SHHS will award activity letter to equestrian team

The District 55 School Board agreed last week to award the Sweet Home High School equestrian team an activities letter for its work this year.

Members of the team had approached the school board last month asking to be recognized as a sport. That recognition would help the activity receive sanctioning from the Oregon Student Activities Association and allow students to receive the high school’s sports letter.

In response to that request last month, SHHS coaches supported using the high school’s name for the team as an activity or club. With that, SHHS offered to schedule the a picture day for the team, posting of its event schedule, advertising in the school, to handle fund-raising requests and to include the team on its list of activities and clubs.

The coaches, a required step in forming a new sports program, did not support recognizing the team as a sport at SHHS for primarily two reasons.

The first reason was the season. Although the equestrian team’s season lasts from Dec.1 to mid-May, the team practices only twice a week for 1 1/2 hours per evening for a total of three hours of supervised practice each week. Other teams practice every day with some daily doubles, a total of at least 12 1/2 hours per week.

Equestrian team members must attend a minimum of two events per year to qualify for state. That did not compare with other sports, which require at least nine in football and 10 in dance to at least 26 in baseball and softball.

Of the seven schools in the Capital Conference, two others have equestrian teams. At Cascade, the team earns a letter, but the school only has one type of letter. At Molalla, equestrian team members can earn an athletic letter but must pay for it themselves unlike other sports in the school.

OSAA sanctions activities such as band, speech, choir and drama, the coaches said. They felt that, at this time, the equestrian team should be included in that area.

“We’ve just got a lot of concerns right now about adding another team that is not at this time sanctioned by OSAA,” Principal Pat Stineff said. Based on the coaches’ input, “there just isn’t a lot of equity between these two things (the equestrian team and other sports programs).”

Any time another sport is added, there are additional costs, including a coach, liability costs, additional grade checks and more, Stineff said. The team has a coach now, “but what happens when the coach quits?

“I’m not downplaying what these kids do. I know they work hard.”

Insurance for the activity is handled like any other sport, Supt. Hampton said, although the students must handle some additional insurance themselves, primarily for transportation.

Greg Estes of Lebanon and with the Western Horsemen of Oregon is a judge for high school events.

He told the board, during its regular meeting on May 14, that there are 700 students participating around the state.

“These kids are riding almost nightly,” Estes said. They are constantly working with their horses. “This is an excellent opportunity for kids in Sweet Home to be involved.”

He said Sweet Home has “great kids” and has watched them working at 5 a.m. or as late as 2:30 a.m. finishing up.

“In time, there is going to be a big push to be sanctioned by OSAA,” Estes said. “This is kind of a first step for Sweet Home. The numbers are growing by leaps and bounds, especially in rural communities. They’re competing against the big schools and doing well.”

“It’s a tremendous event for kids,” SHHS Athletic Director Larry Johnson said. He pointed the team toward the process of forming a new sport and particularly to soccer. Soccer started as a club sport, traveling out of town, and later as a JV team. Now, the team is lettering.

Response to equestrian teams has been varied, Johnson said. Schools are doing everything from blatantly saying no to supporting it outright.

Others are saying what SHHS is saying right now, Johnson said. “I think we can do that right now with the activities letter.”

Board member Lee Babcock said he was a three-year starter in football when he was in high school. His bother worked 10 times harder than that with his horse. His brother was up at 5 a.m. every day caring for his horse.

“I personally think the district’s dragging its feet,” Babcock said. “They have to care for these horses every day. Can we be leaders once and not followers?”

Johnson asked what the school should do with other activities, such as bowling or archery, when they ask for an athletic letter.

“Any time a group of kids comes to us and wants to organize, that’s a positive thing,” Babcock said.

“An activities letter is not ‘no recognition,'” board member Barbara Snow said. Activities, such as band and drama, are recognized at the senior banquet.

Recognition is what board member Sam Shipp heard the team say it wanted.

Board member Scott Proctor said he wanted to hear more from the team about what it does in practices and events.

Board member Bob Pascalar thought the board was getting into the issue deeper than it needed to at this time.

The team is seeking recognition, he said. For that, the team can receive an activity letter, and if it wants to pursue an athletic letter, it can follow a process.

The board voted 7-1 to allow the letter. Voting yes were Shipp, Kevin Burger, Pascalar, Snow, Don Hopkins, Babcock and Tim Crocker. Proctor voted no.

Supt. Hampton said he would research where OSAA was on sanctioning the sport and return with information in August.