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RENTON — The WIAA Representative Assembly approved a slate of new amendments last month, impacting middle and high school students alike.

Of the 23 proposed amendments being voted on by the WIAA Representative Assembly — the association’s legislative body consisting of 53 school administrators across the state — this year, 18 were approved with the minimum 60% approval necessary, the WIAA announced May 11. All but one of the amendments are going into effect either immediately or during the 2020-21 school year.

The amendment not going into effect until 2024 — the beginning of the next classification cycle — is the rule that allows 2B schools to utilize the free and reduced lunch enrollment count that went into effect for 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A schools this school year. The initial rule passed last January was the rule that allowed Ilwaco High School to move down from the 1A to 2B classification beginning this school year.

By taking advantage of the rule, IHS went from being one of the schools in 1A with the lowest enrollment counts to being one of the schools in 2B with the highest enrollment counts. Depending on how IHS’ enrollment level and its free and reduced lunch figure changes in the next several years, the school may not be able to remain in 2B when the next classification cycle takes effect.

According to data from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, IHS’ enrollment spiked from 281 students in 2018-19, to 312 students in 2019-20, an increase of 11%. Of those students, 231 were non-seniors, which are the grades used by the WIAA to determine a school’s average enrollment count. That figure is higher than the 2B enrollment range of 105 to 224 students, but the district’s higher number of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch, 64%, pushed its adjusted enrollment count down to 192 students.

Sixth graders moving up?

One of the more eye-catching amendments approved by the WIAA Representative Assembly is the amendment that opens the door to allow sixth graders to participate in sports or activities alongside seventh and eighth graders — except for football. The amendment was approved with 32 votes, the minimum number of votes needed to be passed.

In order for sixth graders to move up and play with seventh and eighth graders, approval from the school’s principal, the school district’s superintendent and the school board is required, as is the approval from the league and the WIAA District Board.

The rule is similar in nature to one that allows seventh and eighth graders to participate in a WIAA-sanctioned sport at the high school level if that sport isn’t available for them to participate in at their middle school.

Doling out discipline

Two new amendments giving the WIAA more power to impose discipline upon athletes and coaches were easily approved by the assembly.

As it stands, the first ejection of the season results, at a minimum, in the ejected person — athlete, coach or other school representative — being ineligible for the following contest in that sport. The first newly approved amendment allows WIAA staff to increase a suspension based upon the aggressive conduct, inappropriate language and/or circumstances following an ejection.

Greg Whitmore, president of the WIAA Executive Board and athletic director of the Lind-Ritzville School District, said the amendment is mostly aimed at coaches who have committed the ejectable offense.

“Even though the school should probably be the ones that add more consequences to that coach, and they should, oftentimes they don’t. Or they’ve got a young athletic director and it puts them in a tough situation and that sort of thing,” Whitmore said.

The second amendment passed by the assembly this year allows the WIAA to review video submitted by an appealing school, and gives WIAA staff the authority to suspend a participant if they believe their behavior warranted an ejection but went unseen by the officials at the time of the contest.

Other notable amendments

Several amendments were also passed that affect just a single sport, including basketball and football.

After changes made at the collegiate level several years ago, the WIAA is now following suit in utilizing a 30-second shot clock for both boys and girls basketball. Previously, boys basketball games were played using a 35-second shot clock while girls basketball games used a 30-second shot clock. Backcourt violations are also in effect for both boys and girls games now, after previously only being enforced in boys games.

In a continued effort to address player safety in football, a new amendment only allows teams to have one full-contact practice during a two-a-day workout. The other practice must be no-contact. Whitmore, who is also the head football coach at Lind-Ritzville High School and a state 2B champion in 2013, said the amendment codifies what is already widely enforced by schools across the state.

“We’ve never had both of our practices be hard-hitting. So it just gets it in writing and makes sure you don’t have an overzealous coach,” Whitmore said.

A new amendment will also permit 1B schools to field a six-person football team, rather than the typical eight-person team. The rule is designed to help teams with low-turnout numbers that otherwise may have a hard time fielding an eight-person team, and teams will only be allowed to suit up a maximum of 16 players for a game. Naselle, state runner-ups last season, are expected to continue to field an eight-person team.

Whitmore said the WIAA is still working on establishing rules and determining if and what kind of postseason six-person teams might have. The WIAA will likely model their rulebook from the Oregon School Activities Association, which started a pilot program for six-person football in 2018.

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