By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

What now, Newberg?

On June 3, the athletic directors from the eight high schools in the Class 6A Pacific Conference gathered like dutiful children of a parent on life support to discuss a difficult topic: the parent’s business affairs.

The Pacific Conference has succumbed to Oregon School Activities Association-assisted suicide. It will officially be taken off life support sometime in the next couple of weeks. Born in the fall of 2006, the conference brought together Century, Forest Grove, Glencoe, Hillsboro, McMinnville, Newberg, Tigard and Tualatin to advance their educational goals and provide healthy extracurricular activities, particularly in the realm of sports.

Like a responsible conference, the Pacific saved a little of what it earned. The athletic directors paid bills and closed accounts related to district tennis, golf, and track and field meets. Any expenses that come up will be paid in kind; any money left over in the Pacific Conference’s accounts will be split up among the eight member schools. (That amount stood at $905 in June, according to McMinnville Athletic Director Mark Hinthorn.)

The athletic directors have said their goodbyes, leaving the league to rest in peace. Of course, there will be plenty of reunions on the baseball diamond or the volleyball court, or along a cross country trail, in the next four seasons, at which point the OSAA could change its classification and redistricting system again.

“The last eight years have been outstanding in the Pacific Conference,” Hinthorn said. “We wish everyone well. We know we’ll be hooking up with them again in some way, shape or form.”

“Leaving those relationships is going to be difficult,” Newberg Athletic Director Tim Burke said. “It won’t be the same.”
Classification and districting within the OSAA is akin to putting together a puzzle in which the pieces shrink and grow. School populations get bigger and smaller; districts become richer and poorer. Municipal and county governments have ideas for the schools in their jurisdictions that don’t necessarily align with the goals of athletic competition.

Every so often – going against the laws of puzzles – pieces have to fit by smashing them together with fists. Such was the case when the Portland Interscholastic League, comprised of nine schools of varying populations within Oregon’s largest cities, demanded to participate in Class 6A as a complete league. The OSAA acquiesced, but the PIL’s power play had a ripple effect across the state.

The PIL’s rebirth and Glencoe and Hillsboro high schools’ desire to drop down to Class 5A further split apart the Pacific Conference. In the end, McMinnville and Forest Grove aligned with the five Salem schools, West Albany (moving up from 5A) and McNary to form the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference.

Century and Glencoe joined the Class 6A Metro League, now primarily composed of Beaverton and Hillsboro schools. Hillsboro got its wish, dropping down to the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference. Newberg, Tigard and Tualatin cast their lots with a reconstituted Class 6A Three Rivers League, including Canby, Lake Oswego, Lakeridge, Sherwood (moving up from 5A), St. Mary’s Academy of Portland, and West Linn.

The dust settled, and McMinnville and Newberg found themselves on different sides – a major change from 74 years of sanctioned athletic competition, and another 30 years of general interscholastic competition before that.

“I have yet to hear from anyone in the OSAA what it takes to put teams in a league,” Burke said. “(Forest Grove, Newberg and McMinnville) are all small-college towns. The general makeup of the communities is so similar. What are the challenges, the successes in the building? To me, that’s the purpose of putting leagues together. I’ve never found a purpose by the group making that decision.”

What happens to the rivalry between the two largest schools in Yamhill County, located 17 miles apart, when the Grizzlies and Tigers won’t regularly meet?

“It just seems kind of out of whack,” said Don Rutschman, a McMinnville High School graduate and the Grizzlies’ erstwhile head football and baseball coach. “But I know that happens with the OSAA.”

Newberg’s new scene

McMinnville and Newberg won’t directly compete against each other in football, boys soccer or girls soccer, both athletic directors confirmed to the News-Register. (Full prep schedules have yet to be released.) The two schools’ volleyball teams are not scheduled to play each other, but the possibility of meeting up in tournament play exists. The Grizzlies and Tigers have agreed to schedule boys and girls basketball games for the winter – nonleague, of course.

McMinnville had one nonleague slot in football and filled it with a game against Class 5A Parkrose at home on Oct. 24. Newberg filled one of its two nonleague slots by hosting Class 5A Crescent Valley on Sept. 5.

“It’ll be different,” Burke acknowledged regarding the football schedule. “Honestly, a lot of people are invested in it. That’s something we can’t control.”

Burke is entering his 28th school year at Newberg High and his 17th as athletic director. The Mac-Newberg rivalry has been personal at times – his brother, Sean, used to be the Grizzlies’ athletic director – but also light and friendly. In an interview, Burke jokingly tweaked Mac High by calling it “the other school from Yamhill County.”

Nevertheless, he is befuddled by the decision to separate that other school and Forest Grove from Newberg.

“(The OSAA classification and districting committee) has a criteria – every four years, they change that criteria,” he said. “I don’t understand the wisdom of Forest Grove driving through Newberg for (Greater Valley Conference) games.

“I think the three of us worked pretty hard. It’s still a pretty heated rivalry but in a good way.”

Next year’s trips to Tigard and Tualatin will remain familiar to Newberg. The inclusion of the two Lake Oswego schools, Canby, West Linn and the all-girls St. Mary’s may require a mental adjustment.

“The socioeconomic makeup of the league is different than the one we are used to,” Burke said.

To that end, Burke and his coaches have reinforced a slogan borrowed from the NBA’s Indiana Pacers: “Blue Collar, Gold Swagger.” The first part refers to work ethic; the second entails what Burke calls pride in “what we have accomplished.”

The coaches and administration of Newberg, Burke says, welcome the challenge of the Three Rivers League. At the same time, there is no question that something will be missing.

“One of the schools in our new league called and asked if we wanted to be rivals,” Burke said with a chuckle. “It doesn’t quite work that way.”

Mac in the Valley

Rivalries themselves are extracurricular activities. Rutschman recalled a pair of pranks from the fall of 1970, his senior year at Mac High: a couple of Grizzlies ran a dead rat up the flag pole at Newberg High, and some Tigers retaliated by pouring “NHS” in gasoline onto Wortman Stadium’s grass field.

“I’ve been a part of some great games,” Rutschman said. “There are not many Mac-Newberg games that aren’t very close to being a sold-out house. It’s just a big part of the schedule every year.”

Now, the Grizzlies find themselves without Newberg and with fewer opportunities to play the Tigers – ensconced in a nine-team league for both boys’ and girls’ sports. The Greater Valley Conference was created by joining together McNary, McKay, North Salem, South Salem, West Salem and Sprague high schools with the two former Pacific Conference schools and West Albany.

“We’re joining a conference that’s creating itself,” Hinthorn said. “We’re looking at formats, non-conference schedules, standard operating procedures. We’re not just doing the same thing down in the (Central Valley Conference).

“The Pacific had it dialed in. We’ve got to carry forth those strong practices and enhance colleagues in other domains.”

Which is why, according to Hinthorn, the addition of Forest Grove into the Greater Valley Conference will be invaluable.

“It’s great having a conference colleague to continue on with,” he said. “There’s a strong connection between athletic directors, secretaries, and coaches on and off the field. It’s not just one voice saying how things have been done and speaking to operations of the previous conference.”

What is most striking about the new territory is the impermanence of it all. New schools could open and even close. What might cause the OSAA to reshuffle the deck?

And where does that leave McMinnville and Newberg if it occurs?

“Are we looking at a five-classification system?” Hinthorn asked. “A lot of changes could happen.”

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