A big change in league play for Madras and Crook County football, leads to a big change in travel time.
Over four hours to play on the Gridiron.
The White Buffalos and Cowboys are heading to the Greater Oregon League, a conference in Eastern Oregon.
Down a classification, in one league, then another, back up a classification, one thing expected, but another happened.
That is the roller coaster of both Madras and Crook County football programs in recent years.
“With some of these changes over these past few years we have seen some situations that have arisen where you have to combine some schools, adjust them from their regular leagues,” said Oregon School Activities Association Executive Director Peter Webber
The two programs expected to play teams in the valley, but received a surprise by moving to the Greater Oregon League.
“It’s rough, it’s rough,” said recently named 5A Athletic Director of the year for Crook County High School Rob Bonner. “That’s not our first choice. We were looking forward to being in the Tri-Valley again for all sports, being back at the 4A level for everything, but that is not where we were needed. Going over there for football we will take two trips over there a year and the other two will come to us, so it is definitely manageable and everyone works together really well as far as adjusting time and making it as doable as possible. So, we are looking forward to it.”
To make the game of Oregon High School Football more competitive, the Oregon School Activities Association allows schools who in recent years have had below a 22% or less winning percentage the opportunity to drop down a classification.
Schools who drop down are reviewed on an annual basis.
“So that you avoid a situation where a school drops down and all of a sudden their numbers go back up and are doing just fine, so they should be back participating in their regular classification,” said Webber.
Schools who show an above 67% winning percent or win a playoff game could also be forced to go back up to their original classification.
Currently, Ontario High School moved down to 3A football, leaving only two schools left in the Greater Oregon League.
“You had those three schools (Pendleton, Baker, La Grande) sitting out there and three schools is not a league,” said Webber.
“We knew mathematically that was going to become the problem area,” said Madras High School Athletic Director Daniel Barendse.
The solution put Madras and Crook County in the league with 5A schools Pendleton and The Dalles.
Greater Oregon League
- Crook County
- Pendleton (5A)
- The Dalles (5A)
- La Grande
“At the four a level, we now have three leagues of six and two leagues of seven, so we really try to have that number balanced for those leagues,” Webber said.
A long ride on the bus.
Crook County to La Grande, over four and a half hours.
Madras to Baker around four hours.
“At the end of the day, it’s hard you just get on a bus and travel,” said Bonner.
The good news for the programs is games are once a week, typically on Fridays.
“With concerns about the travel their (Madras and Crook County) preference would be to stay in their regular districts and come over,” Webber said. “At those same meetings we heard as well from the three schools from the Greater Oregon League, we need to have more schools, and matchups as well. It is all part of that balance to try and work those things out to provide opportunities for all the students the best we can.”
Another worry, competition with larger schools coming down to play.
Pendleton for example was the number six ranked 5A school in the state last season.
“It’s two 5A’s that are stepping down to 4A,” Barendse said. “We were playing 3A several years back to try and get our football program up and we made huge strides and you just don’t want to see any of that momentum strop. So that is concerning, but we are ready to compete.”
No matter who they play or where, both athletic directors are just glad it’s a normal, non-pandemic season
“Getting out of COVID right now, I think everyone is just ready to take anything on that wasn’t COVID like,” said Barendse.
“To not have to worry about spectator limits and just travel and compete and do what these kids and families love to do,” added Bonner.
The Oregon School Activities Association is voting on Monday to make this new Greater Oregon League official.