It's a thought that must have occurred to many Eugene residents who have made the long, tiring - and, these days, expensive - drive to Medford this summer: This is the same trip that Sheldon High School and South Eugene High School student-athletes, coaches, families and fans will make in the coming school year.
Well, not exactly the same trip. During the winter, ice and snow on Interstate 5 will often make the long trip even longer. And more hazardous.
Under the best of conditions, it's a three-hour drive to Medford. Add in time for dressing, warm-ups, athletic contests and meals, and some trips will consume a full day and require students to miss chunks of class time.
It's hardly surprising then that South Eugene High School recently reported a drop in early registration for fall sports, with some parents reassessing the toll that athletics will take on their children under the Oregon School Activities Association's misguided new six-class system.
It's lamentable, yet understandable, that some Sheldon and South Eugene parents may decide it's not in their children's best interests to play interscholastic sports. Or that some may transfer their children to one of the remaining Midwestern League schools, which will continue to compete against traditional rivals in the Eugene-Springfield area.
As schools begin fall sports practices for the first time under the new system, it's worth reflecting on how easily this mess could have been avoided - and on the high cost of forging ahead with a plan that runs so starkly counter to the best interests of schools in Eugene, Medford and Salem-Keizer.
The realignment was prompted by genuinely disturbing competitive imbalances in football under the four-class system. Instead of creating a new classification for football only, or pursuing a more modest five-class reorganization for all sports, the OSAA embarked on a radical restructuring that met the needs of most schools across the state but ignored those of Eugene, Medford and Salem-Keizer schools.
Insisting she had no legal alternatives, a politically timid state schools chief, Susan Castillo, upheld the plan. While it's unclear if Castillo had the authority under state law to overrule the OSAA action, it's abundantly clear that she could have used her office and influence to intercede far more vigorously and effectively than she did.
The Oregon Board of Education expressed reservations but ultimately approved the fundamentally flawed plan. Like Castillo, the board did so even though the criteria that were supposed to guide the reclassification effort - including minimizing losses in class time and travel costs, and maintaining existing league rivalries - were ignored when it came to Eugene, Medford and Salem-Keizer schools.
To its credit, the board at least fired a warning shot over the OSAA's bow. The board granted the nonprofit organization only a one-year approval instead of the normal five years, and pledged to review its rules and bylaws as well as its criteria for placing schools in leagues.
An appeal filed by the Eugene, Medford and Salem-Keizer is expected to drag on through much of the school year. The cost of that appeal is substantial and growing - the districts have spent $185,000 in legal fees thus far.
Despite the cost, the districts were right to appeal. There's good reason to hope the courts will overturn the OSAA plan, which needlessly sacrifices the interests of the Eugene, Medford and Salem-Keizer districts in order to create a plan that meets the needs of the rest of the state.
That's too heavy a price to pay - and it's a price that should have been unacceptable to the OSAA, to the state superintendent of schools and the Board of Education.
For now, it's a price that students, parents, coaches and fans from Sheldon and South Eugene - and their counterparts in Medford and Salem-Keizer - will have to pay starting this fall.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; OSAA's misguided reorganization begins this fall|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 24, 2006|
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