The Canby Cougars’ (hopefully) triumphal entry into 5A play will have to wait. Thanks to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the Oregon School Activities Association announced Thursday it will not require schools to participate in their assigned leagues and special districts in 2020-21.
The change applies to all sports for the modified 2020-21 season — but will probably affect Canby’s football team more than most of the school’s other activities because of a recent league change.
Canby had been slated to join an eight-team special district that included Wilsonville, Hillsboro, Scappoose, St. Helens, Forest Grove, McKay and North Salem. However, the OSAA is directing athletic programs to prioritize local and regional play — even if it means competing outside of a school’s classification.
“I think many schools will continue to play in their league because their leagues make sense, but there are some areas where you may be crossing four or five counties within a league,” OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber said. “If you can play closer to home, that’s probably a better fit at this point.”
Although the new schedule has not yet been set, the change will probably set Canby’s football team up for at least a few rematches with its more traditional Three Rivers League opponents such as Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Oregon City, Lakeridge and West Linn — who play in the larger 6A classification.
Canby is part of the Three Rivers League for most other sports, but was given the option to play down for football (temporarily) after a rough stretch in which the Cougs won only four games in three seasons.
Reached this week, head football coach Jimmy Joyce told The Canby Current he expects to settle on a hybrid schedule that would incorporate some 5A opponents and — maybe — some Three Rivers League teams. The schedule won’t be finalized for another month or two, Joyce said.
Canby will likely be far from the only team engaging in contests outside of their classification, so the OSAA has also opted not to use its traditional power ranking system for 2020-21.
The decision removes the incentive to travel and boost a team’s ranking, but also means sports must devise a different plan to determine playoff seeding and qualifying for potential culminating-week events. Contingency groups from each sport already have discussed forming committees — composed of athletic directors and coaches — to assume the task.
The culminating-week issue was one of the main topics of discussion during a delegate assembly of member schools that occurred earlier this week.
“The messages that we got pretty loud and clear from those groups was wanting to have some type of meaningful event for kids,” Weber said. “They know that it may not look like traditional state championships. It may not be a state championship at all in some activities. The message was more about maximizing the participation opportunities.”
The OSAA is currently in Season 1, an open period for all sports that started Aug. 31 and goes through Dec. 27. Practice for Season 2 — which includes winter sports wrestling, basketball, swimming, dance/drill and cheerleading — is set to begin Dec. 28.
Currently, the Oregon Health Authority prohibits contact sports. All winter sports fall into that category — except for swimming.
The OHA also does not permit indoor sports competitions for schools with comprehensive distance learning. Under current guidance, the only winter sport that would be allowed is swimming for schools with hybrid or on-site learning.
The OSAA is hopeful to make a decision about Season 2 on or before the next meeting of the executive board Dec. 7. Weber said that “something will need to change” in the state guidance for all winter sports to participate.
“It’s Oct. 15, so there’s still time,” Weber said. “We know that schools and communities want to have answers to what everything is going to look like. Frankly, we would like that, too. Not that we want to push it off, but the longer you can wait and hopefully try to get to yes, the better off we are. If you can wait as long as feasible, I think the board is willing to try to do that.”