Vance: If you like your high school league, enjoy it while you can
It's been almost 20 years.
Indeed, when the next four-year block as designated by the Oregon School Activities Association (the governing body for Oregon high school sports and activities) ends in 2026, it will mark exactly 20 years since the OSAA expanded the number of athletic classifications in the state from four to six.
As someone who played high school sports in a long-since defunct league during my years at St. Helens — the Coast Valley League was disbanded after the 1978-79 season — I've always found the creation and destruction of high school sports leagues and the move of schools from one league and one classification to another to be fascinating.
To think that the longtime rivalries we had established could be changed so quickly has always been a mind-blower. The Coast Valley League existed from just 1970-71 through '78-79, but as a kid, you don't know that. You assume that your rivalries — for St. Helens in my era, with Forest Grove (a state semifinalist) in football, with McMinnville (the eventual state champion) in basketball and Silverton in baseball — had always existed and always would.
You don't know that your high school league, rivalries and playoff foes could be changed so easily.
Now, this isn't just about my dusty high school memories (I graduated from high school in 1980). Change is afoot every four years through the machinations of the OSAA and the coming 2022-23 season is no exception.
The biggest changes at the 6A level for the next four years are these:
• Centennial (enrollment 1,034) has been approved to "play down" — to compete in a classification lower than its enrollment would indicate — and will move from the 6A Mt. Hood Conference to the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference.
• Because Canby's enrollment has dropped to 934, the Cougars have been approved to move down from the 6A Three Rivers League to the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference.
• Also coming in 2022-23 is the elimination of the 6A Mountain Valley Conference. The MVC, comprised of teams from the Bend and Salem areas, sprang into existence just four years ago, and now, exists no more.
• Related to the loss of the MVC, Bend, Caldera, Mt. View and Summit high schools will move to the reorganized 5A Intermountain Conference, while McKay (enrollment 1,304) was approved to "play down" and will join the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference.
• The remaining members of the old MVC — McNary, South Salem, Sprague and West Salem — have been moved to a new league, the Central Valley Conference where they will be joined by North Salem, which returns to Class 6A play from the Mid-Willamette Conference.
• And finally for 2022-23, the OSAA has moved Willamette up to play in the Class 6A Southwestern League from the 5A Midwestern League.
All those changes, however, come with both costs and benefits. Here's just a snapshot of what will be lost with the elimination of the MVC.
Consider the boys soccer rivalry between state champion Summit and fourth-ranked South Salem — a team that tied the Storm and prevented it from going undefeated. Then there's the battle between Sprague and Mt. View in boys wrestling, teams that finished at the top of the MVC and took second and fourth at state. And there's the top-tier matchup between the Bend and McNary softball teams, both state semifinalists in their final season together in the MVC.
This is not to mourn the loss of the MVC or to advocate against the rearrangement of leagues and classifications — instead, I just want to acknowledge that these changes come with significant costs.
The changes for the 2022-26 block are even greater for the smaller classifications, including wholesale changes in both the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference and 4A Tri-Valley Conference.
So, if you're a high school athlete and you like your conference, like the rivalries your team has and like the schools you get to visit in league play, enjoy it. You're only guaranteed that it will look like it does today for the next four years.
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