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School got wish, had asked to be in 4A as opposed to the Bend-rich Intermountain Conference

According to the final redistricting proposal released last week, Crook County is slated to drop down to the 4A classification and join Madras in the Tri-Valley Conference.

The move is a surprising late development in the months-long redistricting process. OSAA Executive Board will finalize the league structures for the 2022-2026 time block on Monday, Dec. 13.

Over the duration of the redistricting process, Crook County had tentatively remained a member in the 5A Intermountain Conference. However, the OSAA decided to look at projections rather than current numbers for average daily membership (ADM) — the metric by which school size is determined — and subsequently moved the larger Bend schools down from 6A due to the opening of Caldera High School.

That move would have put four Bend teams in the IMC, a change that would have benefitted Crook County in terms of travel, with Hood River Valley, Pendleton and The Dalles leaving the league. A stronger IMC may have also resulted in competitive imbalances against the Cowboy and Cowgirl athletic programs, though.

Now, it appears the 5A Intermountain Conference will be a six-team league based exclusively in the Deschutes County cities of Bend and Redmond. As for the 4A Tri-Valley, the conference takes on a Central Oregon look — a major win for Madras in terms of travel burden.

"I'm pleased that the process, that the classification committee listened and made an adjustment," said Crook County athletic director Rob Bonner. "Man, the hours that those people put in on that committee and the feeling and emotion that they deal with to come up with a decision like that you are never going to make everyone happy. So, what that committee does every four years, they are amazing. And the changes they made this year, streamlining the process of coming out with a decision. they listened to problems and they are trying their best to fix it. The committee did a really good job."

Bonner said the school would have been happy to stay in the IMC, but he also noted that the 4A league was a better fit for the school at the moment due to its relatively low ADM number.

"It's what we asked for as a school district we asked to be placed back into 4A," said Bonner. "590 was the ceiling of the 4A and we were at 603 and we asked them to bump the new 4A ceiling to above 603 and they bumped it to 607 and that caught St. Helens and Crook County. They put that number just above Pendleton to catch Pendleton already, so the only two schools it affected the second time were St. Helens and Crook County. St. Helens I believe is projected to go to the Cowapa (League) and Crook County is projected to go to the Tri-Valley.

"It's funny, because depending on what program you are looking at, what sport you are looking at, individual sports fit better in different classifications," Bonner continued. "But overall, I think, 4A we were right there at that cut, so it's a good fit. It's funny because staying in 5A wasn't a bad thing. It pushed us. We were competitive in most sports. No state titles to speak of but we were competitive and we were in a good league. I really enjoyed Pendleton and we enjoyed Redmond and Ridgeview, so staying 5A wouldn't have been bad, but staying 5A with the Bend schools dropping down, that's not a good fit."

In addition to taking on Crook County, the Tri-Valley would also bring in The Dalles from the IMC should the final proposal goes through. Conversely, the TVC would lose current members Corbett and North Marion. Corbett is projected to move down to 3A, while North Marion moves to the Oregon West Conference. Current members Estacada, Gladstone and Molalla would join Crook County, Madras and The Dalles to form the final six-team Tri-Valley. For weeks, it looked as though the league might also add Parkrose, but the Broncos lobbied to play in 5A despite their low ADM, and the OSAA has granted the request.

For Crook County, the change won't be completely foreign. The school already plays against their new Tri-Valley compatriots in football and soccer, for instance. Without the Redmond teams around, there will not be as many quick trips on the schedule, but the Cowboys and Cowgirls can at least forget about those regular four-hour jaunts to Pendleton.

"Yeah, it causes a lot more travel than the Bend school proposal," said Bonner of the move back to 4A, "but we were in the Tri-Valley for four years before this reclassification anyway, so it's kind of going back to where we were. And it was a good fit then."

For Madras, the school gets not one but two new neighbors east of the Cascades. In the penultimate proposal, The Dalles was put into the Tri-Valley. Now nearby Crook County joins up, too. That saves the Buffs a significant number of trips over the mountains. The league will get tougher overall with the addition of two former 5A schools in place of Corbett and North Marion, but competitive balance should remain generally intact.

While the move could lessen the intensity of the rivalries between Crook County and the Redmond schools, it could rekindle the Crook County-Madras rivalry. Historically, Crook County has bounced between classifications, alternating competition with generally larger schools (Bend and Redmond) and the smaller-school leagues (which usually included Madras).

The OSAA Executive Board will meet on Monday, Dec. 13 in Wilsonville to review written testimony regarding the final recommendation of the Classification and Districting Committee. Following those discussions, the board will enact the finalized leagues for the next four years, beginning in the 2022-23 academic school year. The changes will be in effect until the end of the 2025-26 academic year.

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