Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, Philomath High School will be a member of an unfamiliar Oregon West Conference.
Longtime rival Newport remains and so does Stayton, but three new schools enter the fold with Sisters, Sweet Home and Woodburn.
"I'm optimistic about it ... geographically, the travel's not too bad except for Sisters and with just the schools and their traditions, I think they're schools that we can compete with," PHS athletic director Aaron Schermerhorn said.
The Oregon School Activities Association’s executive board voted on a 10-1 decision Oct. 16 in Wilsonville to approve the classification and districting committee’s final proposal for the four-year 2018-22 time block.
Conference showdowns between Philomath and Cascade in sports such as volleyball and football will end. The Cougars are moving up to 5A to the 10-school Mid-Willamette Conference, which will also include Central, Corvallis, Crescent Valley, Dallas, Lebanon, North Salem, Silverton, South Albany and West Albany.
"I think the most input (into realignment discussions) was by the Cascade parents and players," PHS boys basketball coach Blake Ecker said about the process. "I kind of feel bad for them, but Central was in the same boat four years ago as well and their enrollment keeps increasing and they do just fine. In 5A football, they've done just fantastic."
Meanwhile, North Marion will relocate to the Tri-Valley Conference and Yamhill-Carlton drops down to the 3A PacWest Conference.
Class 4A will be made up of six leagues — five with six teams each and the other with four. The classification and districting committee drafted nearly two dozen proposals during the process.
In the revamped Oregon West, Woodburn was granted a waiver to move down from 5A where the school had been part of the Mid-Willamette Conference. Woodburn has by far the largest student numbers in the conference with the OSAA's average enrollment figure of 1,105, which is based on the 2016-17 school year.
Sweet Home at 610, Stayton at 577 and Newport at 515 also have enrollment's larger than PHS, which sits at 416. Sisters has the smallest enrollment figures at 371.
PHS baseball coach Levi Webber said the enrollment difference involving Woodburn doesn't really bother him.
"They haven't been super competitive in sports outside of soccer really, but when there's that many kids going to a school, it doesn't take much to turn it around," Webber said. "You get a certain coach in there and get some interest and in a couple of years, things can turn around."
The difference in campus sizes have more of an impact on team sports that require more athletes on the field of play, say football and soccer versus basketball. That's how Ecker sees it.
"I think basketball-wise, we're fine because we only need five guys out there on the court," Ecker said. "If we had to have 11, it's a little bit different in having that size. So, basketball we can compete much better in any type of situation."
In terms of travel, Sisters will be by far the longest trip at 111 miles and would be especially more challenging during the winter months with a winding highway through a mountain pass. Woodburn is 62 miles down the road from Philomath and the other three schools are less than an hour away.
"It does make you wonder how the travel aspect's going to be," Webber said. "From where I grew up with the amount of travel we had to do, it's not much of an issue to me. It's really going to affect a 7 p.m. basketball game at Sisters on a Tuesday in the middle of February. It can make things a little hairy coming back over the pass."
Over the past decade in athletics, Philomath has won state titles in boys basketball, girls soccer, boys cross-country, girls track and field, boys track field and boys soccer. Among the other schools, Woodburn has been very strong in boys soccer with four 5A titles over the past 10 years. Sisters, Stayton and Newport have also hoisted title trophies in that particular sport.
Volleyball's rivalry loss of Cascade in the conference will be replaced by Sisters, a school that's won state titles four times in the past decade.
In swimming, Sweet Home has been very strong and in fact, swept the boys and girls state titles last season. The Huskies have also traditionally put quality wrestling squads on the mat.
Schermerhorn said work remains to be done to figure out special districts and regionals for teams competing in sports such as swimming, tennis and wrestling.
Cowapa — Astoria, Banks, Seaside, Tillamook, Valley Catholic
Tri-Valley — Corbett, Estacada, Gladstone, Madras, Molalla, North Marion
Oregon West — Newport, Philomath, Sisters, Stayton, Sweet Home, Woodburn
Sky Em — Cottage Grove, Elmira, Junction City, Marist Catholic, Marshfield, Siuslaw
Skyline — Henley, Hidden Valley, Klamath Union, Mazama, North Valley, Phoenix
Greater Oregon — Baker, La Grande, McLoughlin, Ontario