The executive board of the Oregon School Activities Association on Monday approved another six-classification alignment. The board ratified the final recommendation of the classification and districting committee, with two exceptions — Banks and Columbia Christian rescinded petitions to play up one classification and will be slotted in 3A and 1A, respectively.
“We appreciate the work done by the classification committee, executive board and delegate assembly, and look forward to working with schools and leagues to implement these changes beginning with the 2022-23 school year," OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber said.
The biggest modification is in central Oregon, where four Bend schools — Bend, Caldera, Mountain View and Summit — will make the switch from the 6A Mountain Valley Conference to the 5A Intermountain Conference. They will join up with Redmond and Ridgeview to form the six-team league.
Summit's return to 5A after four years in 6A is especially noteworthy considering the school set the gold standard program in the classification from 2006-18. Since returning to the big-school classification — where Summit competed from when it opened in 2001 until 2006 — the Storm won three titles in girls cross country (2018, 2019, 2021) and one in boys soccer (2021).
The opening of Caldera this year lowered enrollments for existing Bend schools to below the 6A cutoff of 1,005 enrollees, making it possible to join Ridgeview and Redmond in a regional league.
“I'm sure there are some people who aren't excited to have us back down in 5A, but having Caldera is really going to even things out,” Summit athletic director Mike Carpenter said. “Some of our coaches, based really on this fall, want to continue playing at the 6A level. But we also have some programs that struggle, and moving down to 5A will make them more competitive, as well.
“It's going to be a really tough 5A conference. Winning a league title here is really going to be a feather in the cap.”
Bend and Salem-area schools will dramatically reduce travel by no longer playing against one another in the Mountain Valley Conference. South Salem, West Salem, Sprague and McNary will stay together in the renamed Central Valley Conference, and add North Salem, which will return to 6A after a four-year stint in the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference.
“I'm excited for our kids because they will stay in the classroom a lot more,” Carpenter said. “Our teacher-coaches are going to miss less class time, and the off-campus coaches will have to take less time away from their jobs.”
The 6A classification will go from 55 to 50 schools. The division will lose Bend, Mountain View, Summit, Caldera, Canby, Centennial and McKay and add North Salem and Willamette, which will move from the 5A Midwestern League to the 6A Southwest Conference.
Canby will drop from the 6A Three Rivers League to the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference. Canby's football team competed in 5A the last two seasons after meeting the criteria to drop down, and with the school's enrollment going below the 6A cutoff, the entire athletic program will make the move.
Centennial and McKay successfully petitioned to move down one classification after meeting the criteria. Centennial will go from the 6A Mt. Hood Conference to the 5A NWOC; McKay will go from the 6A Mountain Valley Conference to the 5A Mid-Willamette.
Centennial decided it was time to take decisive action after winning only 36 percent of all its contests in the last four years, according to athletic director Kevin Bryant.
“It's like, 'How do we begin to get this ship righted?'” Bryant said. “Our youth sports community has been ruptured over the last 10 years. We don't have a varsity girls basketball team. We're the only 6A school besides Reynolds that doesn't have an all-weather field for football and soccer. We're pretty under-resourced here.”
Bryant said that Centennial is a better fit with the schools in the NWOC.
“I guess it's, 'Who do you look like?'” Bryant said. “Do we look like Central Catholic or Clackamas? Or do we look like Hillsboro, St. Helens, Parkrose, Milwaukie or Putnam? I think the opportunity exists for us to have some sense of success. … That's a huge gift to this community that we're going to be able to compete on more of an equal level.”
Schools switching from 5A to 4A will be Scappoose, St. Helens, Parkrose, Crook County, Pendleton, North Bend and The Dalles. Woodburn will go from 4A to 5A.
Pendleton will leave the 5A Intermountain to join the 4A Greater Oregon League with Baker, La Grande and Ontario, replacing McLoughlin, which is dropping to 3A. The move will help the Buckaroos cut back on travel.
“I think it's bittersweet, in a way,” Pendleton athletic director Mike Somnis said. “The way the classification process played out, it was kind of inevitable once you got to Version 3. The Intermountain was in an interesting position because we're so spread out.”
Pendleton, highly competitive in 5A, is likely to be a force in 4A.
“We like the competition where we're at now. We're competitive in a lot of sports,” Somnis said. “But we're content and happy with the move, and we're excited to get going with 4A.”
McLoughlin is among several schools moving from 4A to 3A. The others are Banks, Valley Catholic, Sisters, Elmira, Siuslaw, North Valley and Corbett.
Coquille, the 2A football champion this year, will go from the 2A Sunset Conference, which includes Toledo and Waldport, to the 3A Far West League. Also going from 2A to 3A are Neah-Kah-Nie, Sheridan, Jefferson, Glide, Rogue River and Lakeview.
The 3A classification will grow to 45 schools from the current 35. The 2A classification will shrink to 38 schools from 47.
Clatskanie, which won 3A titles in girls basketball in 2019 and 2020 and in softball in 2019, will drop from the 3A Coastal Range League with Taft to the 2A Northwest League.
Football special districts, which deviate from regular districts, are to be determined for 2022.