Would reclassification reignite an old rivalry between Woodburn and North Marion?
For many decades, the Woodburn Bulldogs and North Marion Huskies were rival schools who faced each other on the field of athletic competition every season. With the Oregon School Activities Association's coming decision on reclassification for the 2018-2022 time block, the two long-time canine adversaries are seemingly on a crash course to be reunited once again.
Nearly every high school around the state will be affected in some way by the OSAA's looming reclassification decision in October, and Woodburn and North Marion are no exception. The two have been locked together in redistricting models for half a year and appear to be set to join the newly-created Tri-Valley Conference when the OSAA makes its final decision in three months.
While the organization's Classification Committee still has two meetings left before it makes its final recommendation to the OSAA, the current supported model would have Woodburn and North Marion joining Estacada, Madras and Molalla high schools in a newly-configured Tri-Valley Conference beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
Woodburn looks to be more competitive by moving down to 4A level
Woodburn's move from the Mid-Willamette Conference would mean a dramatic shift for the Bulldogs, dropping down to the 4A classification after playing at the 5A level since the OSAA went to a six-classification model in 2006.
Woodburn High School projects to have an average daily membership (ADM) of 1,256 students, which actually puts the Bulldogs on par with schools at the 6A level, but the school has played in the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference for the past 11 seasons in an effort to compete on a playing field that more aligns with the school's programs.
While the boys soccer team has thrived at the 5A level, winning state championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016, many more athletic programs for the Bulldogs have had difficulty staying competitive. The school's softball, baseball and football programs have all petitioned to play independent schedules in that time frame, while other programs such as volleyball, girls basketball and girls tennis have struggled to win games with consistency in the past decade.
Part of the reason is that while Woodburn's ADM is at the 6A level, its participation level in many sports more closely aligns with schools at the 4A classification, which is why the Woodburn athletic office petitioned the OSAA to drop down a classification. Several Woodburn coaches have expressed support for the idea, noting that it will help many athletic programs play against teams that match their abilities on the field of play.
"I believe it will be a very good move for the volleyball program to be in 4A," Woodburn volleyball coach Doyle Tracy said. "Having coached in both 4A and 5A, I am sure that 4A will be a much better fit for us."
The volleyball program has finished at the bottom of the conference standings every year since joining the Mid-Willamette Conference in 2006, winning just two league games in the past 11 seasons.
"The move to 4A combined with the consistent coaching staff and those players that also play club season will inevitably push us toward a good future for the volleyball program," Tracy said.
Woodburn football coach Nick Federico agrees, and has pushed the Bulldogs to play against potential 4A teams in the past two seasons since the football program went to an independent schedule. Last year, Woodburn played against Gladstone, Estacada, Crook County and Molalla — four of the five members of the current Tri-Valley Conference.
The football team went 1-3 against those teams, beating Crook County 43-18 and losing 20-13 to Molalla while falling by margins of 56-0 and 38-7 against Gladstone and Estacada, respectively.
"That's why we went independent these two years," Federico said. "When people are barking at us, asking why a school with so many kids is going down and playing 4A when it's not fair, that's why I jumped into the Tri-Valley, because I want those coaches to know us and not fear us. When we do reclassify, they're not going, 'Well this isn't fair.' No, it's fair. It's a competitive game. Nobody got hurt. Each team was successful. It was a good deal."
North Marion lost in the reclassification shuffle again
For the Huskies, the move back to the Tri-Valley Conference would represent the third consecutive time the school has been reshuffled during reclassification discussion.
North Marion had been a part of the Capital Conference for 28 years before moving to the Tri-Valley Conference from 2010-14. During the previous reclassification discussion, the school was moved to the Oregon West Conference for the 2014-18 time block. Now it appears that the Huskies will be on the move once again, returning to the Tri-Valley for another four-year stint, this time with slightly different teams.
The move was greeted with mixed feelings among some of the coaches at North Marion, some of whom have grown accustomed to the high-level of competition that Oregon West schools Cascade, Stayton, Philomath, Newport and Yamhill-Carlton bring to the table.
"It's not a rub on what league I'm going into, but the Oregon West Conference is a pretty tough conference," North Marion girls basketball coach Trevor Bodine said. "I wish we were still in the same league, but it is what it is. There's nothing we can do about it; we just have to play who is in front of us and do the best we can."
A rivalry reborn
Prior to 2000, Woodburn and North Marion had been longtime conference rivals, separated by a five-mile stretch of Boones Ferry Road.
The two teams played against each other in the former 3A Capital Conference from 1982 to 2000 and in the A-2 District 8 Conference from 1956 to 1970.
"I love the fact that we'd be back in a league with Woodburn," North Marion baseball coach Randy Brack said. "The kids who are in place now, they don't realize how those games in all sports used to be for all those years when Woodburn was in a league with us.
"It's community building," he continued. "If it's a football game, you can guarantee it's going to be a sellout. If it's a basketball game, you can guarantee it's going to be a sellout."
Federico echoed Brack's excitement at the idea of revitalizing the old Boones Ferry rivalry. A graduate of South Salem High School, Federico remembers the annual rivalry football game against North Salem for the coveted Mayor's Cup each fall.
With Woodburn and North Marion set to play against each other each year, Federico would relish seeing a similar trophy passed between the two schools.
"That's the only game you care about," Federico said. "You don't care if you lose every game; that game you have to win. It's that rivalry that we don't have."
"I think that would be a good rivalry to get going again," North Marion football coach Doug Bilodeau said. "Something like that, what would we call it? The Pudding River Trophy? The Hops Cup? Something that's localized."
The OSAA's Districting and Classification Committee still has two more meetings left in August and September before making its final recommendations to the OSAA Board of Directors.
The individual teams in the Tri-Valley are still very much in flux, but with Woodburn's drop to the 4A level combined with its history and proximity to North Marion, it appears that the longtime rivalry is all but assured to be renewed next season.
"Finally we have a rival," Brack said. "In the three different leagues we've been in, we've had no rival like where Woodburn is. In that part, I'm really excited."