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Local editorial

OSAA should put students first Sports league realignment stresses competitive balance over other needs

We're not so sure Susan Castillo would have run for Oregon schools superintendent if she had known she was going to get into this predicament.

No, we're not talking about school funding. No, not the CIM/CAM flap. This is the really tough stuff ' she's taking on that most feared special-interest group of all ... sports parents.

And so far, it's not going well. A proposal to realign and reclassify all of Oregon's high school leagues has raised a ruckus from Medford to Madras and points across this state.

The proposal came out of the Oregon School Activities Association, which oversees high school sports leagues and competitions. Concerned that a disparity in the sizes of schools within the same league had created an unfair playing field, the OSAA convened a group of administrators and athletic directors to come up with a fix. For some, the cure is worse than the ailment.

The proposal turns Oregon's four classes of high school sports into six classes. In doing so, it broke up some longstanding leagues and created travel issues. The biggest issues seem obvious: Redmond would be in a league with six Salem-area schools. Two Eugene schools, South Eugene and Sheldon, would be in a six-team league with the two Medford high schools, Grants Pass and Roseburg.

Three school districts ' Medford, Eugene and Salem-Keizer ' appealed the decision, listing concerns about lost class time, student safety and travel costs. The Eugene district also said the OSAA process failed to comply with state law.

— The first legal bump in the road came out of that latter claim, when a hearings officer released a proposed order last week that OSAA violated state law when it listed nine criteria and then put a greater emphasis on three.

Castillo is expected make a final decision on that order by early next week. If she agrees with it, the issue will be returned to the OSAA to be resolved; if not, the districts' appeals will be heard.

We agree with the hearings officer, but would go one step further. The OSAA board not only put too much weight on three criteria, it put entirely too much on one ' improving competitive balance. The decision seemed to be driven by smaller schools with representatives on the OSAA executive board who tried to put their districts in a more advantageous competitive position.

Perhaps that is the most compelling issue among the nine criteria, but if that's the case, the OSAA should say so. As it is now, its decision creates a better situation for some schools on the playing field while creating a much worse situation for many students in the classroom.