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OSAA will not stand in way of RV Adventist

The remarkable season of the Rogue Valley Adventist boys basketball team was in danger of coming to a premature end.

Then the Oregon Supreme Court provided the assist the Medford school needed.

In a case involving another Adventist school, the court ruled on Friday that the Oregon School Activities Association must accommodate the religious beliefs of Portland Adventist Academy when scheduling Class 3A state tournament games, thereby ending a legal tussle that began more than a decade ago.

On Tuesday, two Rogue Valley Adventist players were added as plaintiffs to the complaint by their fathers, and the OSAA voluntarily agreed to make the same accommodations for the Class 1A tournament, said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon.

Seventh-day Adventists observe their sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and are prohibited from participating in games or practices.

Oregon high school state basketball tournaments, however, play semifinal and consolation games during that period, and it's been a source of conflict with Portland Adventist since 1996.

That year, the school made it to the Class 2A tournament but was scheduled to play a semifinal game after sundown Friday. It beseeched the OSAA to flip-flop the schedule and was allowed to play earlier in the day. Portland Adventist went on to win the title.

The following year, the OSAA refused a similar request, and Portland Adventist forfeited a game. Since then, the OSAA has required the school to agree beforehand that it would play games as scheduled. The team qualified for state from 2003-06, according to court records, but refused the agreement and was left out of the tournament.

That's the situation Rogue Valley Adventist could have been in were it not for the nick-of-time court judgement.

Rogue Valley Adventist Principal Fylvia Kline had received verbal assurance from the OSAA prior to the Supreme Court ruling that the governing body would give the Class 1A tournament the same concessions as the Class 3A, she said. But after Friday's ruling, the OSAA sent her an e-mail saying it couldn't abide by its earlier assertion.

Kline then contacted the lawyer working on Portland Adventist's behalf, and the lawyer went to work getting the Red Tail Hawk players on the complaint.

Rogue Valley Adventist has been in Medford for decades, occupying the same building on South Stage Road since 1926. Its students range from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, but there are only 63 high school students, said Kline.

The boys basketball team is affiliated with a league for the first time and won the Mountain Valley League tournament on Saturday, running its record to 16-6 and earning the district's No. 1 berth to the state playoffs.

It hosts a playoff game Saturday, and with a win would advance to the state tournament in Baker City.

In a school vote, said Rogue Valley Adventist coach Mike Glasgow, it was determined the Red Tail Hawks would go to state. However, the team would not have agreed to play every game as scheduled, likely jeopardizing its inclusion.

This decision came not from adults, but from the players.

"None of these kids would have played on Saturday," said Glasgow. "And it's not like it's their parents saying they're not going to play. It's these kids. I've coached for a number of years, and I've never had a team as spiritual as this."

Bruce Farjli, an assistant coach with the school's girls team and the father of a boy player, remembers Glasgow putting it to the players and their steadfast reaction against violating their faith.

"That," said Farjli, "spoke volumes to all of us."

It was Farjli's son, Caleb, a junior, and senior teammate Ryan Cool, who were added to the complaint Tuesday.

"I do feel strongly about this," said Bruce Farjli. "My son has worked very hard at basketball, and this team has put itself in position to go to state. I believe until they're taken out of that position, they should have a chance to play. Adjusting the schedule until sundown is over, I don't see where that's a make-or-break situation. I wouldn't ask Sunday churchgoers to play games during their sabbath hours."

If Rogue Valley Adventist makes the tournament and a game must be rescheduled, it would likely take place in another gym Saturday evening, about the same time as the girls state title game, said Glasgow. In that case, Rogue Valley Adventist would foot the bill for additional costs, such as use of the gym, payment of game management personnel and busing to the site.

Glasgow is aware of how long Portland Adventist waged its fight with the OSAA.

"We're fortunate," he said, "that the first year we join the league, everything comes to a head and favors us."

Now all the Red Tail Hawks have to do is get to the tournament.

"We're pretty excited," said Glasgow. "No matter what happens this weekend, win or lose, it's been a very good ride for us."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com