by Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Writer
The number of possibilities and what-if scenarios are numerous and somewhat overwhelming for those tasked with managing high school activities in a regular year. Throw in a complication, like a school leaving their current district and the number of different possible outcomes increase substantially.
News that American Falls High School may be leaving its traditional home in the Fifth district leaked to the media on Thursday, Oct. 10.
“I am not sure how the other papers got a hold of the information, but I was never told to deny we are looking at moving to another district. We had hoped to bring this issue out in a more orderly fashion,” said American Falls High School Vice Principal and Athletic Director Nathan Whittle.
While the news is still fresh enough that public reaction is not easily measured, Whittle said the input of the community is critical to any decisions the school may make about moving to a new district.
“We are planning to get out into the community to present the situation to as many people as possible before we make a recommendation to the school board. Mr. [Travis] Hansen and I will be visiting the meetings of local organizations such as the Lions Club and Rotary to speak about the things we are considering,” said Whittle.
The event that started the discussion of moving districts was a drop in student population at Bear Lake High School. Declining enrollment at the Montpelier school has moved the Bears down a classification leaving the Fifth District with only three 3A schools, American Falls, Snake River and Marsh Valley.
“Initially we based a large portion of our concern on mileage. When it was announced that Bear Lake would be moving down we were approached by Snake River and Marsh Valley to partner with the Sixth District to create a two-year schedule. As we discussed the possibility it became clear locking down a two-year schedule may not be in the best interest for American Falls. Geography is playing a major role in this discussion. For the other two schools partnering with schools in the Sixth District makes sense, but for us partnering with the Fourth District is a better fit. We will save about 500 miles per season by going toward the Twin Falls area,” said Whittle.
The cost of travel is not the only transportation concern school leaders are looking at.
“Weather becomes a real issue. We have to keep safety in the forefront of our considerations. In this respect the Fourth District is better on average. Any year the weather can get dicey and that is a real concern for us, but it seems the roads are generally better when traveling to schools in the Fourth District,” said Whittle.
The Idaho State Journal reported the concerns of Snake River Athletic Director Robert Coombs about state tournament berths. Coombs worries that an American Falls departure would leave Marsh Valley and Snake River left fighting for a half of a playoff spot each year. Whittle said state tournament spots are important but not as high on the list as Coombs would like it to be.
“State tournament representation is certainly something to consider, but it is not the only thing. There are several things to consider. Our main goal is to make as good of a decision for our students as possible. That means that our needs may not be same as Snake River’s needs,” said Whittle.
In considering where to align the Beavers in the future the Fourth District is becoming the front runner if American Falls decides to move. Whittle cautions no decisions have been made.
“This is still in the discussion phase. There is the possibility that we may find the best thing for our students is to remain where we are. In that case this is a non-story. As of right now we are talking a lot and looking at every angle to ensure we make the best decision for the most people,” Whittle said.
Whittle said while the idea is still being investigated the discussions are being held in earnest.
“We are having these conversations with urgency because we are holding other schools hostage in a way. We have the schools in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Districts waiting for us to make a decision,” said Whittle.
If American Falls decides to make a move to the Fourth District the decision must be made soon, but the process will take much longer.
“The other schools are saying they would like to have their football schedules set by Monday, Oct. 28, but if we make the decision to move we will still have to get the approval of the Fourth and the Fifth Districts to join and leave. After that we will have to get the approval of the Idaho High School Activities Association. So there is still a long way to go if this happens,” Whittle said.
Whittle said coaches and program advisors at the high school have had a mixed reaction to the idea.
“Our athletic programs seem to be in favor of making the move. They are concerned with safety, scheduling, mileage and state tournament representation. For the athletic programs moving makes a lot of sense. For our other programs like speech, debate and drama they have recently gone through a change and are now just becoming accustomed to the schools they are now competing against so they are less favorable toward the idea,” said Whittle.
Whittle points out the conversation with program leaders has been positive.
“I am so impressed with how professionally our coaches and program advisors have conducted themselves. They have presented their points of view very well. There is no arguing, but they are still strongly advocating for their participants. I am so impressed with what a great group of people we have here,” Whittle said.
Regardless of where the Beavers call home next year, traditions will be maintained.
“I can say with 100 percent certainty that we will still schedule games with Snake River and Marsh Valley. We are not trying to break traditions or end rivalries. There is a strong history with those schools that will continue no matter where we end up,” Whittle said.