Come 2018, it appears likely that the Columbia River Conference (CRC) will be no more.
The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA), the organization responsible for overseeing school sports and activities in the state, recently released a handful of redistricting and reclassification proposals — none of which call for retaining Hood River Valley’s (HRV) current conference. The Eagles play the majority of their sports in the 5A CRC, which includes Hermiston, Pendleton, and The Dalles. With just four teams, it is the smallest conference in Oregon, tied with the 4A Greater Oregon Conference (La Grande, Ontario, Baker, and McLoughlin).
OSAA REDISTRICTING PROPOSALS
Six classification model: HRV, Pendleton, The Dalles, Ridgeview, Redmond, Crook County (referred to as the Intermountain Conference)
Five classifcation model, first option: HRV, Barlow, Centennial, David Douglas, Gresham, Hermiston, Reynolds, Sandy (referred to as the Mt. Hood Conference)
Five classification model, second option: HRV, Bend, Hermiston, Mountain View, Reynolds, Sandy, Summit (referred to as the Inter County Conference)
Football only model: HRV bumped down to 4A to form a special district with Baker, Crook County, La Grande, Madras, Ontario, Ridgeview, Sisters
Every four years, the OSAA goes through the reclassification process to reflect shifts in enrollment numbers and to realign the leagues accordingly. Changes for the current reclassification process will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.
The first proposal assumes that the OSAA will retain its current six-classification model. In that scenario, HRV would form a new version of the Intermountain Conference (not to be confused with the current Intermountain Conference, also known as the IMC) along with Pendleton, The Dalles, Ridgeview, Redmond, and Crook County (Hermiston would be bumped up to 6A). HRV would be the largest school in that conference.
In the five-classification model, the OSAA presented two different scenarios for HRV. In the first, the Eagles would go to the Mt. Hood Conference with Barlow, Centennial, David Douglas, Gresham, Hermiston, Reynolds, and Sandy. In another proposal, HRV would form the Inter County Conference with Bend, Hermiston, Mountain View, Reynolds, Sandy, and Summit (The Dalles and Pendleton would get bumped down to 4A). In both, HRV would be the smallest school.
The OSAA also created a separate proposal just for football that would bump HRV down to the 4A class and put the school in a district with Baker, Crook County, La Grande, Madras, Ontario, Ridgeview, and Sisters. For this, OSAA used a formula based on enrollment, and three years of data on total team wins, total games, win percentage, and average number of participants in the sport.
Hood River Valley High School (HRVHS) Athletic Director Tom Ames noted that the OSAA had a separate proposal for football because, “(player) numbers have a huge effect on football; it becomes a player safety issue.” He was not particularly enthused about any of the proposals, as the Eagles would have to travel farther to play the Central Oregon schools, or face some stiff competition playing the larger Portland-area schools.
“I don’t know that either is ideal, because either way you look at it, we’re the biggest fish in the small pond or the really small fish in the big pond,” he explained.
Another interesting wrinkle: according to an article written by Billy Gates that appeared in The Oregonian, Hermiston is in the process of trying to join the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and play schools in the Tri-Cities area in order to save money on its travel budget and to prevent students from missing too much class time. Currently, WIAA bylaws do not allow out-of-state schools to join the association, so Hermiston would need a dispensation to do so. Ames did not believe Hermiston’s desire to play in Washington impacted any of the proposals developed by the OSAA.
In the past, HRV has resisted joining conferences with Central Oregon schools, as the Eagles played in the IMC from 2002-06 and then played above their classification in the 6A Mt. Hood Conference, which featured large schools in the Portland metro area. At the time of the 2006 redistricting, then-HRV Athletic Director Brent Walsh was desperate to leave the IMC, echoing the current concerns of Hermiston regarding travel costs and lost instruction time, according to an August 2006 article in the News. The OSAA formed the CRC in 2010, but tried to put HRV back into the IMC as they examined redistricting for the 2014-18 period. Then-HRV Athletic Director Keith Bassham was vigorously opposed to the idea, quoted in a January 2013 News article as having “no interest” in joining a league with Bend-area schools. The OSAA consequently decided to keep the CRC for the next four years.
The Eagles do have some recent experience playing against Central Oregon schools, however. This past fall, HRV, Pendleton, and Hermiston formed a special district with IMC schools for football as The Dalles program went independent.
The proposals are not final, as the committee handling the realignments has several more meetings on the subject in Wilsonville, where the body will take public testimony on the different options. It will then make final recommendations to OSAA’s executive board in October.
Regardless of whether the two schools remain in the same conference, Ames said he will continue to schedule nonleague games with The Dalles to ensure that Gorge rivalry is preserved. As for influencing the OSAA’s decision-making process, there’s only so much the school can do.
“All we can do is present our situation,” he noted.