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OSAA athletics plan needs to be reorganized.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Tom Lininger For The Register-Guard

The Oregon School Activities Association executive board will decide today whether to adopt a new classification system for high school sports. The plan would remove Sheldon and South Eugene from the Midwestern Conference and add them to a new conference that stretches all the way to Medford. The OSAA would create a separate conference that would include other local schools, including Churchill, North Eugene, Springfield and Thurston.

The reclassification would require some Eugene kids to ride a bus three hours each way when they play opponents in Southern Oregon. In other words, the Portland Trail Blazers would travel more quickly to their division games than would kids at Sheldon and South Eugene.

Where did this plan come from? OSAA officials are understandably concerned about matching opponents based on size. But the new classification would bring so many disadvantages that OSAA should go back to the drawing board.

One problem is that half-day bus rides would encroach on instructional time. OSAA should remember the order of the words in the phrase "student-athlete." Kids who miss a half day of school every Friday will suffer academically.

Another significant drawback of the proposal is that parents may not be able to attend road games. Few jobs allow employees to skip a half day of work on a regular basis. And if parents can juggle their work schedules, they may not be able to reconcile their teenager's sports schedule with their younger child's Kidsports schedule.

When parents can't attend road games, high school children will need to stay overnight at hotels without parental supervision - a prospect that makes many families anxious.

Consider safety issues as well. The stretch of highway between Eugene and Medford includes a mountain pass. The climb just north of Grants Pass is tough for a school bus, especially in the winter months. The present classification makes sense because it puts all but one of the teams in the Southern Oregon Conference on one side of the pass, and 100 percent of the Midwestern Conference on the other side of the pass. The new plan would require several bus loads of kids to cross the pass every week. And even if the road were completely flat, let's remember that highway accidents claim more lives than any other category of mishaps in the United States.

Cost is a significant issue. The price of gas is higher than ever. Hotel rooms are expensive, too. Will the families of athletes have to pay a higher cost, in which case sports may become prohibitively expensive for some families? Or will schools foot the bill, in which case sports may have to divert resources from the classroom?

The proposed reclassification would end crosstown rivalries that promote friendships and integrate our community. After the 1998 shootings at Thurston High School, there was an outpouring of support for Thurston from families all over Lane County.

I believe that one reason for this empathy is that families all over the county had been to the Thurston campus, and they viewed the Thurston families as their neighbors.

There's no precedent for the new classification. Five generations of my family have lived in Oregon. We've attended large schools and small schools in different parts of the state. Many of us have played high school sports. But I'm not aware that any of us has ever needed to travel three hours for an in-conference game.

Why should the fifth generation of my family be the first to travel such long distances for conference games? It doesn't make sense to dramatically increase in travel time while the state's population density is steadily increasing.

And what will the reshuffling gain? Parity in competition is a worthy goal, but the new alignment won't do much to promote parity as compared with the present Midwestern Conference.

The difference between the smallest and largest enrollment among Midwestern Conference schools is now 467 students. Under the new classification systems, Sheldon and South Eugene would join a conference in which the difference between the smallest and largest enrollment is 416 students. The increased parity would be negligible, while the burden on the athletes and their families would be tremendous.

Let's remember that riding a bus is not a sport. A six-hour round trip in which kids are idle defeats the purpose of exercising for one hour.

OSAA needs to get its priorities straight and abandon the proposed classification that would put Sheldon, South Eugene and the Southern Oregon schools in a single conference.

Tom Lininger is a member of the Lane Education Service District Board. He formerly was chairman of the Lane School Boards Association.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 24, 2005
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