term development of student athletes.

“It does not work well when it’s here now and not tomorrow,” he said. “You know, ‘We’ll do it this year, but not this year.’”

Bryant said he would be in support of withdrawing from combined boys soccer, stating it is his desire to see Winlock develop long-term, independent programs geared toward active recruitment of athletes within the district. Board Member Fred Terry said he would also support discontinuing the program.

Spencer, however, said she does not support withdrawing from the program, stating other districts such as Morton and White Pass have created very strong teams by combining their athletes, stating, “It’s amazing to me what’s happened with them.”

Spencer accepted a motion to table the issue until Wienert and Raupp would be available to cast their votes as well, and a special meeting to consider the matter has been scheduled for April 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the district offices.

When board members do make their decision, they have been asked directly by members of the boys soccer program to consider the great amount of teambuilding that has taken place in the recent years, as well as the many hours invested in developing players’ skills.

“We play well, we get a long with each other and we just want to stay combined,” said Alexis Sanchez, who was among a number of players present at the April 16 meeting to express their desire to keep the program going.

“If we were to split,” added teammate Isaiah Johnson, “then all of the teamwork and all of the building that we’ve been trying to do would just go right down the drain.”

Half a dozen students spoke while other teammates stood by in support. Parents from both Toledo and Winlock additionally told the board how combined boys soccer has become a local tradition with more than three decades of history, unlike the other recently-combined programs.

“The only kids who play soccer are the kids who are passionate about it and love it,” said parent Brian Patching. “If you look back over the history, it is the one program that, every single year, is there and competitive.”

“If you truly think about the kids, this is a no-brainer on a vote,” added parent Randy Hall, “because you’ve got some kids sitting here right now that are looking at you, saying, ‘Are we going to be able to be combined?’… It’s for the kids. And if we really vote with our conscience, I think that’s what they’re asking you to do.”

Expected to be discussed at the special meeting, along with board members’ perspectives on retaining combined boys soccer, will be Winlock’s ability to comply with regulations requiring equal sports offerings for both male and female athletes. The concern has been whether or not splitting the combined programs would eliminate the district’s ability to offer them equally, due to participation levels, and Maley said he would be prepared to offer more information at the meeting.

Parent Brandon Patching (left) tells board members of how three decades of combined boys soccer between Winlock and Toledo has created a culture and tradition among athletes and their parents, stating it would be “a huge, huge crying shame” for Winlock to withdraw from the program.

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