Four years ago, Cascade Christian High and St. Mary’s High banded together to vehemently fight a proposed move to the Class 4A level by the Oregon School Activities Association's classification and districting committee for the 2014-18 time block.

It’s that time again, with the committee having met today to form a plan for the 2018-22 time block, and the Challengers and Crusaders would prefer one of the five-classification plans that would leave them at the 3A level.

“Obviously from a numbers game, I like where that puts us from a competitive balance standpoint and our league has expressed that we favor a five-classification system,” said Dave Fennell, district athletic director for Cascade Christian, “but it seems like around the whole state, it’s a 50-50 draw whether people are leaning toward that or not.”

But if the committee recommends a six-classification system come October to the OSAA’s Executive Board, that would likely bump St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian to the Class 4A Skyline Conference — and that may not be the worst thing for either this time around.

“From a travel standpoint,” said Fennell, “the Skyline Conference is a lot closer than what we’ve been doing and what the (five-classification) proposals have us doing, so when you’re really trying to look at missed class time and transportation and all those variables, there certainly is something to that.”

Regardless of what recommendation is made, the Class 3A Southern Cascade League as we know it will be a thing of the past. In all proposals, where average daily membership (ADM) figures are used to dictate classification level, current SCL teams Illinois Valley and Lakeview fall one level below Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s, and Rogue River is also on the edge of whether it remains with the Challengers and Crusaders.

“I think every school has their own unique situation,” said Fennell. “It will be a jump for us either way so I think it’s going to be interesting how it plays out.”

Fennell said the most important factor of all options — two six-classification and two five-classification were up for discussion today — is that lower ADM cutoff figures are used to set the break between 4A, 3A and 2A.

The OSAA is using an adjusted 2015-16 ADM figure of 250 for Cascade Christian and 320 for St. Mary’s — and the validity of those numbers is certainly another debate. The lower six-classification system would add those schools to the existing 4A Skyline, but the upper six-classification system would also bring Brookings-Harbor into play.

In the five-classification models, the private Medford schools find themselves somewhat on an island and would fall into a 3A league with Brookings-Harbor, Douglas, South Umpqua, Sutherlin and, depending on the proposal, potentially Coquille and Rogue River or Hidden Valley and North Valley.

As you can see, while the local schools may be able to play teams from like-sized institutions at the 3A level, the time and money spent on travel would be far more than if they bumped up to the 4A level — creating sort of a divide over what is in the best interest of the schools.

“You start looking at that and have to consider that sports are a part of what we do here at Cascade Christian, but they’re not the main thing,” said Fennell. “It may not be good economic sense or academic sense for us given the landscape of alternatives we have anymore in 3A, but jumping to the Skyline you’re looking at a big jump obviously in numbers when we’re 255 kids to the 700 or so numbers given league-wide for 4A. I love to compete and push our kids, but there’s that point where I don’t want to ever put our kids in jeopardy of getting hurt.”

Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s have included some Skyline Conference teams on their schedules in recent years, to varying degrees of success, and Fennell said he believed neither would be afraid of making the jump if it came to that. That said, playing larger schools on a weekly basis is much different than one or two times spread out in a season.

“If it goes six-classification, we’re going to go and do everything we can do as a school to be as competitive as we can there,” he said. “I think we’re going to be up for the challenge, but if anybody is thinking Cascade Christian will jump up to 4A and have the same success we have had in 3A, there’s no way, it’s going to take some time.”

“Either way I think we’re going to make the most of it and be excited about it,” Fennell said of the impending recommendation. “We’ll get to go back to work and try to reach the top of the mountain and see how long that takes us.”

RECLASSIFICATION WOULDN'T really affect local large-school teams like North Medford, South Medford and Grants Pass, which would maintain their Southwest Conference ties in most instances, but some movement could be had at Ashland, Crater and Eagle Point.

In six-classification models, those Class 5A schools would remain at that level but fall into a league with Marshfield, North Bend, Springfield and Thurston in one proposal, or with Churchill, Springfield, Thurston and Willamette in the other.

In one five-classification proposal, Crater would bump up to the highest classification and rejoin the SWC with the addition of Churchill and Thurston, while Ashland and Eagle Point would be at the 4A level with the current Skyline contingent.

In the other five-classification proposal, Ashland, Crater and Eagle Point would be joined by Henley, Klamath Union, Mazama and Phoenix to form a 4A league.

The OSAA’s classification and districting committee is set to meet twice in April, and once each in May, June and September before making their final recommendation in October for the 2018-22 time block.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry