Ione boys basketball

Donald McElligott (10), of Ione, goes up for a jumper against Nixyaawii on Dec. 27, 2016, in Mission. Basketball is one of the three sports that Arlington will be joining the Cardinals for this year.

IONE — Small schools have been joining forces for years to make sure their athletes have an opportunity to play.

Two years ago, Ione co-opted with Riverside for football, and last year the Cardinals were able to field a team of their own at the 1A 8-man level.

This year, Arlington needed a partner, and found a home with Ione for football, volleyball and boys and girls basketball.

“It was really important for us to have somewhere for our student athletes to play,” Arlington football coach Ben Tucker said. “We are thankful the school administrations were able to work it out. They had a plan in place before the end of school last year. They worked it out pretty quickly.”

Ione athletic director Ryan Rudolf said Arlington came to them during basketball season last year to propose co-opting for fall and winter sports.

“We co-opted with them in the early 2000s,” Rudolf said. “It kind of worked out quickly. We wanted to make sure we weren’t going to have to bump up to 2A. That was important to both of us.”

When teams co-opt, one school absorbs the student body enrollment of the other. The cutoff for 1A schools is 89 students. Ione has about 60 students, and with the addition of Arlington, it still was able to stay under that number.

In addition to enrollment numbers, the OSAA also factors in free and reduced lunches. With 60 percent of Arlington’s 41 high school students receiving free or reduced lunches, the OSAA subtracts a percentage of that number, leaving Arlington at 35.

Ione’s adjustment leaves it with 53, keeping the schools within the desired 1A level.

Arlington combined with Condon for football in the past, but the Blue Devils were short on players this year, and the few players they do have are playing with Sherman at the 6-man level.

The Honkers will have about seven players join the Ione squad this year, bringing the team count to around 25.

“They are bringing us some good talent,” Ione coach JJ Rosenberg said. “We have about 18 kids and a pretty good quarterback. They are sending us some really good athletes who are willing to play just about anywhere.”

Tucker, who grew up playing football in Alabama, said his players have taken well to the merger.

“These kids come from small farming communities and they know each other,” he said. “Social media keeps them connected. So far, they have been willing to travel (to Ione), but we haven’t started school yet. There may be challenges along the way, but we will work through them.”

Rosenberg said they hope to ease the travel pains once the season begins.

“Since they are co-opting with us, they have been coming here,” said Rosenberg, who noted the distance between schools is about 40 miles. “Once school starts, we are going to try and make an effort to go there once a week.”

The teams went to football camp together at Eastern Oregon University, and have been working out together over the summer. Official practice begins Monday.

The team will open the season on Sept. 6, playing Powder Valley in a nonleague game at 4 p.m. at Hermiston High School. On Sept. 28, the Cardinals will play Cambridge, Idaho, in a nonleague game at 4 p.m. at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. Both fields have artificial turf, which is not common at the 1A level.

“We are really excited about both of those games,” Rosenberg said. “They have never played on turf before.”

“That is a treat for the guys,” Tucker added. “The big stadiums and playing on turf is a different feeling and a different atmosphere. They are pretty excited to play at Hermiston and Eastern.”

The Cardinals will begin Special District 3-West play on Sept. 20 at Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii.

The Ione/Arlington volleyball team will open its season Aug. 30 at the Dufur Classic. Big Sky League play begins Sept. 10 at Mitchell/Spray.

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