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Q&A: New Greater Spokane League director Ken VanSickle discusses state of the league (Part 2)

In April, Greater Spokane League organizers – made up of member schools’ principals and athletic directors – split the job of GSL/District 8 director into two positions for the upcoming school year.

Herb Rotchford, who used to fill both positions, remained on as District 8 director, and the league recently named former University High School athletic director Ken VanSickle as GSL director.

Here is Part 2 of an edited question-and-answer session with the incoming GSL director and a “State of the GSL” as we approach an uncertain fall season. Part 1 appeared in Thursday’s edition and can be found online here.

Spokesman-Review: Let’s talk about on-field matters. The classification and alignment changes within the league seems like a good opportunity for some schools to have a better chance to compete.

Ken VanSickle: Well, I think that’s one of the major things that changed, is that everybody believes in competitive equity and giving kids opportunities to have success on the field. We’ve always previously had the position that we are a 3A/4A league, and those are the two divisions we’re going to have. At one point, those schools that are moving into our league opted up (to 3A) to be in the GSL. And now we’re saying, we need to create competitive equity.

So we are going to be a 4A/3A/2A league to give kids in our community the best opportunity to compete and to have success. And everyone has bought into that philosophy, and believing that this is what’s best for our student-athletes and our entire community, is to have a good-sized league, where we can offer kids competitive equity and everyone can have an opportunity for success. And, you know, the 2A schools, they have some teams that can compete with anybody. I mean, I look at Clarkston boys’ basketball team this year, you know can compete with anybody. We may have multiple teams that can compete with the 3As and 4As.

It really helps everybody in scheduling. Looking at the GNL coming in, had we not created this, you know they were losing Cheney, you know they would have been down to four teams. They were already playing each other three times (in league). Then you play in the playoffs again. And this gives their kids an opportunity to be in a bigger league, have better league schedules, create that competitive equity, and give all of our student-athletes an opportunity to succeed.

You know, it’s no fun when you never win. If you work really hard and you don’t have success, it’s really difficult to keep kids engaged and keep coaches engaged, and we really feel like what’s best for all of our kids in this community is to have a combo league where we can create great competition and give our kids every opportunity to have success and learn those lessons that we want them to learn, being part of a team and athletics.

S-R: Ridgeline joins the GSL next year as a 3A, and in the near future Medical Lake and Deer Park could move up to 2A. It’s easy to envision the league growing again very soon.

KV: Yes, absolutely. And that’s why I believe having multiple divisions like we do now really opens the door for other communities in the Spokane area to be a part of our league as they grow. It just makes it more inclusive. Everybody’s excited, it’s just unfortunate this COVID thing hit, because everybody’s excited about our new league and the opportunities that our kids are going to have. And we’re just doing everything we can to create those opportunities and make them safe as possible, so that our kids can have a great high school experience.

S-R: Has the GSL been able to finalize district playoff scenarios and potential crossover games in 2A?

KV: We have a great relationship with the Mid-Columbia Conference, and they’ve had a few teams shift down there as well. Kamiakin moved up to 4A, Walla Walla down to 3A. And so as things kind of shifted down there, we just made adjustments to the playoff schedule. Depending on the (state) berths that we get with the 2A, there will be some gluing and some working with the Central Washington Athletic League and the teams from there. So, we’re still working on what that’s going to look like with the 2As. As far as the 3A/4A stuff, we have those worked out, and we have a great relationship with the MCC. We’re all part of District 8, and we want the best teams from Eastern Washington representing Eastern Washington and District 8. Everybody’s committed to that.

S-R: There’s been news about the WIAA changing venues for state basketball, and maybe the Spokane Arena pricing itself out of some of these events and even out of spirit week.

KV: Yeah, you know, it’s a balancing act. The WIAA worked with the coaches association trying to develop something that would create a state tournament-type atmosphere, yet enable them to have it in venues that were appropriate for the sizes. We made the change several years ago to the format that we currently have, and I believe that it’s worked out. We hosted at University High School several of those kind of regional games. I believe personally that (the new format) gives our teams more of a tournament-type atmosphere, where you have multiple teams in a new facility, and you’re narrowing (the tournament) down. But it’s still part of the state tournament mistake competition.

When you look at the Tacoma Dome when they’ve had playoffs there, some of those early-morning games, there’s just little to no attendance, and the WIAA and the coaches want it to be a big deal – a great venue where fans will come and support their kids. And so, I believe that this is something we need to do and try and then let’s see if it works, and adjust from it. I think our kids and our coaches are going to like the new changes.

It is tough when you’re looking at venues, and you know the cost of venues that we have. I used to play in the old Coliseum, the “Boone Street Barn” back in the day. I remember where it was packed with people to watch games. I know the cost of operations is a lot for the Arena, but I also remember when the Arena was put out there for people to vote on. You know, we talked about having a venue for high school events. I firmly believe we need to continue to use the Arena. I don’t know all the details of costs and that type of thing, but I know security has gone up.

But we need to work together, because we still need to have that venue for our high school athletes to compete in. It’s a great venue. Voters approved – at least I did – with that in mind, that we’re going to have some great high school events or we’re going to have state tournaments there. We need to find a way to continue to make that work somehow, get the cost down to make it profitable, to have activities there, and have games or tournaments. Because it is a big draw. You look at what it does for our hotels, our economy, our restaurants, when we host the B tournament there – it’s amazing. So we need to find a way to continue to make that happen, and make Spokane a place that people want to come and that venue, obviously is a great venue, but we need to have the venue available to have high school events.

S-R: Let’s go from basketball to football venues. A new football stadium for Mead and Mt. Spokane is opening soon, and we have the renovations at Albi Stadium. You have to be excited about adding new football venues early in your tenure as GSL director.

KV: I’ve been fortunate. I worked at University High School a long time. When I’m at games there I see people walking from our community to the game. That to me is what it’s all about – having your community supporting your kids and supporting your schools. University High School has brand-new turf down, and it looks looks amazing. Central Valley has new turf, Ridgeline, when it’s built, it’ll have new turf. The Mead-Mt. Spokane facility, I’ve driven by it several times – it looks great. And then Albi, when they have it redone, we’re going to have fantastic facilities to host playoffs and give our kids an opportunity to play on very safe, great fields.

Our other schools that are joining our league, all have great facilities, all have great fields. And, you know, even though I love the turf, part of me loves the smell of that fresh-cut grass on a Friday night. East Valley, West Valley, Pullman, Clarkston and Cheney all have great facilities as well, so I’m really excited for our kids, and for our playoff opportunities that we have.

Once you get to the semis, at least in football you’re required to have turf fields. And now we’ll have the opportunity, not only at Albi, but we have Central Valley, University, one of the Mead schools could host, when they’re in the bracket, all the way to the semis, which is a big deal. And having all the facilities that we have, once again that shows great community support for our schools and our athletics from our community, that they’re willing to vote for those dollars for our kids so that they have great surfaces to play on.

S-R: We’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything that I haven’t asked about that you think is important to mention at this point.

KV: I just really feel it’s important that parents and athletes know that the WIAA, state athletic directors, and principals totally support them. And we’re going to do everything we can to have athletics in a safe environment so our kids can have those opportunities. And also, that our sponsors need to know that we need them – now more than ever – to help provide these to our kids. Those really are the two biggest things to me as I begin this new job, is that people need to know that we care about their kids, and we’re doing everything we can to make it happen. And we need our business partners to help us do that.

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