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Kemper: 'No, we don't approve'

The Class 5A schools are miffed.

The Class 4A and 3A schools are relatively happy.

The Class 6A schools are somewhere in between.

A day after the Oregon School Activities Association decided to keep six classifications for the four-year block from 2018 to 2022, and realigned a number of conferences, Southern Oregon high school athletic directors were mulling the ramifications.

“It’s not good for us,” said Crater’s David Heard, whose Comets are in the 5A Midwestern League with Ashland and Eagle Point.

The MWL will lose one Eugene school in Marist, but it will add another, Willamette, and is also picking up North Bend.

“Travel, expenses, time out of school for students,” said Heard, ticking off the reasons for discontent. “We go to Eugene five times and North Bend once. So we have six trips that are four hours (one way) on a bus.”

He noted that Ashland teams might be putting in more travel than any in the state.

On Monday, the OSAA executive board heard three hours of testimony before acting on the final recommendation of the classification and districting committee. Some 20 drafts had been crafted during the process.

The Midwestern League is jumping from eight schools to nine. It will also include current members Churchill, North Eugene, Springfield and Thurston.

The 6A Southwest Conference was reduced by one school when Willamette dropped to the MWL. North Medford, South Medford and Grants Pass will be joined by other holdovers Roseburg, Sheldon and South Eugene.

Amy Tiger, the Medford School District athletic director, attended the OSAA proceedings Monday and noted the small size of the SWC will provide a challenge when it comes to scheduling, particularly in football.

She was part of a SWC contingent that urged the OSAA to have an ad hoc committee devise special districts for football that could alleviate scheduling pains.

In 4A, Phoenix and the rest of the Skyline Conference weren’t tampered with.

In 3A, Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s will remain at that level, but they’ll be in the Umpqua River Conference with Brookings-Harbor, Douglas, South Umpqua and Sutherlin.

The latter four are 4A schools now and are expected to provide stronger competition than Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s often found in the Southern Cascade League against smaller schools Rogue River, Illinois Valley and Lakeview.

Those three schools will drop to 2A.

The Midwestern League’s southern schools were unhappy with their treatment.

“No, we don’t approve,” said Ashland AD Karl Kemper. “Not even close.”

He and Eagle Point’s Seth Womack were the only 5A athletic directors to make pitches Monday to the executive board.

Kemper provided figures to the OSAA that punctuate the challenge the Ashland programs face:

A student playing one sport would travel about 2,300 miles to play away contests at each MWL school.

Athletes in three sports would require the better part of 18 days away from school on the long trips (excluding Crater and Eagle Point). They routinely return home from late games at 1 or 2 a.m., perhaps compromising them the next day.

“The amount of travel we’re being asked to do in this new league is just overwhelming,” said Kemper. “Financially, certainly, and just time, the wear and tear on human beings, our kids and our coaches.”

Kemper’s letter requested Ashland be put in the 4A Skyline. He acknowledged it was an “eleventh-hour” request, but it couldn’t be helped. In the previous realignment drafts, at no point were both North Bend and Willamette ticketed for the MWL — until the final recommendation was submitted Sept. 28.

A sixth team of significant distance was the “tipping point,” said Kemper.

He noted that a sizable number of students have quit playing multiple sports, citing a need to catch up in school after falling behind in season.

Another repercussion is the difficulty in hiring coaches because of time away from work and family.

With nine schools, the MWL is the only odd-numbered 5A league. If football special districts don’t fix the scheduling issue, MWL schools will be looking for games when others around the state are immersed in league play.

To reduce time away from classes for students and to cut traveling expenses, Heard is pushing for junior varsity and freshman teams to form their own leagues and stay largely in the Rogue Valley. Similarly, Eugene schools would create sub-varsity leagues of their own.

Heard has talked to some 6A and 5A athletic directors and hasn’t met resistance, he said.

“There’s not one person who thinks it doesn’t make sense,” said Heard.

A freshman baseball league along those lines is already in place.

Large schools playing smaller ones shouldn’t be much of an issue, added Heard.

“The competitive balance at those lower levels is a little tighter, not as diverse,” he said.

Tiger was joined at the meetings Monday by North Medford AD Patrick Grady and South Medford AD Tim Rupp. They sat with representatives from Roseburg and South Eugene.

Scheduling nonconference football games for the six SWC schools could be a problem, in part because the Salem schools might not be readily available.

The Salem-based Greater Valley Conference will take on three Bend schools — Bend, Mountain View and Summit — and that move was contentious.

“Salem wasn’t happy about getting the Bend schools,” said Tiger.

Salem schools have scheduled nonleague games with Southern Oregon teams, but now, she said, they expect to spend that money going to Bend.

“I think the whole process pitted some leagues against each other,” said Tiger. “I’m hoping people move forward from what was decided and are able to work together again.”

If special districts are formed for football — as they are in some other sports — the Southern Oregon teams could be matched with Bend or Salem teams.

Regular travel through winter weather to Bend, as one model had it for Southern Oregon teams, created safety concerns. But one trip early in the fall for football wouldn’t be an obstacle, said Tiger.

She’s hopeful special districts will be formed, and she also praised the classification and districting committee.

“I think the committee did a good job,” said Tiger. “Everyone thinks there’s some simple answer, but there really isn’t. You move one domino, and it affects others. Everybody got a little of what they wanted, but nobody got everything they wanted.”

Cascade Christian’s Danny Miles took over the athletic director’s duties two weeks ago from Dave Fennell, who is now director of advancement.

The Challengers and St. Mary’s at one point were stumping to join the 4A Skyline as well. But football at that level would have been a bit daunting.

“We’re basically adding two more schools in football than we had in the other league,” said Miles. “It’s better for getting games and stuff. We only have to get four nonleague games instead of six. St. Mary’s and us are natural rivals, and it’s good we got to stay together.”

Butte Falls/Crater Lake Charter will move from 1A to 2A and join the Mountain View Conference, along with Rogue River, Illinois Valley and Lakeview.

Other schools in the MVC will be Bonanza, Canyonville Christian, Glide and Lost River.

Prospect and Rogue Valley Adventist remain in the 1A Mountain Valley League with nine other members.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com