High school sports has changed much over the last two decades.
Fewer students are turning out for school teams. There’s a variety of reasons — from a fixation on screen time to needing to work after school to opting to play just one sport a year rather than three — as was once common.
While that’s a concern at bigger schools with 1,500 or so students like Walla Walla High School, it is not a major hurdle to actually fielding teams as it is at small, rural schools such as Dayton and Waitsburg where the student body might hover around 100.
Beyond that, many rural communities have fewer families living there with school-age children.
What to do?
Small schools are opting to run sports cooperatives with another or several other high schools. Many rural school districts in Washington state have joined forces so they could field competitive athletic programs — from Morton-White Pass and Kittitas-Thorp to the five-school combine Lind-Ritzville-Sprague-Washtucna-Kahlotus.
Dayton and Waitsburg came together on a trial basis in the past few years and, recently, have wisely decided to make the arrangement permanent. Last month, school board members of both districts voted to continue the combine for middle and high school sports.
This move has certainly given those who have lived in each of those communities for many years some heartburn as Dayton and Waitsburg have traditionally been rivals.
Yes, it is unfortunate to lose the passion that only a rivalry from two schools just 10 miles apart can generate, but the reality is that without playing together nobody at either school would get to play.
However, creating a new bond between the Dayton-Waitsburg teammates is a significant step in making the combine a long-term success.
Instead of operating as the Waitsburg Cardinals and Dayton Bulldogs, the combined team will get a new mascot. Team colors have been selected — red from Waitsburg and gold from Dayton.
“Whatever they pick, it will provide them the opportunity to be a single entity,” said Dayton Superintendent Doug Johnson.
Students from both schools have proposed mascot names. When a decision is made on the mascot, new red-and-gold uniforms will be purchased.
Combining the two schools for athletics makes a great deal of sense, and making it clear that Dayton and Waitsburg will move forward as one greatly enhances to chances of long-term success.