MILTON-FREEWATER — The Mac-Hi football team has had enough of league play — at least for the time being.
This season, the Pioneers are breaking free of the Greater Oregon League in favor of playing independently. They’ll say goodbye to league standings, a shot at the 4A state title, and their former GOL rivals starting this fall.
It was a decision that was made after the conclusion of their most recent season, in which they went without a win — 0-8 overall and 0-6 in the league. That record saw them finish fourth, behind Baker, Ontario, and the league champions in La Grande (7-3, 5-1 GOL).
“We kept going to the sidelines against teams like Ontario, with 60 guys,” Mac-Hi athletic director and head football coach Gary Robertson said. “Meanwhile, we’re standing there with 20 guys. The other teams had 20 guys that were seniors. We put ourselves in a bad, bad situation. At the end of the day, we were undermanned. Until we get more players, this is how it’s going to be.”
During a February meeting, the OSAA Executive Board gave the Pioneers the go-ahead to leave the league and play their season independently. Instead of facing their usual three opponents in league play this season, they’ll face an entirely new set of teams from across the state.
Their upcoming season, which includes four home games and five away, will pit the Pioneers against Madras, Tillamook, Philomath, Stanfield, Siuslaw, Henley, Phoenix, North Valley, and Washington’s Kiona-Benton.
“It was interesting,” Robertson said of the OSAA meeting. “They (the OSAA) were the ones that brought the idea to my attention. I never knew it was an option. We had several meetings about it.”
Things finally fell into place, and Mac-Hi’s next season’s schedule has been set. They’ll open play with a home jamboree against Stanfield on Aug. 31, followed by a home game against Madras on Sept. 6. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“The OSAA stepped in to help piece together the schedule,” Robertson said. “We’re playing teams that we normally never play because they’re so scattered around the state of Oregon. I feel very good about the teams that we’re going to compete against.”
The Pioneers have gone without a win since Sept. 22, 2017, when they took down Riverside/Ione 35-6 in a nonleague game. According to OSAA records, they have not won a GOL game since before 2013.
Robertson said his biggest concern was keeping his team’s roster filled with enough athletes.
“Soccer is more popular over here,” Robertson said. “I’d love to have kids come out in participate (in football), but we’re not getting enough. Frankly, between all of the boys last year, our participation was down 20 percent. We only had 12 guys on our wrestling team.”
Mac-Hi’s football team is the only one in the school that will be affected by the deal. Every other sport in the school remains a part of the GOL.
Instead of a shot at the postseason, the Pioneers’ football program will simply begin preparations for the next season, Robertson said.
“This is for our kids to have success moving forward,” Robertson said. “Hopefully soon, we’ll have 30-40 kids in our football program.”