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Committee considering a drop down to just five classifications for prep sports

Last Monday, members of the OSAA classification and districting committee met in Wilsonville to discuss proposals to revamp the prep sports landscape in Oregon.

The committee reviewed proposals and heard testimony from schools as they continue to work on a redistricting plan that will be in effect from 2022 to 2026. The current structure, which was passed by the committee in 2018 and will expire at the end of this year, includes six classifications.

One of the major sticking points in the redistricting talks is what to do with the 6A schools in Bend. As it currently stands, all four of those schools — Bend, Mountain View, Summit and Caldera — compete in the Mountain Valley Conference with five Salem schools.

North Salem High School athletic director Brodie Cavaille, who provided testimony on behalf of the Salem-Kaiser School District, noted that the lengthy travel from the state capital to central Oregon is a barrier to athletic participation in the district. Cavaille also mentioned the expensive cost of those trips, the logistical issues they pose to coaches and volunteers, and missed classroom time for students, especially those who are English language learners and/or from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Cavaille further reported that Salem coaches and parents have expressed dismay at driving past so many nearby 6A schools on the way to Bend.

"It's a little hard to have an abundance of schools in the valley to play," said Cavaille, "to be driving past those schools to go to Bend when there are schools that look like us that we would typically be playing. Especially for our families, that can be a hard one to swallow."

Cavaille added a final note about eastward travel for schools from the valley.

"The travel over the mountain in the winter is a huge concern," Cavaille told the committee. "I was concerned four years ago, and it's not changed, so that's something I would add to the mix. Anything to minimize that travel would be extremely helpful."

As valid as that perspective is, those schools in central Oregon do not have much choice in the matter. With so few 6A schools east of the mountains, there is no perfect solution that eliminates travel while retaining competitive balance.

Crook County High School athletic director Rob Bonner echoed that sentiment.

"There's no good answer when it comes to the burdens of travel," Bonner said on Friday. "The schools over here have been traveling for years. Back in the day, when were in 4A, we were going to Ontario, La Grande, the Bend schools, Pendleton. Really long trips. Four hours one-way in some cases."

"It really depends on the needs of each community," he continued. "We all have our burdens to bear, so I just hope we can keep each other in mind during this process, to help out the league and Oregon athletics overall."

"It's a rough deal," Bonner added.

The two different proposals currently on the table would affect Crook County sports directly. In the latest draft of the six-classification structure, the 5A Intermountain Conference would remain mostly intact; however, the league would drop from six teams to five, with The Dalles downgrading to 4A due to its admission numbers falling below a proposed threshold. On the other hand, in the latest five-class proposal, the Cowboys would be in a 4A league with Madras, Redmond, Ridgeview, La Grande, Pendleton and The Dalles.

"For the five-class system, I like the size of our league," said Bonner regarding a proposed seven-team league. He was less excited about the prospect of a condensed Intermountain Conference.

"If you have a five-team league," Bonner explained, "it's tough because you have four league games. So, you have to try to find a lot of non-league competition. That's tough when the sizes of other leagues are larger, because they have fewer non-league games to give."

"Regardless of classification," he continued, "I am in favor of a larger league instead of a smaller one."

While Bonner was accepting of the idea of continuing to play against the Redmond schools, he noted that any attempts to lump the Bend schools into that mix would disrupt competitive balance.

"The size difference is pretty extreme," said Bonner of the distinction between Bend's 6A schools and their closest counterparts in central Oregon. "We know we're going to travel, so it's about competitive equity. Having like-sized schools is important. That's probably the No. 1 factor for us."

"I would hope that other people in the state would look at that and make some sacrifices."

The OSAA classification and districting committee will have three more meetings before finalizing the plan for the 2022-26 time block. The next meeting will be held in Wilsonville at 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 11. According to the OSAA website, those wishing to provide public testimony via Zoom should email Brad Garrett at HYPERLINK "mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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