One way or another, the 2018-19 season is going to be unprecedented for Hermiston High School athletics.
The Bulldogs currently compete in the Class 5A Columbia River Conference — which includes Pendleton, The Dalles and Hood River Valley — but rising student counts (projected to hit 1,590 from ninth-12th grade this fall) are expected to make Hermiston a 6A school when the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) reclassifies in 2018. The nearest 6A conference to Hermiston is the Portland Metro League, which would make the Bulldogs’ shortest commute for a road conference game about 185 miles each way.
That’s the same distance Richland would have to travel to play at Issaquah.
Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher said that would raise the school’s travel costs by as much as 60 percent and could cause athletes to miss up to a third of their classes in a given month.
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“The hardship we’re facing is much greater than what we’ve seen from any other schools out there,” Usher said.
Trying to eliminate cross-state travel for conference games, Usher is petitioning for Hermiston to become a member of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and compete in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
“The benefits for the Mid-Columbia Conference are probably about equal to the benefits for Hermiston,” Usher said.
If the Bulldogs are allowed to cross into the WIAA — which no non-Washington school has done before — and transitively are accepted into the MCC, Hermiston would offer the MCC facilities like its NCAA-conforming Kennison Field for football, soccer and track; would give the Mid-Columbia teams extra conference games — huge in the RPI era — against a team closer to the Tri-Cities than Walla Walla; and, perhaps most importantly, would supply the conference with a fourth Class 3A team (per Washington’s ninth-11th grade student count) without a school having to re-classify in the middle of the WIAA’s 2016-2020 cycle.
That would guarantee the MCC 3A schools their own state berth, which mitigates a wealth of problems created by Hanford’s move up to 4A.
“We met and discussed it, and the Mid-Columbia Conference AD’s were unanimous in the support of the idea,” Kamiakin athletic director Casey Gant said.
While the WIAA has never granted membership to an outside school, the move is a common fixture in other states. For example, several California and Arizona high schools, in similar situations as Hermiston, compete in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.
Usher and Hermiston School District superintendent Fred Maiocco will make their case to the WIAA executive board during its Jan. 29 meeting.
“We fully understand that this is our problem, and that this isn’t a hardship that falls on anybody else,” Usher said. “We don’t feel like anybody has to do anything to help us with the problem that we have, but nonetheless, we have to pursue every avenue that we think is going to be best for our kids.”