Coaches find pluses in move to Sky-Em

Sweet Home’s entrance into the Sky-Em Conference next fall may not mean many changes in competition levels according to coaches at the high school.

With the Oregon School Activities Association Executive Board’s decision to follow the final recommendation submitted by the OSAA Classification and Districting Committee, the Huskies will be grouped with Sisters, La Pine, Cottage Grove, Elmira and Junction City in the Sky-Em through 2014.

The league realignment will apply to all the teams except swimming, girls soccer and girls golf, which compete in special districts. Sweet Home Athletic Director Tim Porter said decisions on the makeup of those districts are expected in the future.

Porter, who made the case to the board on Oct. 26 for Sweet Home’s request to be moved to the newly formed Capital Coast League, said Sweet Home is “disappointed” with the decision but district officials are putting it behind them.

“We wanted to be in a different league,” he said. “Now we need to move on.”

He said he is scheduled to meet with Sky-Em League athletic directors on Thursday, Nov. 12, to start working on scheduling.

Sweet Home football coach Rob Younger, himself an Executive Board member, said he had mixed thoughts about the decision to place the Huskies in the Sky-Em, rather than the new Capital Coast League, which they had requested, which would have created a seven-team league when OSAA’s stated goal was to make as many leagues as possible six teams.

One of the reasons the OSAA wants to keep leagues balanced is so that equal number of teams from each league would be eligible for post-season play, instead of the rotation that has been used in the Val-Co League in which the five-team league gets two playoff slots one year and three the next.

Last week the OSAA State Championship Committee proposed a format in which all the 4A leagues with the exception of the 4A schools in the hybrid Portland Interscholastic League, which would be combined with the Tri-Valley League for playoff purposes and would get four slots.

“Number one, I understand why the Executive Board made the decision they made,” Younger said. “But I also understand why we wanted a different decision.”

He said he prefers to look at the positives that may come out of the move.

“This is the fourth different league we’ve been in in the 30 years I’ve coached in Sweet Home,” he said. “Every other time we’ve had to change leagues it’s turned out to be a positive thing for the school, the athletes and the community.”

He said he believes the move will help some of the girls sports in particular.

“You’re competing against teams that are our size and our caliber €“ a little more our socio-economic environment.”

Porter said he doesn’t see a lot of changes in the move to Sky-Em.

“It’ll all pretty much work the same,” he said. “We’ll be playing different teams is all. We’ll probably schedule a bunch of the teams that are in our league right now for non-league games.”

Younger pointed out that Sweet Home already plays most of the Sky-Em members in league games and will simply switch things around, playing Capital Coast teams in non-league games and the Sky-Em schools during the league season.

“I think it will be mostly better competition,” he said.

Softball coach Steve Hummer, who also assists with the wrestling team, said he believe some sports will benefit and he also doesn’t expect big changes in the competition.

He said he isn’t thrilled by the idea of having to transport athletes over the mountains in the winter, especially after experiencing an accident four years ago on Tombstone Pass when a vehicle he was driving, carrying wrestlers, was struck by another. Hummer wrote a letter supporting the district’s argument to the OSAA that the mountain passes presented a serious safety concern, and that alternative routes will add hours to travel time.

“I’m a wrestling coach,” he said. “I’m not going to make that trip over that pass with my own kids, let alone with other people’s kids.”

Hummer said that the softball programs in the Sky-Em schools are cycling, with Sisters moving up and Cottage Grove struggling, while Elmira won a couple of state championships early in the decade before declining. Sweet Home regularly plays Junction City in summer ball and he expects good competition from the Tigers.

“Going over to Central Oregon in the spring might mean a cold game, but it will be dry,” he said. “I’m excited to be in a six-team league. Having only five, you have years when you have three good teams in league and only two go to state.

“I thought we should have been at state last year,” he said of his young team, which barely missed the playoffs after losing to Newport to finish third in league.

Wrestling coach Steve Thorpe noted that wrestling competition may be improved in the Sky-Em, especially since there are six teams, of which Cottage Grove and La Pine typically have full varsity and JV squads, something that is generally lacking in the Val-Co.

He and Elmira Coach Scott Shannon are “close friends,” he said, and Sweet Home was in the Capital League with Sisters five years ago.

“The district tournament will be more fun,” he said. “My hope is we can do double duals.” He said that he hopes the Sky-Em athletic coaches and officials will be open to perspectives Sweet Home can bring.

“I’m not excited about driving over the mountains in those conditions, but we have such incredible transportation staff, highly trained drivers, I know they’ll make sure we’re protected,” he said.

“This is my third league I’ve been in since I’ve been head coach. It will be fun to develop a new relationship with the coaches and kids. It’s been fun to be in Val-Co. There are some quality coaches and individuals that I really like. I hope the Sky-Em is the same.”

In track and field and cross-country Coach Billy Snow said he doesn’t see much change.

Right now, in the Val-Co League, Sweet Home gets good competition from Central, Newport and Philomath in track.

Sisters always has “good speed” and Cottage Grove has two good javelin throwers or its girls squad. The others have good individual athletes as well.

“It’s not like it’s an easy row,” he said. “It’s six of one and half a dozen of another.”

In cross-country, Sweet Home has already competed against all the Sky-Em teams this year. Snow said he expects both Sisters and Cottage Grove, in particular, to produce some good runners.

Younger said Sweet Home should look for the silver lining in the league change.

“When we moved from 4A to 3A we made the best of that,” he said. “When we moved from the Capital League to the Val-Co League we made the best of that. We just have to, as coaches, look at how we can make a positive change for our student-athletes.

“I think we have to look at it as a glass half full. We need to look for the positive things in this change.”