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Comets ready for move to Class 6A

When reclassification procedures took place for the 2006-10 time block, Crater High fell about 35 students shy of the 6A level.

Even as the Comets made plans for being a Class 5A member back then, several coaches believed a move up in classification would likely occur when the Oregon School Activities Association's Classification and Districting Committee reconvened to look at the 2010-14 time block.

Sure enough, that will be the case. The committee's final recommendation, released Wednesday, confirmed the move most had been anticipating since proposals began coming out last November.

"I think everybody knew that was going to happen," said Crater football coach John Beck. "The closer we got with the committee and everything we got back from it, it was pretty obvious they were going to put us back up."

Once enrollment cutoff points were moved to 1,480 students and over for the 6A level, Crater found itself among the big boys as far back as the committee's second proposal on Jan. 12. The Comets moved into a Southern Oregon-based league for 6A and 5A teams once hybrid proposals took off in Feb. 23, and that's the way things remained through the 10th and final proposal.

"We're just going to deal with it," said Jeff Johnson, athletics director at Crater High. "Some things you have control over and some things you don't. We're not going to drop athletics because we're now back in the big classification. We're still going to keep doing what we're doing."

The committee's final recommendation has been forwarded to the OSAA's Executive Board and Delegate Assembly, which will meet Oct. 26 in Portland and decide whether to adopt it for the ensuing time block. Written responses to the recommendation, such as Ashland High's recent letter requesting a move from 5A to 4A, are still being accepted for the board's review prior to the final decision.

With repeat state championships in recent years by the cross country and softball squads, as well as state-playoff showings almost across the board, Crater's athletic programs certainly have made the most of their time at the 5A level.

"Obviously our programs have benefitted as much as anyone in the state from the reclassification," said Johnson. "I think their intent was to level the playing field and seek competitive balance, and we've benefitted greatly. Kids in our programs were real successful, not across the board, but for the most part we had our kids have some real great experiences based on that."

"The whole time we were in a big classification I think our kids had great experiences then, too," he added. "All along we've had kids enjoy themselves playing athletics and learn good life lessons and those type of things, so as far as us going to 6A, I think we're still going to have those same kind of things. I'm sure it'll affect our success probably in some cases, but high school athletics isn't all about winning state championships ... but it's fun to put banners on the wall, that's for sure."

Johnson said Crater's enrollment figures — set at 1,498 for reclassification purposes — actually are at a plateau and the district estimates a slight decrease in the coming years. That number currently puts the Comets on the short end against Southern Oregon's 6A hybrid foes Roseburg (1,806), Grants Pass (1,789), South Medford (1,746) and North Medford (1,665). Class 5A schools Eagle Point (1,122) and Ashland (1,021) are also part of the hybrid league.

"You're always going to have the biggest in the class and the smallest in the class, that's just inevitable," said Johnson. "For a few years there we were one of the bigger ones in the class and it was kind of a nice twist on things. Before, you were always thinking everybody's so much bigger than us, and Roseburg's huge and we're not huge. It was just kind of a different thing to be on the other end of the stick."

Still, given the energy and momentum gained by the success of most teams at Crater High, Johnson doesn't foresee a program-wide collapse.

"We're really proud of our cross country program," Johnson noted. "We'd like to think they can compete in any level and be successful. I don't think it's going to be one of those things where we change classifications and then all of a sudden success has disappeared. We'd like to think that we can compete at the highest level."

At face value, programs requiring the largest number of athletes — such as football — likely would be at the greatest disadvantage. Still, none of that mattered much this past Friday when Crater beat North Medford, 14-13, and looked every bit as strong and probably a little faster than the Black Tornado.

"I think there are years where we can compete very, very well in the 6A ranks," Beck said prior to last Friday's win. "I think this year would be one of them. We've played a number of 6A teams, and I think we would do pretty well. I'm not saying we could beat everyone, but we could compete. But there are other years in the cycle, in terms of numbers of kids, where it's going to be a challenge. It is what it is, though. You can't worry about it."

Johnson said several Crater coaches were actually disappointed when the school was not included in the highest classification back in 2006. That enthusiasm and willingness to compete with anyone will be well-served once they make their return in 2010.

"When it gets right down to it," said Beck, "if you have your feeder programs doing well and your coaching staff stays intact and is doing what they need to do and teaching the right things, then you have a chance to develop your kids. Every school's got their pluses and minuses and things they have to work on. You've just got to work hard on putting things in place to compete year-in and year-out."

Crater is approaching the change as an opportunity and not a road block.

"Hopefully those people out there that are bummed put a positive spin on it, too, because kids just feed off their coaches and their community and their parents and all that," said Johnson. "Our kids are going to respond to this, I think. You just kinda go back to maybe more of that underdog status, that's all."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com