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Facing a significant boost in its enrollment in the coming years, the already travel-burdened school is facing a rise to the highest classification in the Oregon School Activities Association that would put the school in the Mt Hood Conference, which is currently comprised of eight Portland-area schools that are an average of approximately 180 miles away. The change would double its annual mileage and significantly increase the number of academic hours missed - potentially up to a third of their classes in a month.
Though the OSAA will not finalize its plan for reclassification until October, none of the options are particularly fitting for Hermiston, which currently plays in the Columbia River Conference. The conference includes Hood River, Pendleton and The Dalles for an average round trip of 170 miles. A round trip to Richland, the furthest school of the MCC would be approximately 90 miles by comparison.
Hermiston's process to make the move began in earnest in January when the OSAA listened to their idea and provided a letter of support for the school to move forward and discuss the proposition with the WIAA. In late January the WIAA executive board heard their proposal and tabled further discussion to this weekend's meeting, where there is no guarantee of a vote. To approve the move, both associations would need to amend bylaws to allow the school to finalize an affiliation change.
One of the early steps, though, was finding a league to welcome them - and it took little convincing for the MCC to open its doors.
“We met as a conference and voted, and it was a unanimous vote that if the WIAA were to allow them in that we would accept them,” Kamiakin athletic director and conference president Casey Gant told the Seattle Times. “We had a couple of things we talked about. One is that we already play them in a majority of our sports anyway; that wasn’t going to be a change. … The other thing is, we started to look at the situation that they’re in and we were pretty sympathetic.”
“I believe we are still facing an uphill battle with the WIAA, and we completely understand if they are hesitant,” Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher told the East Oregonian. “Something new is not always easy for any group, but this is about our kids in Hermiston and this uphill battle is certainly worth it. We have the full support of every school across the river in the Mid-Columbia Conference and certainly hope that pulls some weight with their association.”
Postseason RPI Rankings Also A Factor
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If Hermiston were to remain in the OSAA, they would need to schedule even more games against distant opponents to strengthen their rating for postseason seeding or continue to play more lower-level schools in eastern Oregon such as Umatilla (3A), McLoughlin (4A) or LaGrande (4A) because MCC schools will most likely choose to play more non-league contests against Columbia Basin Big Nine or Greater Spokane League schools.
Precedence in the NW - Idaho Included in Discussion
According to the Seattle Times, the two state associations also involved the Idaho High School Activities Association in the discussions - via a conference call - and spoke with other state associations that have undertaken similar arrangements.
Five schools (Coleville, Needles, North Tahoe, South Tahoe, Truckee) along the eastern California border are playing in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association along with a school in the southeast corner of the state (San Pasqual Valley). Beaver Dam HS - located in the northwest corner of Arizona - also plays in the NIAA. Also, a Mexican school is a member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
“They don’t have any downside,” WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese told the Seattle Times of those examples. “They say it’s working.” However, that was countered by OSAA committee chairman Curt Shelley, who - based 'on a story he heard' - said to the Oregonian, “You were well-received by your league, but the state didn’t care about you too much once you won a state championship. If you can be a doormat, then you’re well-received."
“Certainly as a member school our first priority is to include them as an Oregon school,” OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber told the Hermiston Herald, “but we’re a voluntary organization, we don’t require a school to remain here. But I think the bigger potential question is what does it mean to Washington to bring an Oregon school in?
“I think it could set a precedent and open some doors, and we’ve started some conversation with us and Idaho to come up with criteria to consider if this happens again.”
“It’s not the kind of decision you want an executive board shooting from the hip on,” Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher said in the Tri-City Herald. “The hurdle we have to get over is showing how this is different from any other Oregon or Idaho schools trying to come into the WIAA, or, for that matter, a Washington school trying to leave the state to go play somewhere else.”
An example of where crossing the border could play a beneficial role for Idaho schools would certainly be in the panhandle where there are only a handful of schools in each classification. They would naturally pair up well with schools in eastern Washington, where the number of schools per classification are dwarfed in comparison to those in central and western Washington. Each tier would go from four or five schools per group to 8-10, which would be more in line with their peers to the west (see district membership tables below).