North Salem High School has asked the governing body for Oregon high school athletics to play against smaller schools, a move that would put the Vikings in a different league from the other five Salem-Keizer public schools.
North Salem’s petition to the executive board of the Oregon School Activities Association is scheduled to be heard Monday, and a decision is likely then.
“I think it gives us a chance to compete against schools that are similar to us,” North Salem baseball coach Chris Lee said.
North Salem currently plays in the Greater Valley Conference, which is among the leagues classified as 6A — the biggest and most athletically competitive schools.
If North Salem’s petition is approved, North Salem would move down a classification starting with the 2018-19 school year and be in a league with schools like Canby, Central, Dallas, Silverton and Wilsonville.
“It’s something that obviously had a lot of discussion,” said Larry Ramirez, director of high school education for the Salem-Keizer school district and who is on the OSAA’s Classification and Districting Committee. “We’ve had talks with coaches and families trying to get feedback on the thought of North playing down a level.
“It was a tough decision, but North has not been as competitive as they probably would have liked to have been as of late. This is not a forever deal. The plan would be hopefully that North is able to establish some more programs, a whole athletic activities program that’s more competitive, and only be there for the time block. It’s an opportunity for them to strengthen up. Hopefully, if everything goes well, we’re able to pop North right back up.”
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There are four criteria that must be met for a school to play down:
- More than 50 percent of its students must be eligible to receive a free or reduced-price lunch.
- The school’s team sports – football, volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball – must have finished in the bottom 50 percent of the final OSAA power rankings at least 75 percent of the time the previous three years.
- The school’s teams must have finished in the bottom 20 percent of the final rankings at least 50 percent of the time.
- The school’s teams had a winning percentage of 25 percent of less at least 40 percent of the time.
The option for schools to petition to play down was first made available four years ago and few schools tried.
“It’s something that we put into place last time that we went through classification and districting,” OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber said. “If they meet those four criteria, the board moves them down.”
McKay meets the OSAA qualifications to play down, but chose not to.
Woodburn petitioned the Executive Board to play down in December, and its petition was accepted.
In the past decade similar moves where schools in the same district have been broken up has occurred in Albany, Eugene and Portland.
It would be a stark change for Salem’s oldest high school.
“Anytime there’s change, it’s hard to deal with,” Lee said. “To think that our school is the same school it was in whatever decade, it’s not.”
Where North Salem’s baseball team has had sustained success in Lee’s time as head coach – in his first 16 years the team has won 60 percent of its games – the participation numbers have dropped in his program to where they only have varsity and JV teams.
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Moving down a classification would split up North Salem’s traditional rivalry with South Salem.
The Mayor’s Trophy football game between North Salem and South Salem also likely would be lost.
When North Salem won that game in October of 2016, it was the first time in nine years they had won it. South Salem has won the game 46 of the 62 years it has been awarded.
“I think rivalries are important when they are competitive and we certainly had a rivalry this year, but there have been years where it’s been a lot more lopsided,” North Salem football coach Jeff Flood said.
Moving schools to higher or lower classifications is only part of the classification committee’s work. The committee is also considering options that would reduce the number of classifications from the current six to five.
In the latest updates from the OSAA’s Classification and Districting Committee, there are both six classification and five classification options, including splitting the highest classification into two classifications only for football.
In those options there are versions where the rest of the Salem-Keizer public schools are placed in a league with Bend schools such as Mountain View, Bend and Summit, and there are versions where the Salem-Keizer schools are in smaller leagues with McMinnville and West Albany.
But the committee has put forward versions that would put schools in five classifications and split the schools in the highest classification.
Weber said the committee is releasing the proposals to get input into the direction it should take.
“I think there are people who currently support that we stay with the six class. Overall it’s working, why change?” Weber said. “I think a lot of people in that camp are pleased and note the competitive balance that they see in the six-class approach that they don’t see in the five-class approach.”
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The OSAA Classification and Districting Committee has placed Chemawa, Gervais and Jefferson in lower classifications preliminarily.
Those three schools meet the criteria to move down in classification, but they have yet to petition the Executive Board.
Weber said those schools fit the criteria to move down, and the Classification and Districting Committee is assuming that they will petition to move down.
“Not at this time,” Chemawa athletic director Jerry Mack said. “We’re trying to see what they want to do with us.”
Along with North Salem’s petition to play down, the Executive Board will hear petitions Monday from Warrenton, Myrtle Point and Illinois Valley to play down.
North Salem is by far the largest school of those petitioning to play down.
“I think there are a lot of coaches at North that believe they want to coach their kids, it doesn’t matter what level they’re at,” Flood said.
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler