Gervais, Kennedy set to shake things up under reclassification
Given their similarities in location, size and demographics, it seems peculiar that Gervais and John F. Kennedy high schools reside not just in different conferences, but in different athletic classifications altogether.
But with the recent proposed reclassification models for the 2018-2022 block of time that the Oregon School Activities Association is set to vote on in October, it appears that the Cougars and the Trojans are very close to bridging the gap between their respective athletic programs.
In order for the two schools to join the same conference, it would require Gervais to drop down a classification from the 3A level to the 2A, where Kennedy has resided since the OSAA went through its reclassification in 1990 that changed the Tri-River Conference from Class A to 2A.
Gervais school officials discussed the idea at the school board meeting in March, concluding that dropping down a level would ultimately be a benefit to the school's athletic programs, which sees participation levels that more closely mirror 2A schools than those at the 3A level.
"Most 3A schools have three teams — freshman, JV and varsity," Gervais athletic director Tim Bowman said. "Over the last five years, we've only had two teams."
Bowman would like to see that participation level rise, not because it could lead to more tallies in the win column, but because of the benefits to the academic side of the student-athlete equation.
"The idea would be to get more participation, which would lead to better grades and attitude," Bowman said.
Gervais was eligible to move down a classification level partly because of the school's struggling athletic programs, which have finished in the bottom 50 percent of the league standings 96 percent of the time over the past three seasons.
As a result, students have been less inclined to come out for sports, and fewer student athletes means it's more difficult for programs to succeed against other 3A schools, creating a cycle that Gervais school officials would like to see broken.
"Our numbers have been the lowest they've been in years because they don't want to go out there and get their butt kicks," Bowman said.
Against non-conference competition, Gervais typically attempts to find 2A schools to play against, where the team has performed much better and much more consistently. Bowman would like to see how the school's athletic programs would fare against 2A schools on a full-time basis and what that would do to participation levels over the four-year period from 2018-2022.
"The coaches are OK with it," Bowman said. "They want their kids to be competitive, (and) the morale of our kids would be greatly increased, because they would be more competitive."
The currently supported classification model puts Cougars into the 2A Central Valley League with Kennedy, Western Mennonite, Santiam, Delphian and Culver, along with Chemawa and Colton — two of Gervais' West Valley rivals that are set to drop down to the 2A level as well.
The addition of those two rivals would help make the transition easier, said Gervais girls basketball coach Kyle Buse, who has come around to the idea of leaving the 3A classification.
"The fact that we're also keeping Chemawa and Colton, teams that were already in our league, especially Colton, who we battled with — it's going to be an interesting league," Buse said. "I think with our youth movement … it would be a fun experience for them to write their own story a little bit."
The move would also rekindle a rivalry with Kennedy that the two schools shared for generations before the OSAA split into six classifications in 2006.
Gervais and Kennedy played each other in the Tri-River Conference and earlier in the Class A District 3 from 1982 to 2006. The Cougars' move to the 3A West Valley Conference in 2006 broke up that rivalry, and the Cougars' move back down brings the team back to its closest regional rival.
For Kennedy, the move is almost equally as drastic. The Trojans have been a part of the Tri-River Conference since the league's inception in 1990. JFK, Regis and Santiam were the only schools remaining from the original 13 teams that made up the Tri-River.
While many schools have been moved around with regularity in the reclassifications of 2006, 2010 and 2014, Kennedy had remained untouched until now.
"There's something to be said about those longtime rivalries, but I think that those might be a thing of the past, because leagues are going to continue to switch and who knows what it's going to look like four years from now," Kennedy Athletic Director Kevin Moffatt said. "I don't think there's a perfect answer that benefits everybody. OSAA does the best they can to minimize issues like travel and kids missing school, but at the end of the day they're trying to appease the most people they can, and I think they do a pretty good job of it."
The Regis Rams in particular have been a strong rival to the Trojans, both due to the proximity of the two teams and the long history of fielding top-tier teams in similar sports. With that rivalry appearing to be severed, it will be up to the two programs to maintain that connection through non-conference scheduling.
"That's a tough one to lose. I think the people definitely view them as our big rival," Moffatt said. "I'm sure that we'll try to play them as often as we can in non-league games. It's still a close game, it's a great rivalry, (and) I think we'll try to keep that as alive as we can for sure."
The OSAA Reclassification and Districting Committee still has two more meetings in August and September to fine-tune their proposed models before taking their recommendations to the OSAA Board, which will vote on the decision in October.
Proposed 2A Central Valley Conference
• Western Mennonite