After months of cautious optimism about avoiding a potentially disastrous athletics situation, Hermiston High School finally got its coveted victory Monday.
That was when the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) approved the school’s petition to leave the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) to join the Washington association and compete in the Mid-Columbia Conference, beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
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The move allows Bulldogs teams to avoid moving up to the OSAA’s Class 6A Mt. Hood Conference, where they would make anywhere from 320-400 mile roundtrips to play conference games. That means student athletes will miss far less time in the classroom and the school district will avoid exorbitant travel expenses.
“Right now, we’re absolutely ecstatic,” Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher said. “I couldn’t be happier for our kids, and our parents and our community. Going into it, we are a little bit worried that it made too much sense for us to have this happen.
“We’re very, very pleased that not only the WIAA executive board, but also the OSAA executive board made a decision to put kids first. Which unfortunately you don’t always see.”
While the WIAA’s decision clearly benefits Hermiston, there are several positives in it for the MCC as well.
“I think it’s good for Hermiston, and then it’s really good for our area too,” Richland football coach Mike Neidhold said. “You bring in another good team to our league, and I always think that’s a good thing. It brings in some natural rivalries and some competition.”
“It’s nice when the trip is only 35 minutes,” added Kamiakin boys basketball coach Brian Meneely. “We already see each other a lot in the summer, we play each other in non-league already, so it’s not going to be a drastic difference. We’re just going to get to know each other a whole heck of a lot better.”
Tri-City teams and coaches voiced their jubilation for Hermiston on Twitter yesterday.
In addition to adding a rival with competitive programs to the conference schedule, Hermiston helps the MCC’s — and GSL’s — 3A teams solve their playoff predicament. Hermiston will join as a 3A team, which means the MCC and GSL will each have four schools in that class for the final two years of the classification cycle, guaranteeing the leagues will be playing for two full state playoff allocations, and can choose to do away with the glue crossover system.
“To guarantee that between us and Spokane we get two bids each year, that’s obviously a huge help to us,” Meneely said. “And it’s a huge help to Hermiston, so it’s kind of a win-win for both schools.”
Hermiston also features some of the area’s top athletics facilities, including a renowned multi-purpose football field and track.
“When you travel down to Hermiston ... you always want to figure out what kind of facilities they have, and they have a top-notch football and track facility,” Neidhold said. “And they should be proud of that. I would like to have something that nice.
“So when we go on the road, it’s just one more nice place to play.”
While Hermiston’s petition to join the WIAA was approved, Usher said it didn’t happen without a fair share of dissent and spirited debate from some members of the WIAA.
The initial hang-up with the plan was that it could create a precedent for other Oregon and Idaho border schools to enter the association, or Washington schools to leave. That concern was dissuaded by WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese organizing talks with other associations that allow teams from other states to compete within their borders, and creating a set of criteria to define the level of hardship necessary to warrant a school changing affiliations.
“That policy is a hurdle we don’t think any other schools are going to meet,” Usher said. “And, bottom line is, if a school does meet that criteria, then you should do the right thing for them too.”
But what fueled most of the arguments against Hermiston’s case, Usher said, was the most obvious one — an Oregon school will have athletes competing for Washington championships.
The idea of having the Bulldogs compete in the MCC for the regular season and then return to the OSAA for playoffs was entertained, but Usher said that would have caused alignment and allocation issues for all parties involved.
So this is the way the world is now, and for those who have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of an Oregon team raising a trophy in the Tacoma Dome, Usher offers this philosophy:
“Our high school has won plenty of state championships, but we never won an Oregon state championship. We won an OSAA state championship,” he said. “That’s just an association in our state, just like the WIAA in Washington. That’s the way people are going to have to begin looking at it when they look at Hermiston and that association.”