NASELLE — The decision to “opt-up” and be a 2B school again or to go to the 1B classification — where Naselle High School’s enrollment numbers say they can be — is a difficult one. 

“I go back and forth from week to week on what I will recommend to the school board,” athletic director Russ Hickman said. The preliminary decision must be made Nov. 11 and the final choice will be in mid-December.

A public meeting held in Naselle on Oct. 18 was little  help in deciding one way or another. 

“Of the 25 or so people at the meeting the vote was about 50-50 as to what we should do,” Hickman said. “We will need to decide by mid-December and after that there is no turning back for the next two years.”

The advantage to choosing the 1B classification is that it increases the chances of qualifying for state competitions in all sports. The 1B teams that would likely be in the same league as Naselle would include Quinault, Oakville, Wishkah, Taholah, Mary M. Knight, Lyle, King’s Way, The Washington School for the Deaf and North River. Pe Ell and Valley could also choose to be 1B, although early reports are that the Valley Vikings will opt to stay 2B.

The disadvantages of becoming 1B are many, however, especially when it comes to travel costs. 

“We would be driving by five schools to play most of our away games,” Hickman said. “Most of the 1B schools do not have junior varsity teams and none have C-squad teams. Their facilities are not as good in some cases.”

Another disadvantage would be that currently all 1B schools must play 8-man football. The Comets, rated third in one poll and first in another, in standard 11-man football at the 2B level would likely continue to be competitive on the gridiron regardless. There is a WIAA proposal that 1B schools can play 11-man football, but that won’t be decided until after Naselle, Pe Ell and Valley make their decisions.

Besides the cost of travel, the students would also miss more school time, especially during spring sports if the 1B option is taken. There is also a likelihood that gate receipts would be lower playing the 1B teams, as the distance would likely be prohibitive for away games. If the Comets had to play 8-man football they would not be able to play any Oregon schools in non-league contests.

Kevin McNulty, athletic director at Ilwaco High School, has proposed a multi-classification league of local area schools, similar to those found in other rural regions of the state. The Fishermen are likely to be one of the smallest 1A schools in the next WIAA cycle. Hickman projected that there could be a North Division with some combination of North Beach, Raymond, Northwest Christian, Ocosta and Pe Ell and a Southern Division that may feature Ilwaco, Naselle, Valley, South Bend and Wahkiakum. Travel costs for the Fishermen on trips to Stevenson or White Salmon are currently around $1,000 per trip.

The WIAA mandates that teams in geographic leagues must have a way to qualify for district and state competition, but sometimes the requirements have been stringent. Another piece to the puzzle could be the closure of Naselle Youth Camp, which would further deplete the number of students at Naselle’s public school, and that decision likely won’t be made until the first of next year.

During the last two-year cycle DeSales, Mt. Vernon Christian, Waterville, Entiat, Pateros, Pe Ell, Valley and Shoreline Christian all opted up. 

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