Coaches irked by OSAA plans to trim state meets

Plans by the Oregon School Activities Association to substantially reduce the size of the state championship fields in cross-country and wrestling are raising ire among Sweet Home coaches, who say the changes are unfair to athletes and don’t make sense.

The OSAA State Championship Committee met Feb. 1 in Wilsonville and produced the latest in a series of proposals that would result in the establishment of regional meets in cross-country and regional tournaments in wrestling that would produce qualifiers for the state championships.

A public meeting is scheduled for March 15 at the OSAA office in Wilsonville to take testimony on the proposals.

The committee is also working on regional proposals for swimming, golf, track and field, and tennis.

The reason for the proposed changes is to save money because the OSAA reimburses schools that send athletes to state championships and it says those championship events are proving too costly.

In wrestling, the Championship Committee is proposing that each of the five divisions €“ 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A/1A be divided into regions and district qualifiers would compete in regional tournaments. In the 4A division, 16 wrestlers would advance to the state championships, and the committee is suggesting that no more than one wrestler per weight class from any one school be allowed to advance to the state championships.

Currently, a total of 24 wrestlers in each weight division advance from district meets directly to the state championships, and more than one wrestler can advance from the same school.

“I don’t really like it right now, as a coach of an individual sport,” said Sweet Home wrestling coach Steve Thorpe, whose teams have won two of the last three 4A state titles, including last year’s championship. “We’re losing 33 percent of our wrestlers, going from a 24-man bracket to 16.”

Similar 16-wrestler brackets are proposed for the 6A and 5A divisions, while the 3A schools would get a 12-person bracket and the 2A/1A schools would get an 8-person championship bracket. The 5A, 3A and 2A/1A schools would have two regionals, while the 6A and 4A schools would have three regionals.

However, in the 4A division, Region 1 would be composed of 18 schools, including such historically strong programs as Estacada, McLoughlin, Scappoose and Tillamook. The only consistently strong program in Region 2 would be Cascade, while Sweet Home would be placed in Region 3, along with 11 other schools: Cottage Gove, Elmira, Henley, Hidden Valley, Junction City, Klamath Union, La Pine, Mazama, North Valley, Phoenix and Sisters.

Thorpe said the proposal is unfair to 5A schools, “which have no equity” in two regions, and Region 1 would be unfair to 4A schools that are competitive because there is little equity there either.

Cross-country coach Billy Snow said he was disturbed by the prospective changes, as well as similar proposals for track and field.

The cross-country proposal, similar to wrestling, is to divide the 6A and 4A classifications into three regionals, the 5A schools into two regionals and the 3A, 2A and 1A teams into four regionals. Depending on the number of schools in each regional, a certain number of the top teams and anywhere from seven to 10 of the individuals not on a qualifying team would advance to state.

In the 4A division, Sweet Home would be grouped in Region 2, the largest of the three regionals with 17 teams, which would send five teams and 10 top individuals to state. The other teams in Region 2 would be Baker, Cascade, Central, Cottage Grove, Crook County, Elmira, Junction City, La Grande, La Pine, McLoughlin, Newport, Ontario, Philomath, Sisters, Stayton and Taft.

Snow said that the new system would make it harder for athletes to qualify for state and would require more wear and tear as runners would have to compete at a top level for three straight weekends.

He said a similar proposal for track and field, where some athletes would be attempting to qualify for state in four events, would be even more problematic. A sprinter, for instance, would have to run as many as 23 races in 15 days.

“Kids have to be on their No. 1 best game for three weeks in a row,” he said.

Snow noted that he had a sprinter, Matt Kragness, who in 2001 ran the 100, 200 and 400 and on the 4×400 relay team at state.

“He was beat at the end,” Snow said. “Twenty-three races in 15 days €“ that’s not good. We’re talking kids here. We’re not talking professional athletes.”

Thorpe said he questions how the changes would really save money, though the OSAA is stating that no reimbursements would be given for regional meets.

Snow said the problem stems from the six classifications that were instituted five years ago.

“They’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken,” he said. “It isn’t our problem. It’s the OSAA’s problem that they started when they went to that six-classification system. I like the six-classification system. But if we don’t need it, why do we hang onto it?”

He said that the financial problems should have been flagged when the OSAA first came up with the six-classification structure.

“They can argue that this is what you coaches wanted, but they never told us anything about this,” Snow said. “I’m sure somebody up there had a clear picture of what was going on and what that meant.

“What they’re trying to do is cut costs. I understand they can’t operate in the red. But they’re trying to cut costs by trying to cut kids. And they’re trying to cut kids because they had a system that’s not needed.”