Current reclassification proposals would have Bucks playing 11-man football starting in 2014-15

by: WOODBURN INDEPENDENT ARCHIVES - St. Pauls 22-8 victory over Camas Valley in the 1A State Championship game was the second of back-to-back state titles. Last year, the Bucks returned to the title game for a third time in four years. A move to 2A would not only mean a change in style for the Buckaroos, but also a new level of competition for the schools formidable football team.New reclassification numbers will not become official until December, but it is looking increasingly likely that the St. Paul School District will make the move from 1A to 2A for the start of the 2014-15 school year.

The OSAA’s Classification and Districting Committee is set to resume meetings in September as they tinker with enrollment numbers for Oregon’s six athletic classifications. The committee has been working on draft proposals since last December for the next four-year block beginning a year from now, and all but one draft has set the new cutoff for 1A schools at an adjusted enrollment of 90 students.

St. Paul High School’s current adjusted enrollment numbers sit at 93, meaning that if the current proposals stay consistent, the Buckaroos will be competing at the larger 2A level next year. The potential move does not sit well with the St. Paul School Board and Tony Smith, St. Paul’s athletic director and football coach.

“Our board has made it really clear that we like being a 1A school, we want to stay a 1A school. It’s a good fit for our community and for the history of our school,” said Smith in 2012 when the first proposal was drafted. “That’s definitely our goal to stay there.”

Fortunately, the move would likely only be temporary. St. Paul is projected to be under the cutoff in the coming years, and with successful petitions, could move back down to the 1A level in time for the 2016-17 school year.

In the meantime, the Buckaroos will be forced to brace for a potential move that would affect every sport at St. Paul. The biggest impact would be on the football field, where the Bucks will be forced to move from playing eight-man football to the more traditional game with 11 players on each side of the ball.

St. Paul football has become synonymous with success at the eight-man level. The Buckaroos have been to at least the quarterfinals of the 1A playoffs every year since 2006, including three trips to the state championship game in the past four years. The Bucks won back-to-back state titles in 2009 and 2010, and have a long history of eight-man football since 1982.

by: WOODBURN INDEPENDENT ARCHIVES - Head coach Tony Smith has appealed the OSAA to keep St. Paul, Perrydale and other 1A schools from potentially Moving up to 11-man football. He argues that safety for some schools with low turnout and tradition for schools like St. Paul should trump student enrollment figures.Before that, the Buckaroos played 11-man football at the 2A level from 1970 through 1981. The school was able to field competitive teams in that time span, making trips to the semifinals in 1974 and 1981, but success was much less consistent in the years between.

“It’s not going to be the end of the world,” said Smith. “Obviously the level of competition will be higher. I think in all of our sports, that’s going to have to raise the commitment of everything we do from our kids and our coaches.”

Under the most recent proposal released in May, St. Paul would play in the Tri-River Conference in 2014-15 along with schools like Kennedy, Regis, Santiam and Western Mennonite. The Buckaroos already compete in the Tri-River Conference for baseball, but the move to football would likely mean the end to St. Paul’s traditional rivalries in the 1A Casco League.

For Smith, the issue is less about staying at perennial football power and more about maintaining tradition and preserving rivalries.

“I think it really boils down to a tradition and a desire to play that same game,” said Brad Garrett, assistant executive director at OSAA. “That is pitted against the fact that the OSAA uses a process to classify schools based on their enrollment.”

Another issue affecting the reclassification decision is whether certain schools would be able to even make the move from eight-man to 11-man football. St. Paul’s current Casco rival, Perrydale, knocked the Bucks out of the playoffs in 2011 en route to a trip to the state championship that year. But under the current proposals, Perrydale would be one of seven 1A schools making the transition to 2A next year, and Smith isn’t sure the Pirates have the numbers to safely field an 11-man team.

“I think setting those numbers for the 1A, where they’ve set it, is going to make it difficult for a lot of schools to field a team, and I didn’t think that was right that they should set up a system that doesn’t allow schools to participate in the system — not be competitive, but not participate,” he said.

Further complicating matters is the fact that schools like Perrydale and St. Paul can effectively control the number of transfer students they accept in the school district, said Garrett, meaning they could reduce future enrollment to ensure they would be under the 1A cutoff. That would mean less money from state, which uses student enrollment figures to calculate district funding.

“The bottom line is, if you have the ability to control your own enrollment, then you have the ability to essentially make the decision if you want to play 8-man football,” said Garrett. “But obviously there are complications with that as well, because there’s dollars involved with that. So it’s a little bit of a quandary as they try to work through it.”

While the Classification and Districting Committee won’t make its official decision until December, it appears the landscape of high school football in Oregon is on the verge of changing. Whether that change is just a shuffling of schools within classifications or a larger movement within the system remains to be seen.

“It’s really a unique time in the OSAA in terms of looking into those issues,” said Garrett. “The OSAA itself has to continue to review how it operates and what it does. Just because you’ve done something for 70 years doesn’t make it right.”

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