Where will they play?

By: Grant Lucas
The Bulletin

The latest proposal by the Oregon School Activities Association’s classification and districting committee is out, and a clearer picture of the state’s high school sports landscape is taking shape.

A little more than two months ago it appeared that Redmond High, competing in Class 5A this year after spending the previous five years in 6A, might drop down to 4A for the new four-year OSAA classification time block beginning in the fall of 2014, joining crosstown Ridgeview High.

Since then, however, the 4A enrollment cutoff point was lowered to 710 students, leaving Redmond (724 students for the 2011-12 school year, with OSAA adjustments based on socioeconomic status and free/reduced lunches) and Ridgeview (758) likely to end up in the 5A Intermountain Conference alongside Bend High, Mountain View and Summit.

“I understand that there needs to be a numbers cutoff someplace, and you have to balance the numbers between the divisions someplace,” Redmond High athletic director Nathan Stanley says. “For better or worse, that number seems to be right around 700 kids. Short of some other movement that I’m not foreseeing, we’ll probably end up at 5A when everything’s said and done.”

Stanley recalls that when representatives of various schools around the state mentioned moving the cutoff number one way or the other, there was “quite a bit of resistance.”

“I think that we’re the victim of circumstances. … It’s not just, ‘Woe is Redmond,'” Stanley says. “I think that five schools — the Redmond and Bend schools — are kind of a victim of the way it is. I’ve sat down and looked at it, and I don’t know what the answer is.”

At nearby Ridgeview, athletic director Andy Codding accepts the committee’s decision, as Ridgeview’s enrollment figures are firmly within the 5A range.

“It doesn’t make sense to put us at 4A because the biggest 4A (high school) is still quite a bit smaller than us,” says Codding, referencing Crook County, which is currently the state’s largest 4A school with 662 students. “There’s a natural break there, and we’re unfortunately going to be on the small end of this classification for the next four years.”

The latest proposal for a five-team IMC may not be the most ideal situation, according to Bend High athletic director and OSAA classification and districting committee member Craig Walker. But in Walker’s eyes, it is the best option simply because it is the only option.

Both Redmond schools will grow, Walker says, pointing out that the population “boom of Central Oregon” is returning and that both high schools did not factor in students from Redmond Proficiency Academy who participate in sports at either Redmond or Ridgeview high schools. Redmond High and Ridgeview will most likely struggle in sports for a year or two, Walker concedes, but they should see a increase in students, bringing their numbers well into 5A range.

Stanley says he respects the committee’s decision to keep Redmond High at 5A and will continue to fight for the best possible scenario for the Panthers. But the latest proposal, he admits, is a difficult pill to swallow.

With the committee charged to eliminate hybrid leagues — like the Class 4A Special District 1 in which only Ridgeview and Crook County competed this past school year — its latest proposal has the Cowboys and Cowgirls slated to join Madras in the 4A Tri-Valley Conference, a move that Crook County athletic director Scott Polen says is the best option for his school’s teams.

“We would have, of course, rather had us in a league that’s close with 4A competitors, but that seems to be the best bet for us,” Polen says. “They (the TVC members) invited us to join them, and after talking to Madras … at least we’ve got Madras in there.”

Polen says that a question was raised within the past few weeks about Crook County, in a money-saving effort, jumping to 5A and possibly joining the IMC. Cowboys and Cowgirls head coaches gathered last week, however, and shot down the suggestion by what Polen describes as an “overwhelming majority,” leaving Crook County in arguably one of the toughest 4A conferences in the state.

“It’s both (size and competitiveness),” Polen says of the reasoning for Crook County to stay in 4A. “The kids at Crook County feel overwhelmed when they play Bend and Mountain View and some of the big schools. Their perspective in many cases is, ‘Geez, they’re so much bigger than we are.’ … With the exception of volleyball and wrestling — who we can compete with anybody in those sports — it’s in the best interest of our programs because kids don’t want to come out for basketball and have to play Summit three times in a season.”

Several other Central Oregon schools are also affected in the latest OSAA committee proposal. La Pine, a 4A Sky-Em League member, petitioned to play down a classification based on socioeconomic status and athletic success rate, according to Walker, potentially moving the Hawks into the 3A PacWest Conference.

Walker says the OSAA can no longer use enrollment numbers as the only means of determining a school’s classification.

“There’s just so much that plays into it now, ” Walker says. “As we (the classification and districting committee) found out, there’s a great deal to do with socioeconomic status and success factor. … When you look at it from a feel standpoint, La Pine really feels like a 3A school, even though, populationwise, they’re a little bigger than a 3A.”

At 2A under the latest proposal, Culver moves from the Salem-based Tri-River Conference to the Rolling Plains League in Eastern Oregon, while 1A Central Christian of Redmond, currently a member of the Big Sky League, joins Gilchrist and Bend’s Trinity Lutheran in the Mountain Valley League.

The committee meets again on Sept. 23, when final recommendations are expected to be submitted to the executive board for its meeting in October. While matters concerning other classifications remain for the committee, Walker says that as far as Central Oregon schools are concerned, the committee’s latest proposal is most likely what the final recommendation will look like.
— Reporter: 541-383-0307; glucas@bendbulletin.com.

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