Overprotective state policies for high school competitors cheated student athletes

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Lon AustinOne of the things that sets champions apart from everyone else is the fact that they aren't willing to settle.

The past year has shown clearly that most people are far too willing to settle. I have no idea how many coaches and athletes I have talked to in the last year who have said something like, "I'm just thankful that we were able to play at all."

Now, there is something to be said about being grateful for what you have, but there is also something to be said about not settling for less than you could.

Yes, we had a pandemic, and yes, we should be thankful that sports happened at all. We should also be thankful that parents, and in some cases others, were actually able to watch their kids play. With the politics of the pandemic, it would have been easy for neither to happen.

But unfortunately, too often people were willing to settle.

Let's just compare Idaho to Oregon. In Idaho, athletics ran during their normal seasons. Teams played full schedules, and there were state championships contested. In Oregon, we played a non-counting season in November and December against only local teams, then started football in February.

Big difference, isn't it? Idaho made things happen. Oregon settled. The funny thing is not everyone in Oregon settled equally. Class 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A managed to have some sort of playoff in virtually every sport. Granted, given the time frame that they were given by the governor, the Oregon Health Authority, and the OSAA in some sports, football in particular, that playoff may have consisted of only one game.

Still, they were able to have some sort of post season. Of course, the OSAA is unlikely to recognize any of those champions. That is because the OSAA bowed to political pressure and decided to not sponsor any playoffs. In other words, they settled.

High school athletics is supposed to be for the kids. And, by now, all of us know that kids are at very low risk of having any kind of serious lasting impacts from COVID. They are also unlikely to get any serious symptoms.

Yes, multiple sports teams, and in some cases entire schools, were forced into COVID quarantines, but they were still able to resume their seasons.

Culver shut down their spring sports season for nearly two weeks. Roseburg's wrestling team went into quarantine just prior to their district tournament. Yet, in each case, they were able to finish out their seasons.

There was absolutely no reason that Oregon couldn't have had state playoffs for all classifications. All six classifications had some sort of track championship, even if they were labeled as invitationals. Wrestling proved that there was no reason every other sport couldn't have held state championships as well. Other than the fact that the state wrestling tournaments were held at five different locations instead of one, the wrestling championships were virtually identical to normal.

Yes, there were fewer spectators in the stands, but there were spectators. Yes, the OSAA probably won't recognize the champions, but champions were crowned nonetheless.

The wrestling community didn't settle. They made it happen.

There is no reason that virtually every other sport couldn't have done exactly the same thing, other than perhaps football and baseball. Those two are exceptions because football can only play once a week due to participation limitations, while baseball has pitch limitations for pitchers, making it difficult to run a full playoff in just a week. Other than that, there was no reason that every other sport couldn't have had a normal playoff. Idaho did it without a problem. But, Oregon didn't have the will or the courage to do the right thing. We chose to settle. The governor and the Oregon Health Authority said it wasn't safe, and the OSAA cowed to pressure and went along.

For whatever reason, too many people did not have the will to make it happen. The most egregious local examples are the Crook County High School volleyball and basketball teams. The CCHS volleyball team defeated the defending state champion Ridgeview Ravens two out of three times, while dropping just two matches all season. Yet, they were deprived of the opportunity to play for a state championship.

Meanwhile, the CCHS boys basketball team finished the year with a 16-0 record. At various times during the regular season, head coach Jason Mumm said that he was trying his best to make some kind of playoff happen. When that didn't occur, he tried to schedule games with other 5A state powers Silverton, Wilsonville and La Salle Prep. None of those games ever materialized. Instead, the Intermountain Conference settled for a league playoff, just like they did in volleyball and other team sports. In other words, through no fault of the CCHS coaches, the teams were forced to settle.

No one will ever know if either team would have won a state title, just like no one will ever know if the Madras softball and girls basketball teams would have made it to the state tournament had state playoffs been conducted normally. Instead, seasons just abruptly ended.

The OSAA bowed to political pressure. School athletic directors didn't have the will to make a playoff happen with or without OSAA approval. The smaller the classification of school, the closer to normal things ran. The bigger the schools, the more they bowed to the political pressure.

Those people who settled cheated our kids. They were cheated out of full seasons. They were cheated out of normal playoffs. In some cases, they were cheated out of scholarship opportunities. You name it. Adults settled for what was easy, and the kids lost out.

Compare that to what the wrestling community did. It was coaches that made the state tournament happen, not the OSAA, not administrators, and not athletic directors. It was coaches that made things happen. Coaches and support from the wrestling community.

Culver head coach J.D. Alley noted that a small group of coaches are receiving most of the credit for the wrestling championships, but that countless people were involved behind the scenes.

"What I told my kids and I told the coaches in my meeting is, you know, I want you to go back and I want you to tell your kids there are people that they will never meet, you can't even fathom the number of people and the sacrifices and the commitment that they made to make this possible for you," Alley said. "Your kids need to be grateful for these opportunities that have been afforded to them. And, that's really true, there's going to be a pretty small group that is going to get a lot of pats on the back for this, and it had to start somewhere, I guess, but you can't believe how the wrestling group came together."

Kudos to the wrestling community. The same can't be said for every other sport, especially in the larger schools. It should have been easier for large schools to run playoffs than smaller schools. Afterall, they have more resources, better facilities — all the advantages. But what they didn't have was the will to make it happen. Shame on them.

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