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Midwestern ultimatum could leave SOC hanging

OSAA master plan shaken up as five Eugene-area schools petition to move up

Four Southern Oregon Conference schools, including North and South Medford, could be left out in the cold if a move by a handful of Midwestern League schools is allowed.

The Oregon School Activities Association is revamping its high school classifications, and it has recommended that the current four-class system be replaced by a six-class system.

As part of the process, it allowed schools to petition to move up in class if they desired. The deadline to do so was Wednesday, and the OSAA on Thursday identified 22 schools that intend to do so.

That's where the Midwestern League, made up mostly of Eugene-area schools, comes in.

In the six-class system favored by the OSAA, the four largest SOC schools ' North and South Medford, Grant Pass and Roseburg ' would join Sheldon and South Eugene to form a 6A district.

— Most of the other Midwestern teams would drop to 5A.

But five Midwestern schools ' Churchill, North Eugene, Springfield, Thurston and Willamette ' petitioned to move up to 6A only if they are grouped with Sheldon and South Eugene, eschewing the SOC teams and largely keeping their traditional league intact.

If their request is denied, said OSAA Executive Director Tom Welter, then the schools would withdraw their petition and remain in the recommended 5A district with Marshfield.

Basically, they said the five will come up as long as the Midwestern League stays together as is, said Welter. If those seven still get paired with the Southern Oregon teams, then that's not what they want to do.

Should the Midwestern League be allowed to realign for its own 6A district, minus Lebanon and Marshfield, then that would leave a four-team SOC district.

Current SOC mates Crater, Eagle Point, Ashland and Klamath Union were recommended for a 5A classification in a district with Mazama and, to date, none of the schools have petitioned to move up to 6A.

The final decision ultimately rests with the OSAA's executive board, which will convene at 9 a.m. on Oct. 24 at the Holiday Inn in Wilsonville. At that meeting, which is open to public testimony, the OSAA will act on the six-class recommendation and subsequent petitions.

What we've got to hope is that the OSAA makes the right decision for all the schools, said Tim Sam, the North Medford athletic director. We'd just be financially destroyed if we were expected to try to compete out of a conference with four teams.

Sam said, when you take into consideration scheduling issues, said Sam, transportation costs and what is good for the conference overall, a four-team league is not a viable solution, and neither is the committee's six-classification recommendation.

We're kind of in a hope-and-pray mode, said Sam. What we're hoping is that the OSAA doesn't consider the committee's proposal and basically stays where we're at, but that seems unlikely. What I'm hearing these last few days is, it looks like they're going to do exactly what's being recommended.

Welter said the OSAA executive board will weigh all options on Oct. 24 and attempt to make a responsible decision for the betterment of all 287 Oregon schools.

The executive board is going to look at all the requests that came in and determine which of those they want to approve and which they don't, he said. I think the association has a responsibility to schools all over the state, whether its central Oregon, eastern Oregon, southern Oregon or the metropolitan areas.

Anything that gets presented to the board, they're going to take a look at, he added. If somebody comes up with the magic answer that makes everybody happy, I'm sure the board would love to see it. I know I would love to see something like that. It certainly would make things easier on me.

Ashland and Crater may hold the cards in alleviating the OSAA's concern regarding the impending Midwestern/SOC shakeup.

Although Thursday marked the deadline for schools to petition to play up or down under the current recommendation, that may have been a soft deadline, said Ashland Athletic Director Karl Kemper.

We still may petition to go 6A, said Kemper, who said he's been in contact with the OSAA all along regarding Ashland's intentions.

We're still considering what's best for all of our kids, he added. There is a faction of community members who in the eleventh hour have started a movement to push us to consider applying to play 6A, so we're going to listen to them and consider what is said. We're going to give everybody on both sides an opportunity to speak.

Kemper said an announcement of a town-hall meeting on Oct. 12 went out to the parents of every student at Ashland High, as well as the school's staff and coaches. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the high school.

Kemper said his initial thoughts were to simply play where we're being put, with the school's 2004-05 enrollment figures of 1,084 making Ashland a natural fit for 5A, which ranges in enrollment of 851 to 1,520.

Although he believes in the concept of reclassification and doing what's best for all kids in leveling the playing field, Kemper said he is staying open-minded when it comes to Ashland's placement.

Steve Walker, the OSAA's sports information director, said the OSAA is basically in new territory when it comes to such a major reclassification, so there's nothing that says because a petition wasn't made by Thursday that the request wouldn't be considered.

As far as requests made after the deadline, Walker said, I'm under the impression those would still be considered.

However, such requests must be made as soon as possible and certainly not the morning of Oct. 24, said Walker.

Crater Athletic Director John Beck said his school's decision to accept its 5A classification and not petition to go 6A was an emotional one made by its school board.

You have people on both sides even within our school, from our students to our faculty to our coaches, said Beck. It was a tough decision and we made a lot of plus and minus charts of the benefits of going 6A and benefits of going 5A. What we tried to do is look at all the programs and the school as a whole and not just look at individual successes of certain programs.

Despite the school board's decision, Beck did leave room for a revision when he learned of the possibility that SOC brethren North, South, GP and Roseburg could be hung out to dry should the Eugene schools be granted their request.

If that was the case and they did that, then we would see if there was something we could probably do, said Beck, adding that the school's goal is to be reclassified at 6A in four years. I don't want to leave our conference hanging like that. We can't really rule anything out at this point.

Which is what should make that Oct. 24 meeting in Wilsonville that much more intriguing.

I kinda feel like the water is draining out of the tub right now, Sam said of his helpless feelings at North. There's not a lot you can do and no fingers you can stick in the holes to stop it. Like I've said before, I'm just putting my trust in the OSAA to make the right decision for the SOC.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail Midwestern ultimatum could leave SOC hanging"khenry@mailtribune.com.