(Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Salem high schoolers won’t have to take the bus across a mountain range to play sports starting next fall.
The Oregon School Activities Association this week released new athletic classifications which put McNary, North Salem, South Salem, Sprague and West Salem high schools in their own 6A Central Valley Conference.
The changes take effect for the 2022-23 school year and will be in place for four years.
That means local high schools will compete against each other and won’t have to travel to Bend for games, a topic that’s been a source of frustration for many parents and athletes since the current conferences were announced. Currently, five district high schools are in a conference with Bend-La Pine high schools.
“The schools came and testified early on about not wanting to go to Bend,” said Peter Weber, spokesman for the association. But he said the change also reflects Bend-La Pine opening a fourth high school which has lowered enrollment at other district schools enough to bump them down to 5A.
Under the new system, McKay High School will drop down to 5A, despite being the largest high school in the district. Weber said the association allows schools “that have a lack of success in their programs” to petition to play down in a classification for smaller high schools. McKay successfully petitioned to do so, he said.
McKay’s new conference, the Mid-Willamette Conference, also includes high schools in Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, Silverton and Woodburn, among others.