An Adrian baseball player at practice. It's the first time in several years that there have been enough boys to field a team. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel)

ADRIAN – The Adrian School Board, frustrated by Oregon’s Covid policies, is considering shifting its sports teams to the Western Idaho Conference of the Idaho High School Athletic Association.

The Idaho association allows schools more leeway to decide how to enforce pandemic-related guidelines. Adrian is bridling at continued restrictions imposed by the Oregon School Activities Association on high school competitions.

Peter Weber, OSAA executive director, said that one other Oregon school district, Hermiston, had left the association in favor of another state’s, but that change predated Covid. Hermiston, near the border with Washington, now plays in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. 

Six school districts outside Oregon play in Oregon School Activities Association conferences. 

“There has been frustration this past year with what has happened with athletics in Oregon and the way the board feels that student athletes have been treated,” said Adrian Superintendent Kevin Purnell. “They’re frustrated by our inability to compete as we have in the past, when we look across the border eight or 10 miles away and kids are competing in a normal fashion.”

While the OSAA has preserved all of its activities so far in some fashion, seasons were delayed, spectators limited, and masking policies enforced at all their events. 

There are also “side benefits” to joining Idaho, according to Purnell. 

“It would decrease our travel expenses a great deal,” he said. That means “more time in the classroom for kids and less time on the road.”

Adrian now plays in the High Desert League, which includes school as distant as Ukiah and Monument – nearly 200 miles from Adrian. 

Purnell said that the move was something the Adrian School Board had discussed for some time when the question of those travel expenses came up, but “this is definitely a response to the mandates that have been put down by the governor’s office and the (Oregon Health Authority) and basically how the OSAA has had to follow those.” 

“I was worried about the timing at first of getting into schedules, making it happen,” said Aimee Esplin, athletic director at Adrian High School. “The more I look at it, there is a lot of benefit to going that direction, and I think for our students, and our coaches, and our parents, and our community that they would have an option to attend (games) easier. It is pretty incredible to look at the mileage difference. I’m getting more and more excited about it.”

Purnell, however, said that it was unlikely that Adrian would make the move as soon as next year. 

The process to switch affiliations is lengthy, and the Idaho High School Athletic Association meets infrequently. Ty Jones, its executive director, said that Adrian would have to compile a letter from both the conference they’re currently in and the conference they’d want to join in Idaho, alongside a letter from the Oregon State Activities Association, before the Idaho High School Activities Association’s board could consider whether to approve their membership. 

“We’ll wait to see if they turn anything in,” Jones said. “We’re kind of waiting on them. We’re not actively pursuing anybody.”

Although some board members raised the concern that OSAA might “sanction” the Adrian district for seeking to leave, Weber said that’s not how the association works.  

“We’re a voluntary association, so if a school didn’t want to be a member, they obviously don’t have to be a member of OSAA,” Weber said. 

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577. 

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