As I was just a freshman at the time the current six-class system was adopted by the Oregon School Activities Association, I don't have a whole lot of personal memories to bank on when it comes to the old four-class system that my older siblings competed in.
At the time, as my only real connection to sporting events was the band, it really didn't make much of a difference. Molalla still played in the Capital Conference, and though few things changed from how I saw it, there was a major shift in the powers that be.
For the first time that most people could remember, Molalla was actually good at football. And not just good, we were climbing these things called rankings and had a chance to play in the playoffs, whatever that meant.
Molalla went on to lose at home in the first round that year in a foggy, misty upset and due to some personnel changes and a few bad choices on the part of an athlete or two, ended up fumbling away their brilliant streak. Looking back at things from my vantage point now, though, I can't help but wonder if the new system had anything to do with Molalla's overnight success.
Yes, I acknowledge the value in the coach we had for a few years, and I know that anyone (except whoever is playing Sherwood) can win on any given night, but it helps to all-of-the-sudden be one of the largest schools in your division.
As it turns out, both Scappoose and St. Helens can directly relate. Molalla's numbers have dropped a little since I started there, but Scappoose is in the same boat. Scappoose plays in a division in which they are one of the larger schools, and in a conference where they easily outdistance the second-largest school. It's no wonder some of the smaller schools would struggle to compete year in and year out when they have half the student population.
Conversely, St. Helens is playing in a league where they are one of the smallest. At just over 1,000 students, the Lions are faced with competing against schools like Sherwood and Liberty, who are half again the size of St. Helens. The Lions went from a state power a decade ago, when they had the numbers to compete in a variety of different sports, to a small fish in a big pond seemingly overnight.
Unfortunately there isn't really a simple solution to that problem. The current system was put in place with the idea of creating more parody and having more chances for teams to make the playoffs with a shot at winning a championship.
More games, more fans, more money. And that's especially when it comes to football, which seems to be at the center of every discussion surrounding a move from a six class system to a five class system or even back to the old four classes. What to do with football? It's one of the few sports in which the playoffs don't get squished into a funny format to accommodate for the low number of participating teams from small divisions. (Example, dance: 6A gets split into three divisions and 5A gets split in two, with 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A being put together in one class.)
Maybe it's time to make football the exception, possibly adding basketball to that list. Soccer lumps 3A-1A together. Baseball and softball combine 1A and 2A, as does wrestling. Swimming goes as far as having only three divisions. Why go to all the extra work, just to have football make sense?
Instead, let's see a far more simplified system. Football can keep their six divisions, but let's change it up a little. Move things back to five divisions, with the possibility of splitting the top division into a Division I and Division II for large-roster sports like football. The parody will still be there for the sport in which it was intended (football,) and the rest of the state can return to the old way that actually made a little more sense.
Besides, isn't it a little ridiculous to try fitting 4A/3A/2A/1A State Champions on the back of a t-shirt?