The end of dominance? Bend schools have 2 more years until likely move up

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By Grant Lucas
The Bulletin

The thesaurus has been exhausted. Few, if any, plaudits remain. Because in the 2015-16 school year, Summit High did something no other Oregon high school has ever accomplished.

Of the 19 Class 5A state championships awarded by the Oregon School Activities Association, 11 reside in the trophy case at Summit. Since 1979, when the OSAA last sanctioned a new sport, no school has won more.

“We’re blessed to have them, because it’s not always easy, by any means,” says Summit athletic director Gabe Pagano. “You kind of shake your head like, ‘Wow, that was pretty sweet.’”

It is a feat that may never be bested, and one that comes with its share of detractors. After all, last year, Summit boasted the second-highest student population among Class 5A schools (that total of 1,416 students was second only to Bend High, with 1,479 — more than 200 students over the cap). Since the OSAA expanded to six classifications before the 2006-07 school year, Summit has claimed more team state championships (65) than any other school.

More than a decade of dominance could start shifting in two years, however, as the OSAA classification and districting committee begins meeting this fall to start restructuring the state’s prep landscape. Come 2018, Summit and Bend — and perhaps even Mountain View — could be competing with the big dogs of 6A.

“We know that’s down the road,” Pagano says of jumping to the state’s highest classification. In preparation for that jump, he says, Summit teams are scheduling more Class 6A nonconference competition.

Speculation and debate about how the three Bend high schools might fare in the highest classification — or which schools they would join, or what will happen with Redmond and Ridgeview high schools — will surely heat up as the reclassification nears. For now, though, perhaps it is wiser to imagine how local high schools can take advantage of these final two years of the current time block, considering there are streaks to be extended, records to be broken, and droughts to be ended.

This fall, for example, the Summit girls cross-country team is poised to capture a ninth straight state championship, which would match Jesuit for the most cross-country titles in OSAA history. Over the past four years, Summit also has dominated 5A girls soccer, winning four state championships while compiling a 50-0-4 record against 5A competition. There is Summit’s girls golf program, which owns the OSAA’s longest run of consecutive team titles (eight), and its girls track and field program, which has claimed 10 straight state championships (an OSAA best) while setting the team state-meet points record each of the past three years.

“It was a huge, huge senior class,” Pagano says of the school’s 2015-16 success. “The number of multisport kids, without (those kinds of athletes), it (the number of state titles) would not have even been close. … The other part is we stayed extremely healthy last year. That is a huge piece. … I can’t remember a year like that. Everything just kind of lined up.”

Yet while Summit grabbed many of the headlines last year, perhaps now is the time for its intracity and intraconference rivals to take advantage of potentially their final two seasons in 5A.

Take Bend High, a girls soccer state semifinalist eight times in the past 10 years, winning state titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Or maybe it is time for Mountain View to make a run, eight years after its first appearance in the girls soccer state final (a loss to Bend) and six years after its most recent showing (a loss to Summit). What about Bend volleyball? The Lava Bears are perhaps overdue for a volleyball state crown, especially considering they have won a trophy at each of the past four state tournaments but have never appeared in a state final.

Pagano says that “interesting conversations” surround not only the future of Redmond and Ridgeview but also Central Oregon 4A schools Crook County, Madras and Sisters. Last year Crook County’s student population, based on adjusted average daily membership numbers from the 2014-15 school year, was the largest in 4A. At an OSAA executive board meeting last winter, Crook County was on the agenda to possibly rejoin 5A, the school’s classification for the first four years of the six-classification era. Eventually, however, the decision was made for Crook County to stay 4A, as Rob Bonner, the school’s athletic director, says that Crook County’s enrollment was “padded” by students taking advantage of a fifth-year diploma program through the Oregon Department of Education. That program, he adds, is being phased out.

As a result, Crook County’s student population, which was within 5A range last winter, is now well within the 4A limits. And it allows the Cowboys and Cowgirls the opportunity to continue their successes in volleyball (eight state championships in the past 10 years) and wrestling (three straight state titles) and perhaps gain traction in other sports. In football, for example, Crook County has advanced to the state playoffs in each of the past two years, including in 2014 — the program’s first playoff appearance since 1997. Bonner says that, frankly, he is happy with — and hoping for — Crook County remaining in 4A when the next time block begins in two years, though the school’s athletic program could possibly still thrive in 5A.

“They have a support system that’s loyal, that shows up, that’s dependable,” Bonner says of Crook County athletics. “We’re competing with the Bend schools in a lot of nonconference games. It’s great keeping that relationship with those Bend and Redmond schools.”

Only two years remain for several area high schools to take advantage of the current classification time block. Summit surely will need additional space in its trophy case, and maybe there are vacancies for overdue titles at Bend, Mountain View, Redmond and Crook County, among others. Now is the time for teams at those Central Oregon schools to capitalize. To quote the noted American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand: “The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.”

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