Medford AD vows to be proactive on districting

Without getting into specifics, Doug Jantzi made it clear Monday that the Medford School District will be keeping close tabs on the Oregon School Activities Association's classification and districting committee this time around.

Four years ago when the ball began rolling toward a six-class system for high school athletics in Oregon, this district showed faith in the system until it increasingly became clear that its concerns were not being heard.

Along with school districts in Eugene and Salem-Keizer, Medford joined a battle to appeal the OSAA's decision to jump from four to six classifications for the 2006-10 time block, but it was ultimately an issue of having too few allies and too many hurdles to clear in a legal battle that spilled well into 2007.

"We're not taking the process for granted and we're going to be more vigilant this time," said Jantzi, Medford's director of secondary education and athletics. "We're going to be watching it and more actively involved this time around now that we know how they play the game."

To be clear, it's the process and not the people involved that originally irked district officials.

As it stands, the OSAA's 14-member executive board is charged with making final decisions on districting and classification issues. It gathers information from the work of a hand-picked committee which, in this case, will study the statewide issue and likely make a recommendation back to the executive board in late spring or early fall of 2009.

There will be public hearings over the next year and correspondence taken on the issue, but the recommendation is ultimately in the hands of the chosen committee.

And, once again, there is very little influence that can be made from Southern Oregon.

The 17-member classification and districting committee is being headed up by John Harrington, president of Central Catholic High School, and consists of only two people with ties to this area — and those are loose at best.

Tim Carmichael, athletics director at 5A Churchill High in Eugene, and Art Ochoa, district athletic director for Klamath County Schools, are the aforementioned committee members tasked with carrying the concerns of this area to the group's discussions.

On the executive board, only Grants Pass Superintendent Steve Iverson has ties to the area, and his term ends in 2009.

The classification and districting committee had an organizational meeting last Friday, and Jantzi is waiting to hear back from Carmichael — who serves as a 6A representative with Harrington and Aloha Principal Vicki Lukich — on the ground rules this time around for the 2010-14 block.

"We have some ideas in mind on what we would like to do to improve our league (the 6A Southwest Conference)," said Jantzi, "but we're going to hold that right now until we see what the committee decides what's discussable and what's not."

"We expect some pretty lively discussions this fall and winter, and on into the spring," he added.

Until the last block session, very little had changed in the OSAA landscape over the years during the committee's gathering.

The general appeal by Medford, Eugene and Salem-Keizer school districts then involved a significant increase in travel and expenses and lost class time for students, as well as a general concern for compromising student safety.

Jantzi said those concerns are still valid today even though the district is in its third school year following reclassification.

"One item we want to know is if 6A is here to stay or is the committee going to consider going to five classifications," said Jantzi of key talking points for 2010-14. "We have a sense that six is here to stay, so if that's the case then we're going to want to know what are the cutoff numbers in establishing leagues."

The current plan revolves around enrollments, with the 46-school 6A for enrollments of 1,521 or more and the 40-school 5A for enrollments of 851 to 1,520. The same trickle down theory goes for the 41-school 4A (401 to 850), 39-school 3A (236 to 400), 40-school 2A (116 to 235) and 86-school 1A (115 or less).

The six-class system has helped promote a competitive balance among teams, mostly necessitated by football, and has allowed almost half of the schools in each classification to make the playoffs. A six-class, football-only option was on the table in the summer of 2005 but Jantzi said a committee comprised of mostly small-school affiliates opted for an all-sport switch.

"When you look at just sheer numbers," he said, "when the OSAA goes out to vote, 6A schools are vastly outnumbered by the smaller schools. That's just the way it is. We're a state of small schools, so the 6A will always be outnumbered."

With smaller schools seeing more success on the playing field and an increase in overall school spirit, it's hard to fault anyone on the committee for wanting to essentially keep things status quo.

"I do believe that all the athletic directors and principals really do take into account what's best for kids and for schools," said Jantzi, "it's just that they don't always match up when you're a big school or a smaller school."

The OSAA has said that, as criteria for their recommendation, the committee should consider enrollment, geographic location (including costs of travel and potential loss of class time), safety, school preference (including play up/play down requests) and creation of similar sized leagues. Additionally, the committee may take into account scheduling problems, athletic district history and a desire to move as few schools as possible.

As a caveat, the OSAA also asked the committee to investigate the feasibility of increasing league sizes and improving the competitive balance between public and private schools.

As a possible example, a drop in the 6A cutoff by around 90 students could potentially bring teams like Willamette, Thurston and Crater into the Southwest Conference picture and increase the league size to make it easier and more manageable when filling out schedules.

"We used to be able to go to Eugene and play another similar sized school in the preseason," said Jantzi. "Now they're in our league so we have to go to Salem or beyond or south of the (Oregon) border for scheduling."

For now, however, it's all a waiting game until the classification and districting committee begins its deliberations.

"I'm hoping that they listened to what we said," Jantzi said regarding the last go-round. "We'll just have to wait and see."

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