The addition of a ninth team to the NWOC may give the rivalry the freedom it needs to re-emerge

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - The last time Scappoose and St. Helens faced off, several thousand people showed up to watch. New changes in the Northwest Oregon Conference could give scheduling control back to the individual schools, and open up the option of reinstating the Eight Mile War. Due to some minor reshuffling among the different divisions of the OSAA, the age-old rivalry football game between St. Helens and Scappoose may be back on the schedule in 2014.

On Oct. 28, the Oregon School Activities Association approved Sherwood to leave the Northwest Oregon Conference and move to Class 6A, where they will join the Three Rivers League. In addition, the OSAA will move La Salle Catholic up to Class 5A and into the NWOC, joining Hillsboro as the conference’s newest members.

La Salle, which is a private Catholic school in Milwaukie, will join as the smallest school in Class 5A. It was a special ruling which made it possible for the Falcons to make the jump, as the OSAA decided to lower the cutoff down to 675 students for the purpose of creating a better balance between the different conferences at the Class 4A level.

For teams in the Northwest Oregon Conference, adding a ninth school to the league does create a few problems, especially for football. The extra school means the Lions will lose a non-league football game because St. Helens has to play all the teams in the new NWOC, leaving the Lions with just one non-league game on their schedule.

Currently, scheduling for football is handled by a league representative from Rex Putnam High School, who would take ‘wish lists’ from each of the member school’s athletics directors, including St. Helens Athletics director Cyndy Miller, and put together a non-league schedule. There are 84 teams between classes 6A and 5A, meaning each school has a team from the top two divisions with which to match up each week as long as scheduling is kept to the two biggest divisions. Should a 5A school schedule a 4A school, it would leave one of the other 5A schools without an opponent. However, since the teams in the NWOC will have only one non-league game to schedule, Miller hopes the power will pass back to the individual schools.

Because making the playoffs depends almost entirely on a team’s standing in the OSAA rankings, the Lions’ wins over No. 34 Cleveland and No. 35 Hood River were harmful to St. Helens’ playoff chances, and Miller said she wouldn’t be opposed to taking on a top-flight team from Class 4A – especially if that team were Scappoose.

Miller said she would love to have St. Helens play Scappoose, and she has, in fact, propositioned that very idea to the league representative in recent years, but to no avail.

Robert Medley, director of athletics at Scappoose High School, said he too was open to the discussion of adding St. Helens to their schedule, but would need to talk to the coaches before bringing the concept to the table between the two schools.

The athletics directors from Class 4A will meet and discuss football schedules in December, and Medley says he has no reservations about playing teams from the larger divisions – especially after the Indians’ strong performance against Roosevelt on Aug. 30.

For the NWOC schools, things are still up in the air. Because of the changes to the list of members, the scheduling meeting hasn’t been set, but the representatives are likely to meet in the next month. A probable discussion, according to Miller, is the power of each school to decide on it’s own football schedule.

The challenges for the expanded NWOC don’t stop with football. Volleyball is only allowed 18 contests, with one match reserved for a possible play-in date. The current system has the Lions playing each league opponent twice for 14 league games and three tournaments, but the addition of a ninth team cuts the tournaments down to just one.

Less flexibility and considerably less to work out kinks is a major loss in the new system, Miller said. The new league also limits the amount of times a team can look for challenging non-league competition, should they want to face some of the high-level teams for a bump in the ratings or a boost in experience.

The best league size to balance healthy competition and a flexible schedule is a league of seven or eight teams, according to Miller. The new NWOC is the largest conference in it’s class, and is even with the largest leagues in Class 6A. The classification of which Scappoose is a part, by contrast, has just six teams in each league. The smaller league allows for more non-league games, giving Scappoose the chance to play teams like Central and Roosevelt, both of which gave the Indians a massive bump in the ranking system.

Scappoose will see changes to the Cowapa League as well. Yamhill-Carlton will depart for the Oregon West Conference. Valley Catholic, a private school in Beaverton, will take the Tigers’ place. The new system does away with the special districts, simplifying the playoff qualifications at the 4A level.

The leagues will stay the same for the next four years until the OSAA takes another look in 2018.

One discussion, which was raised this fall, will be the movement to a five-class system. The change would lower the total number of playoff teams, but might raise the possibility of creating conferences with less travel between schools, even though the disparity between school size would likely grow.

Both Scappoose and St. Helens will lay out their two-year scheduling plans in the coming months, and while it remains a possibility to see the resurrection of the eight mile war – the football contest, that is - much has to be ironed out before it becomes a reality. Regardless, both Miller and Medley expressed interest in the south county rivalry, and though Medley was hesitant to specifically call for the reinstatement of the game, he was quick to show his support for the connection between the schools.

“We always want to play St. Helens,” said Medley. “In anything.”

The article has been updated to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 1, 2013

An earlier version of the headline misstated the name of the rivalry between Scappoose and St. Helens. Though the distance between the schools is 7.7 miles, the historical name of the game is the Seven-Mile War, not the Eight-Mile War.

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