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High school has until Dec. 1 to give its final decision to OSAA, new league would be determined in February

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Canby eighth grade football coach Jon Hull, from left, varsity defensive coordinator Brett Rhodes, and athletic director Ben Winegar all spoke of the Cougars possible move to Class 5A during Wednesday's meeting.

Canby's numbers are down, both in attendance at the high school and participation in the football program.

That was the main reason given Monday night from a panel of Canby coaches and administrators for why the Cougars football program should accept OSAA's opportunity to move down to Class 5A for the next two seasons.

"We're a 5A school numbers-wise," Canby head coach Jimmy Joyce said in front of an audience of about 30 community members. "Does that mean we can't compete in 6A? No. But the deck is stacked against us."

OSAA determines its classifications based on a school's adjusted average daily membership (ADM), which combines enrollment with the percentage of students that qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Two years ago, when OSAA reclassified and set the Class 6A threshold at 1,260, Canby had a ADM of 1,270. But that number dropped to 1,259 this year.

Canby has seen a steady decline in its ADM, which grew to more than 1,600 in 2002, before beginning to decrease in 2006.

While the OSAA will not reclassify again for two more years, Canby gets the choice to move down to 5A, not based on its enrollment, but because the Cougars won less than 22 percent of their games over the past two seasons.

Franklin and Madison have also been given the option.

OSAA's football ad-hoc committee implemented the rule two years ago, and five 6A schools (McKay, Wilson, Forest Grove, Cleveland and South Eugene) took advantage and moved down to 5A for football only.

Canby has also seen a decrease in the number of kids playing football.

Two years ago, the Cougars had 147 third through eighth-graders in its youth program. However, Canby had just over 100 this fall, according to eighth grade coach Jon Hull, and expects even less next season.

"Football numbers are a big issue," Joyce said. "Youth football is a major concern."

Troy Soles, a longtime assistant coach at the high school, said Canby was unable to field three football teams (varsity, JV and freshman) this season for the first time in his 16 years with the program.

While Canby had 84 players come out for its high school program this fall, Joyce said Three Rivers League opponents Tigard and West Linn had more than 120. Oregon City had 130 and Tualatin had nearly 140.

"This isn't a 5A or 6A issue for me," Joyce said. "This is a Three Rivers League issue for me. We have to play against teams that don't match our numbers and demographics. It is very hard to increase numbers when you are rebuilding in a league with teams that are demographically better."

Joyce gave West Albany as an example of a program that was able to build its numbers after moving from 6A to 5A.

According to Joyce, the Bulldogs had more than 100 players when they won the 5A state championship in 2013, but their participation dropped to 74 kids by 2015 in their second season in 6A. Back in 5A, West Albany now has 123 kids in its program

"I think we have kids who don't play because of the fear of who we play," Joyce said when asked by someone in the audience if he thought kids would transfer from Canby if the Cougars moved down to 5A.

If Canby did remain in 6A, the Cougars schedule would get even tougher as the Three Rivers League has decided to play six league games next year instead of five. Canby did not play West Linn the last two years, but would next season.

While Canby should be able to compete better in 5A after finishing 2-16 the last two seasons, success is not guaranteed.

Wilson finished 0-8 in 5A this season. McKay went 2-7.

"We'll still be playing elite competition, but elite competition that reflects who we are," Joyce said.

Joyce said more would be expected of the Cougars in 5A, especially after winning back-to-back games to close the 2019 season.

"The thing that does excite me, if we moved down, we have to work harder now because we'll have expectations behind us," Joyce said. "The expectation is a deep playoff run, practicing on Thanksgiving. That's the expectation. The work has to increase. It has to get stronger."

Another reason given for moving down to 5A and out of the TRL was that Canby has no natural rivalry like West Linn and Oregon City, Tualatin and Tigard, and Lake Oswego and Lakeridge.

While league alignments would not be determined until February, Joyce mentioned Wilsonville as an option.

"I'd love to have our own rivalry with Wilsonville," Soles added.

Canby principal Greg Dinse also supports the decision to move to 5A.

"The kids really don't care in my opinion," he said. "The kids want to see energy around the program and the move to 5A is an opportunity to continue the momentum that this program has built this year. I'm concerned the momentum would slow down in the TRL and that impacts the school spirit."

Joyce met with about 40 of his current players Monday and said the response was mixed.

"Some are emotional, some are excited," he said. "I've had multiple kids concerned. I have kids who are excited and want to get to work."

While the meeting was mostly positive towards the move to 5A, a decision has not been made.

"Please give more feedback," Canby athletic director Ben Winegar said. "We want to get as much feedback as possible. Give me a call, set up a meeting. It's not often we get the opportunity to make a choice."

To see the presentation given at Wednesday's meeting, go to Tinyurl.com/t3dxwzn.

Canby has until Dec. 1 to give its answer to the OSAA, which will ultimately come from superintendent Trip Goodall after recommendations from the athletic department.

"This is a decision that affects the entire town," Joyce said. "We're a community. This could easily be done in the back rooms. We wanted to hear every voice and make an informed decision for what's best for the future."


Derek Wiley
Reporter
503-263-6831
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