With the Aug. 16 start of high school football practices less than two weeks away, Class 2A Northwest Conference fans may notice something a little different this year – usual league foe Sehome doesn’t appear as an opponent on the Blaine, Lynden, Burlington-Edison or Sedro-Woolley schedules.
The Mariners have decided to pull out of the NWC 2A in 2017 in favor of playing an independent schedule.
“We’re hoping to build our program and our numbers (of players on the roster),” Sehome athletic director Colin Cushman said. “We had a lot of troubles building numbers the last few years. We felt this will give our kids an opportunity to be competitive and an opportunity to win some games and hopefully give us a chance to get our numbers up.”
Cushman said Sehome’s move, which is for football only, is expected to be just “a one-year hiatus” – a way for a program seeking its first winning season since 2004 to hit the reset button. After the 2017 season, he and first-year coach Kevin Beason will re-evaluate where the program is at and whether Sehome should return to what is considered one the state’s most difficult football leagues for the 2018 season.
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By stepping out of the league, Sehome will avoid potential demoralizing losses at the hands of the Borderites, Lions, Tigers and Cubs – four clubs that combined to out score the Mariners 186-14 in their 2016 NWC 2A meetings.
Lynden has been able to fill the vacancy in its schedule by booking an Oct. 27 non-league game at Eastlake, while Blaine is still working to fill a Week 8 hole left by Sehome’s departure.
A big part of our program is just competing – competing at everything we do. ... We feel the product will sell itself.
Kevin Beason, Sehome football coach
Sehome still will play NWC 2A teams Lakewood, Anacortes and Bellingham in non-league games this fall, but the rest of the eight-game schedule currently includes games against Mountlake Terrace (a 2A Wesco team that won three games in 2016), British Columbia school Seaquam, Class 1A power King’s, the Cascade Conference’s Granite Falls and Shorewood (a 3A Wesco team than won just one game in 2016).
“Our goal is to increase our numbers and have a season that the kids feel good about,” Cushman said. “Getting numbers up is a safety issue. When you have kids that are going both ways (offense and defense) and you’re going against teams that have players that aren’t, you’re more likely to get hurt. ... You may start off OK, but as the game goes on, you get tired, and that’s when your fundamentals break down and things happen.”
44 Players listed on Sehome’s 2016 preseason roster for all levels. Athletic director Colin Cushman said that number dipped to the “lower 30s” and the team wasn’t able field a junior varsity program.
0-10 Sehome’s varsity record in 2016. The program has lost 17 straight, dating back to a 16-3 victory over Anacortes on Sept. 19, 2015.
The numbers certainly weren’t kind to Sehome in 2016, when the Mariners were only able to field varsity and freshman squads, and Cushman estimated their numbers were in the “low 30s”combined. They often faced squads three times that size, as the on-field results showed during a frustrating 0-10 campaign. In fact, the Mariners have won just five games since 2013 – the last year they made the state playoffs.
Sehome is not the first area football program to see the potential benefits of pulling out of the ultra-competitive NWC 2A to rebuild with a non-league schedule – their crosstown rivals just returned to the league last year after two years as an independent.
Bellingham faced similar problems before playing a non-league schedule in 2014 (5-5) and 2015 (6-4). After building momentum, optimism and, most importantly, numbers, the Red Raiders returned last year and were competitive in most games during a 4-6 campaign.
“Chad (Bellingham athletic director Chad Larsen) really felt it was worthwhile for Bellingham High,” Cushman said. “They increased their numbers significantly. The league was supportive of the move, and Chad encouraged it. ... This is a move we’re looking at for the long term, not the short term.”
Our goal is to increase our numbers and have a season that the kids feel good about.
Colin Cushman, Sehome athletic director
Beason, who is returning to his alma mater to coach, said Sehome’s offseason work has been going good this summer and his Mariners are excited to take on whoever is on the schedule.
“The kids are excited to play the game against anyone, anywhere,” Beason said. “A big part of our program is just competing – competing at everything we do. We want to move forward. ... Turnout has been good. We have good numbers, and that will improve. We feel the product will sell itself.”
2017 Sehome football schedule
*at Civic Stadium