SVSJ commentary: Could Washington high school sports get a new member from out-of-state? An Oregon school wants into the club, and we say “Yes”

Mount Si High School sports fans could soon be seeing some changes in the 4A high school sports landscape in Washington, and those changes aren’t going to be coming from anything going on here in the Evergreen State. Instead, those changes come from our neighbors to the south, and we, for one, support these efforts.

The Tri-City Herald today is reporting that the executive board of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, this state’s high school sports governing body, heard yesterday from school and district leaders in Hermiston, OR, who have petitioned the association to become members. Last week, those leaders, representing Hermiston High School, disclosed their plans to local media outlets in eastern Oregon.

What the Hermiston folks want to do is join the WIAA so they can become members of the Tri-Cities based Mid-Columbia Conference. This, according to the local media reports in Oregon, is due to expected reclassification that will see Hermiston become classified in Oregon’s largest high school classification – 6A (equivalent to our 4A here in Washington) – and significant negative impacts for student-athletes and their families that are expected to result from the decision.

Those negative impacts include, since there are no similarly sized teams in their geographical region, being placed in a league that is prominently suburban Portland-based, some 200 miles away, meaning, according to them, significant loss of class time for student-athletes, not to mention dramatically increased costs for travel to road contests. So, with the Tri-Cities league much closer – 40 miles each way – Hermiston leaders believe that a Washington league option makes more sense. And so does the Oregon School Activities Association, their state high school sports governing body, who according to the Portland Oregonian, wrote a letter to WIAA officials on behalf of the district in support of the proposed move.

But here’s the problem: WIAA regulations only allow schools within Washington state to join – not out-of-state schools such as Hermiston. So, the Hermiston folks are here seeking a waiver on those regulations.

While waiving this rule could be a difficult decision for WIAA officials, we look at this case similarly to last spring’s case involving Mount Si High School baseball player Jimmy Boyce. You remember the controversy – he got a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play for his country, New Zealand, in the World Baseball Classic at this time last year, but WIAA rules forbade Boyce from taking that opportunity as it saw him compete with and against professional players. The story gained national attention as Boyce fought the association for the right to compete for Mount Si as a senior last spring despite having participated in the WBC. While Boyce’s season started late as a result of a suspension imposed for the rules violation, the association clearly saw the extenuating circumstances as unique enough that a rule waiver wouldn’t cause a precedent to be set that would undermine the rule, and thus allowed him to play.

We see that as well here in this case. The extenuating circumstances in this case are the travel and its negative impacts on the school. We’ve already discussed the lost class time and financial arguments, but here’s another one – safety. As you all know, the Portland area multiple times already this winter has seen huge ice and snow storms, storms which have forced the closure of I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge, which would be the primary route to and from Portland for Hermiston teams traveling to road games (and vice versa for the Portland teams to and from Hermiston). So how would the OSAA address the potential safety and liability issues resulting from such closures – or travel for those schools’ teams in bad weather during the winter months, especially in the middle of the night? Winters over on the east side of the Cascades can be a little more brutal than they are here on our side of the mountains, and as such, make travel a dicey proposition at times at best. Parents of Hermiston athletes most likely would be concerned about that aspect of this, and as well they should.

We feel that the circumstances we mention here are such that a decision to waive the Washington-only membership requirement wouldn’t cause a precedent of Portland schools perhaps jumping ship and coming north to the Clark County-based Greater St. Helens league. The circumstances are very unique to this one school, Hermiston, and aren’t shared by other schools in Oregon.

The impact for Mount Si sports teams will only happen with state playoffs, but this move is something that definitely could change the landscape and provide the Wildcats with another potential non-conference opponent they could schedule for sports events.

We call on the WIAA’s executive board to issue an approval for this membership request by Hermiston High School.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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