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After league scheduling changes, Molalla moved its football team to the Cowapa for two years

PIONEER FILE PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Molalla football team makes a move to the Cowapa League after Cascade High School reenters the 4A classification. The Molalla football team will have new digs come next season. After a chain of events led to Cascade High School maintaining its 4A classification, Molalla requested its football team transferred to the Cowapa League. Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) ultimately agreed with the request, and now Molalla will compete against a new set of league foes.

The move from the Tri-Valley Conference to the Cowapa League came after an appeal was lodged by Cascade High School to fight moving up to the 5A level. OSAA let the appeal stand, and Cascade stayed at the 4A level, ultimately landing in the Oregon West Conference. With the way the scheduling worked out, Cascade's entrance into the picture would have caused several schools, Molalla included, issues with regards to football game calendars. Some schools would get dropped from the schedules, there would be bye weeks for others, and it would not be a pretty picture when it was all said and done.

With issues revealing themselves, the OSAA executive board let the 4A athletic directors (AD) work it out to come up with a solution. Molalla AD Todd Moore stepped up to the plate. After trying to figure out scheduling work arounds, and not seeing very many plausible options in the Tri-Valley Conference, Moore looked to the Cowapa League which only had five teams in it. The Tri-Valley had six, and the Oregon West Conference, which landed Cascade, had seven.

Moore proposed moving to the Cowapa League, and it required a series of conditions to be met. It required that North Marion, Estacada, Woodburn, or Gladstone play Molalla in week two or three to maintain local rivalries, it required that another school pick up Siuslaw in week two and that another school pick up Cottage Grove in week three to keep the schedule local in the first three weeks of play. It was also necessary to remove Crook County and The Dalles with Astoria, Tillamook, and Seaside for league play. Finally, Moore hoped the move would be a better fit competitively.

After working with other affected schools' athletic directors, the group arbitrated an agreement. Ultimately, Molalla moves to the Cowapa.

Molalla's football schedule will now feature home games against Scio, Estacada, Valley Catholic, and Astoria. Away games will be at Woodburn, Tillamook, Seaside, and Banks. The updated schedule for this fall will cut 297 miles of total travel out of the football teams travel time. For the next two years Molalla will not have to compete against Crook County, Siuslaw, or Cottage Grove. The improvement in travel mileage is a good thing, according to Moore.

"It's going to save us a lot of miles on the road," Moore said. "We don't have to travel over the hill. We don't have to go up to The Dalles or over to Crook County. Crook County has been a difficult place for us to play for several years, and I think our families will be happy that we don't have to play at Crook County. Both those are bigger schools. They're both in the 5A classification now so it's a better fit for us from a numbers standpoint too."

In joining the Cowapa, Molalla enters a league with a vacancy at the top. Scappoose, the number team in the league last year, moves up to the 5A classification to compete in the Northwest Oregon Conference. In second and third place in conference play last year were Seaside (6-3) and Banks (7-3). Also represented in the Cowapa are Valley Catholic, Astoria, and Tillamook.

"We're trying to build something here at Molalla," Molalla football coach Tim Baker said. "Changing to a new league where opponents aren't as familiar with us allows us to remain more competitive and grow our program over the next couple of years which is the length for the contract with the Cowapa."

Both Moore and Baker hope that the change in scenery and opponents will lead to a revitalization for the Molalla football program. The team has not a playoff game in the last 14 years, and with declining incoming freshmen football players. Against opponents who are not as familiar with Molalla's game, the hope is that future success will bring in future prospects.

"If we're going to try and sustain it, we're going to need higher levels of freshman participating," Moore said. "We need 80 plus kids in the program overall, three teams vs. two teams. Part of the idea of doing that is increasing participation at the younger levels, but also these freshmen coming in and having more success at the high school level."

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