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The request came in a letter dated Jan. 28 addressed to the Oregon School Activities Association. Prior to the letter, Ontario coaching staff met and discussed the play down with Ontario Athletic Director Josh Mink. The letter cites two reasons for the request:
- “With our numbers being larger in the lower classes, Ontario will be more competitive at the 3A level. As the program grows in size, our goal is to return to 4A and be competitive at that level.
- Our hope is that with more competitive football games, we can reignite the excitement for not only Ontario High School Football, but other OHS sports as well. “Success breeds success”, with this opportunity to play at 3A in football, we hope the success we can possibly garner in our football program will only help build competitiveness as well as school spirit for all sports at OHS.”
The request to play down to the 3A level is not unexpected. During the Football Ad Hoc Committee meeting on Jan. 21, Ontario made a listing of schools eligible to request a lower classification due to an in-class winning percentage below 22% in the past two years. For the 2021 regular season, the Tigers finished 1-6 with a lone win over MacHi. In the COVID shortened season of spring of 2021, Ontario finished with a 1-4 record, beating only the Vale Vikings. The Tigers were winless (0-8) in the 2019 regular season.
Related: Ontario Action Photos
The letter states the Ontario football program placed 56 players on the roster in 2021. That number is expected to jump to 62 players on the roster for 2022 and explode to 82 players for 2023 according to the school’s projections.
In the letter, Ontario cites the lack of a football program in the middle school due to COVID shutdown as a problem enticing players to the high school level. The middle school program failed to play in 2020 with football picking back up in 2021.
“We expect to return to the GOL,” said Mink. “We just need a few years to get back on track.”
As with any move in Oregon high school sports, the request from Ontario to have the Tigers move to the Eastern Oregon League has both positive and negative results.
After the decision to move Pendleton down to the Greater Oregon League, Ontario leaving would once again leave the league with only three teams (Baker, La Grande, Pendleton). As the Ad Hoc Committee is strongly looking at add one week to the football season for 2022, the remaining three teams in the GOL will be scrambling to find nonleague games for a longer season. Fans, including easternoregonsports.com, have no desire to return to a season of league teams playing each other twice, or now possibly three times, just to fill a schedule.
Long time football fans in eastern Oregon recall fondly the rivalry games of Vale/Ontario, Nyssa/Ontario, and Burns/Ontario. Fan interest in these games has taken a beating since the Tigers left to the GOL. If the Tiger request is approved, these contests would now be league games with the outcomes having league implications. Fans of the teams would possibly become excited and fill the stands again.
The Ontario request will now be approved/denied by the football Ad Hoc Committee before a recommendation is forwarded to the OSAA Executive Board for final consideration.
Before you go! If you would like to support continuing and expanded high school sports coverage in eastern Oregon for as little as $1 a month click below! Thank you!