Does time go by fast or what?
Just over three months ago I packed up my car and drove more than 2,000 miles across the country for my first ‘real job’ and now my first fall sports scene in eastern Oregon is dwindling by the day.
As it stands, just two area schools remain in competition — Heppner and Stanfield football — and we’re already beginning to turn our attention towards the fast-approaching winter sports season.
As I am writing this, I am putting the finishing touches of my last day of work for the next 12 days. I’m traveling back to Ohio today to get married over the weekend — and I’m hoping one or both of those teams are still alive by the time I get back.
But I’ve had some time to reflect on what has happened over my first prep sports season here in Oregon, and I thought I would share some thoughts from the season.
First off, I quickly came to realize just how good the Heppner Mustangs football team is.
I had heard the talk from other sports reporters here at the EO about how good they were and how much support the team gets from the town, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the landscape yet to grasp their dominance.
As the season went along, it became more and more clear seeing blowout after blowout and seeing numerous players fill up the stat sheets night-in and night-out.
On Saturday afternoon I finally got to see the Mustangs with my own eyes, and I’m buying the hype.
The Mustangs thumped a Monroe Dragons team 55-14 in the first round on Saturday — the same Monroe team that lost to the No. 1 seed Central Linn just 16-6 and lost to the No. 6 seed Lost River 29-26.
Heppner succeeds because of the depth it has at the skill positions — which is incredible for a 2A school — and because of a rock solid head coach.
Greg Grant is the coach that never stops. Grant — in his 25th year in Heppner — one of the few prep coaches I’ve seen that actively coach and yell during warm-ups before games, and the only coach that will continue to yell at his team when it’s winning by more than 40 points in the second quarter.
Looking at all of Heppner’s postseason success brought me to compare the differences between the playoff system here in Oregon to the system I grew up with back in Ohio.
Obviously, there are a lot more schools in Ohio’s athletic association, the OHSAA. In their system, schools are divided into seven divisions based on male enrollment, and then are split up into 26 total regions within the divisions with about 30 schools in each region.
But unlike in Oregon, if a school wins its conference or league the only accolade that comes with the win is a trophy and bragging rights — not a trip to the postseason. In fact, most conferences or leagues are comprised of schools in different divisions, instead being based on distance.
The conference my alma mater is in, for instance, has schools in Division II, Division III, Division IV, and Division V, which would be the equivalent to having Hermiston, Pendleton, Mac-Hi, Umatilla, Stanfield, and Heppner all in the same league.
It’s not always the most equal competition, but it is great on travel, which is something else that struck me early on here.
The furthest distance I remember traveling for a league game in high school was roughly 45 minutes, and the furthest for a playoff game was never more than two hours tops.
So I can’t imagine being a Pendleton volleyball or soccer player and having to sit on a school bus for two-plus hours for mid-week games to Hood River or The Dalles. Or I can’t imagine Weston-McEwen players sitting on a bus for four hours to travel all the way to Culver for a league game, getting back to Athena real late, and then having to get up early and go back to school the next morning.
But enough of me rambling. The fall sports season was a pretty memorable one, filled with screw-ups, numerous wrong turns, and some pretty competitive action all the way around. I’m looking forward to what the winter sports can follow up with.
Contact Eric Singer at email@example.com, (541) 966-0839, or follow on Twitter @ByEricSinger.