The athletic offerings at John F. Kennedy High School will be expanding in the coming 2017-18 academic school year with the introduction of two new varsity winter sports — wrestling and swimming.
When it comes to athletics, JFK has been among the most consistently successful 2A programs in the state with a high percentage of participation across the board in all of its athletic programs.
The Trojans boast nearly 80 student athletes competing in football, volleyball and cross country in the fall. That number balloons to almost 100 athletes in the spring when the school offers track and field, baseball, softball and golf.
But those numbers drop considerably in the winter when the school offers just one sport for students to choose — basketball. Kennedy athletic director Kevin Moffatt wants to see that change.
"In the winter we have 42 kids participating," Moffatt said. "Only so many people can be basketball players. Not that you can't be small, but it's a finite number. You can only have 24 kids on a varsity and JV team, and if you don't fit that model, you can't play."
For Moffatt, the bringing of new programs into the fold is less about athletics and more about books. Kids simply perform better when they're a part of some sort of extracurricular activity.
"We did a couple studies around five years ago," Moffatt said. "When our kids aren't involved, their grades aren't as good. It plays out every single time."
The evidence is stark. Kennedy's softball and baseball teams both had the No. 1 cumulative grade-point averages at the 2A level this spring with 3.73 and 3.58 GPAs, respectively. The school's boys and girls track and field, golf and band programs all ranked in the top 10 among 2A schools in the spring. The same is true for its winter and fall offerings, where the Trojans are consistently among the best academic programs in the state.
"We definitely want our kids to be involved in any way they can," Moffatt said. "Our studies show that when we have our kids involved in any activities, they do better in school and they have more buy-in to school in general."
The other reason Moffatt wants to see new athletic offerings is simply to bring variety to the table during the winter months. It's a sentiment echoed by Steve Ritchie, Trojans' longtime coach of the cross country and track and field programs.
"I think it would be a great option for our kids, because basketball is fantastic, and we have a good basketball program here obviously, but not every kid grows up playing basketball," Ritchie said. "If you haven't played a lot of basketball, skill development is hard."
"Wrestling and swimming open that door to some kids who are not basketball players and give our kids more options and more chances to do some things," Moffatt added.
Kennedy athletics have been experiencing a wealth of success across the board in recent years. The school has won state titles in baseball, girls track and field and girls basketball in the past six seasons. The football, volleyball and cross country teams are consistent powers in the fall, while the baseball, softball and track teams are always among the top in the field in the spring.
With athletic participation dropping by half in the winter, that means a significant number of high-caliber athletes are left on the cutting room floor. Some of the more dedicated student athletes who don't compete during the winter season continue to workout on their own, but Ritchie sees the new offerings as a logical bridge between the fall and spring seasons.
"We have all those kids that maybe are not basketball oriented and they need something to do in the winter," Ritchie said. "I think for some of them who want to stay in shape, swimming would be a tremendous option, especially for cross country kids."
Wrestling is a similarly good option for fall athletes to keep themselves in top condition during the winter, he said.
"It teaches a lot of great lessons about competitiveness, strategy, mental toughness," Ritchie said.
Moffatt and Ritchie have both seen interest in students for the coming programs, which will both be offered as coed options. The school reached out to its student body during the spring to gauge the appeal in the new sports and had 14 students (12 boys and two girls) sign up for wrestling and 10 girls sign up for swimming.
"If we do get all the kids who were interested in going out, we'd have the fifth-biggest team in 2A," Moffatt said. "Now that might not occur when people find out how hard you have to work, but I think it has a chance."
Financially, the impact of the two programs for the first year will cost the district $11,000 for swimming and $10,000 for wrestling, according to Superintendent Troy Stoops. The district will be starting its swim program from scratch, but will technically be reviving its wrestling program, which has been dormant for upwards of 15 years.
While the district still has some old wrestling mats stored away, the program has been dead for so long that it's essentially starting over again, Moffatt said. The swim team will practice nearby at Silverton, while the wrestling team will practice at gymnasium at St. Mary's Elementary School.
It may take a few years before the Trojans swimmers and wrestling reach the same athletic peaks as its peers in other programs, but for Moffatt, it's just about trying to offer as much as possible to the students at JFK.
"If you're not trying to expand and grow, you're falling behind," he said. "I wish we could offer 500 sports, but at least if we have the interest there and it's proven that our academic performance goes up, we have to try to add what we can within reason.
"You have to offer kids as many things as possible and reach as many different interest groups as you can," he added. "That's why people keep coming to Mount Angel."