The Intermountain Conference is on the verge of growing again.
Two years after welcoming Hood River Valley into its fold and less than four years since it had only six members, the IMC is preparing for the possible addition of a ninth school in time for the 2004-05 school year.
The executive board of the Oregon School Activities Association on Monday is expected to act on a recent merger of the two public high schools in The Dalles — The Dalles and Wahtonka — to determine where that combined school will compete athletically.
A decision made in late October by the newly formed North Wasco County School Board cleared the way for The Dalles and Wahtonka high schools to be merged into a single school starting in September 2004.
The merged high school will have an estimated student body of 950, exceeding the minimum 901 students needed for placement as a Class 4A school. The logical league assignment for the school would be the IMC, whose membership includes Hood River Valley, Hermiston and Pendleton along the Interstate 84 corridor.
Other IMC members are Central Oregon high schools Crook County, Redmond, Bend, Mountain View and Summit.
“We’re excited about it for all the same reasons we were excited about getting Hood River in the league,” said Bend High athletic director Greg Hammond.
“With all of the other leagues around the state growing, it is important we continue to grow. It means less non-league type of scheduling and all the hassles that go with it.”
However, athletic directors Jerry Christensen of The Dalles and Terry Way of Wahtonka said that the North Wasco County School Board will ask the OSAA to keep the combined school at the 3A classification for two years before moving it to the 4A ranks.
“It will take a couple of years for that (the merged school) to jell,” said Christensen. “They are going to petition to leave us 3A for two years.”
Based on average daily enrollment figures for the 2002-03 school year provided to the OSAA by the Oregon Department of Education, The Dalles High School had 671 students and Wahtonka High School 278 students.
The merged school would be one of the smallest among Class 4A members, but it would be similar in size to Prineville’s Crook County High, which had an enrollment of 950 last school year.
Hammond said IMC officials have been preparing for the possible inclusion of the school in The Dalles.
“We’re proceeding as if The Dalles will be joining the league,” said Hammond. “They (The Dalles officials) expect to be in the league despite their request to stay 3A for two more years. If not, then we have to go back to the drawing board.”
The IMC sport that would be most affected by the addition of a high school from The Dalles is soccer. Under the current system, IMC schools play one another twice during the regular season for 14 games, the maximum allowed by the OSAA.
The likely soccer format should the school from The Dalles join the IMC would pit league schools against one another just once during the season for a total of eight league games, meaning schools would be looking for up to six non-league contests to fill out their schedules.
Hammond said because it might be difficult to find six non-league games, some IMC schools may play each other in non-conference contests to fill out their 14 allowed games.
The merger of the two The Dalles schools would have an effect not only on the IMC, but also on two other leagues with which Central Oregon schools are affiliated — presuming the OSAA places the merged school in the IMC.
The Dalles is currently a member of the Class 3A Tri-Valley League, a district that includes Madras. Losing The Dalles would mean that Madras would lose its nearest geographic league rival.
Wahtonka currently plays in the eight-school Class 2A Columbia Basin Conference. That league includes Culver, which also would lose one of its nearest rivals.
Another possible change to the membership of the IMC could take place as soon as next school year too, though that change is less likely.
The OSAA on Monday will also hear a request from Hood River Valley to leave the IMC and return to the Mount Hood Conference. Hood River Valley was a member of the Mount Hood Conference before it was moved by the OSAA into the IMC starting with the 2002-03 school year.
HRV athletic director Mitch Sanders said he doesn’t expect the OSAA executive board to accept his school's request — at least not now.
“It’s more of letting folks know that this is an issue in our community that won’t go away,” said Sanders. “Historically, our school has been in a conference in that area. Our community wants to be in the Mount Hood Conference.”
Sanders said increased costs related to transportation and overnight stays and an increase in missed class time for students are at the heart of the reason why Hood River Valley wants out of the IMC and back into the Mount Hood Conference.
He said his school district spent an additional $40,000 on transportation last year during its first year in the IMC. Nearly $18,000 was spent on motels for overnight stays related to league events.
“I think a move would be a good one for the folks of Hood River,” said Sanders. “For 30 years we’ve been used to competing with Portland-area schools that are only an hour or so away. When you go to competing against schools that are three hours away, it really hurts the community support for the school.”
Kurt Holland is the Assistant Sports Editor at the Bend Bulletin. Ben Reynolds of The Hermiston Herald contributed to this story.