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OSAA reclassification proposal shuffles longstanding rivalries

While flipping through a stack of old yearbooks and other historical mementos, Forest Grove athletic director Doug Thompson was looking for some record of a year in which the Vikings didn’t square off against their longtime rivals from McMinnville or Newberg.

He got all the way back to 1920 before he ran out of yearbooks, and he couldn’t find a single season when those schools didn’t face each other in at least one sport.

That will likely change in 2014.

The OSAA Classification and Districting Committee released its final proposal for the 2014-2018 time block last week, and it seems imminent that the organization’s Executive Committee will approve the plan, which blows up the existing Pacific Conference and, with it, a number of longstanding rivalries.

Chief among them will be the Forest Grove-Newberg- McMinnville triumvirate, which has competed together in the same league for as long as Thompson can remember. The most recent proposal, however, has Forest Grove and Mac being shipped off to the Central Valley Conference — which is based in Salem — while Newberg is sent packing for the Three Rivers League.

“Early on in the process, we requested to stay in a league with Newberg and McMinnville. That’s a rivalry we’ve had since the ‘60s,” Thompson said. “We’re very disappointed that Newberg is not with us. The relationship we’ve had with them both on and off the field has been pretty special. Moving them to a different conference while keeping us together with McMinnville, that makes no sense to me.”

Thompson isn’t alone in questioning the committee’s recommendations. Several other conferences will be forced to make sweeping changes, but none moreso than the Pacific, which is essentially being dismantled and sold for parts. Newberg will move to the Three Rivers League along with Tigard and Tualatin, while Century and Glencoe get sent to the highly competitive Metro League. Hillsboro, meanwhile, will drop down to Class 5A and join crosstown rival Liberty in the Northwest Oregon Conference.

All of that shuffling was necessitated after a recent decision by the Portland Interscholastic League to have all of its members — which currently span Class 6A, 5A and 4A — lumped together in one league. That forced the committee to scrap an earlier proposal and move to the current one, which eliminates the Pacific Conference and splits the state’s 51 Class 6A schools into six conferences of either eight or nine teams apiece.

“The PIL request was kind of out of the blue. It was so late in the process, that what that did was force the committee to rush to a decision after only two public meetings,” Thompson said. “On the one hand, I understand what they’re trying to do — they’re trying to make leagues that all have about the same number of teams. But as a state, it’s gotten to the point where leagues don’t really matter anymore. The focus is on power rankings and making sure the top four teams face each other in the playoffs.

“What’s been lost in all this is that leagues aren’t really important anymore, and I’m disheartened about that.”

The Pacific Conference has changed a number of times over the years, but one constant has been the presence of Forest Grove, McMinnville and Newberg — schools separated by less than 30 miles. Their geographical proximity and socioeconomic similarities helped forge longstanding relationships that transcended sports.

“Our first priority was to stay in the Pacific Conference,” Thompson said. “Over the years we’ve built great relationships, not just athletically, but academically as well. It’s always been a very positive place with an emphasis on doing what’s best for the kids — that’s what we were fighting for.”

It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that anything in the proposal will change before it’s ratified by the Executive Committee, so Forest Grove fans should prepare to see their beloved Vikings in a conference next year that features Mac, North Salem, South Salem, McKay, McNary, Sprague, West Albany and West Salem.

Thompson is still holding out hope that West Albany gets its wish and is allowed to remain in Class 5A, and that the committee replaces the Bulldogs with Newberg. Even if that doesn’t happen, he said he’s still optimistic about the new conference.

“We’re excited,” he said. “I do think that us going to Salem makes sense. If you look at the demographics, those are the schools we should be competing against. They are all very similar to us.”

And just because the Viks find themselves in a new conference with new opponents, that doesn’t mean Thompson won’t go out of his way to schedule Newberg or any of the nearby Hillsboro schools for nonleague games.

“I think it makes sense for us to continue to play each other, both from a competition and a travel standpoint,” he said.

It will take some getting used to, but the Vikings will eventually grow comfortable in their new home.

Now if Thompson could just figure out what to do with all of his old gear.

“I could dress and decorate a home with all the stuff that has Pacific Conference logos on it,” he joked. “I’ll tell you one thing — I’m not spending any more money on that stuff knowing that it could change again in four years.”

Zack Palmer can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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