A big change in league play for Madras and Crook County football is causing a big change in travel time.
Over four hours playing on the Gridiron.
The White Buffalos and Cowboys are heading to the Greater Oregon League, a conference in eastern Oregon.
Going down a ranking, in one league, then another, going up a ranking, one thing was expected, but another happened.
It’s been the roller coaster of Madras and Crook County football programs in recent years.
“With some of these changes over the past few years, we’ve seen situations where you have to combine some schools, adjust them from their regular leagues,” said Peter Webber, executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association.
Both programs expected to face teams from the Valley, but received a surprise move to the Greater Oregon League.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Rob Bonner, 5A Athletic Director of the Year for Crook County High School, said recently. “It’s not our first choice. We were looking forward to being in the Tri-Valley again for all sports, to be back at level 4A for everything, but that’s not where we were needed. Going there for the football we’ll do two trips there a year and the other two will come to us so it’s really manageable and everyone is working really well together to adjust the time and make it as doable as possible 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 that in recent years have had a winning percentage of 22% or less, the opportunity to drop a ranking.
Schools that drop out are subject to an annual review.
“For you to avoid a situation where a school goes down and all of a sudden their numbers go up and they’re doing very well, so they should come back and participate in their usual classification,” Webber said.
Schools that post a winning percentage above 67% or win a playoff game could also be forced to revert to their original rankings.
Currently, Ontario High School has transitioned to 3A football, leaving only two schools left in the Greater Oregon League.
“You had these three schools (Pendleton, Baker, La Grande) sitting there and three schools is not a league,” Webber said.
“We knew mathematically that was going to become the problem,” 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 Slabs (5A)
- The big one
“At tier four, we now have three league sixes and two league sevens, so we’re really trying to get that balanced number for those leagues,” Webber said.
A long bus ride.
Crook County to La Grande, over four and a half hours.
Madras to Baker about four hours.
“At the end of the day, it’s hard to get on a bus and travel,” Bonner said.
The good news for the programs is that the matches take place once a week, usually on Fridays.
“With travel concerns, their (Madras and Crook County) preference would be to stay in their usual districts and come,” Webber said. “At those same meetings, we also heard from the three schools in the Greater Oregon League, we need to have more schools and clashes as well. It’s part of that balance to try to address those issues to provide opportunities for all students as best we can.
Another concern is competition with the big schools that come to play.
Pendleton, for example, was the sixth-ranked 5A school in the state last season.
“It’s two 5As going to 4A,” Barendse said. “We were playing 3A several years ago trying to get our football program in place and we’ve made huge progress and you just don’t want to see that momentum wane. So it’s worrying, but we’re ready to compete.
It doesn’t matter who they play or where, the two sporting directors are just happy it’s a normal, non-pandemic season.
“Coming out of COVID right now, I think everyone is ready to take on anything that wasn’t like COVID,” Barendse said.
“To not have to worry about spectator limits and just travel and compete and do what these kids and families love to do,” Bonner added.
The Oregon School Activities Association votes Monday to formalize this new Greater Oregon League.