ONTARIO — The 2020 football season will see many major changes for local teams, and Ontario started by hiring on one of its most veteran coaches from last year’s high school team.

According to a release from Ontario School District, Greg Simmons has accepted the head coaching job for the Tigers. Simmons is a math teacher at Ontario High School and has been coaching the linemen on the football team for eight years.

Simmons was co-interim coach for the Ontario football team in the fall of 2019 along with Larry Nigro. The duo replaced Tony Cade, who departed from the program on Sept. 25, three weeks into his first season with the Tigers.

“Mr. Simmons has been a trusted part of our Tiger family for the past nine years. He has taken on both teaching and coaching roles, from elementary to high school,” the release states. “He is, and will continue to be an excellent role model for our students, staff and community.”

New league

On Monday, the OSAA’s Executive Board met and voted to approve the proposed football special districts. Part of that proposal was a massive change to the way football looks in eastern Oregon.

The remaining teams of 4A’s Greater Oregon League and 3A’s Eastern Oregon League will combine to form a hybrid league containing Baker, Burns, La Grande, McLoughlin/Griswold, Nyssa, Ontario and Vale. For the 4A teams, the league is Special District 6 while for the 3A teams it is Special District 3.

The hybrid league was created by the schools of eastern Oregon to help the OSAA fix the problem of eastern Oregon teams struggling to find games due to their ever-shrinking districts. Mcloughlin/Griswold had left the GOL, leaving it with three teams while the EOL has already lost Riverside to 2A while Irrigon and Umatilla are also dropping to 2A next fall, leaving the EOL with three teams.

While the hybrid league will contain 4A and 3A teams, they will part ways at the end of the season. The top two 4A teams will qualify for the state tournament while the top two 3A teams will do the same. Each side will also get a chance at an at-large bid depending on the teams’ rankings.

The hybrid league also means that classic rivals Ontario and Vale will return to the same league, meaning their annual rivalry game will have something on the line.

The reason for the amount of current change in the OSAA is because the state has amended its criteria to identify teams eligible to play down a classification for a two-year period. Now any team with a two-year in-classification winning percentage of 22% or lower will have the option to move down a classification.

Teams will be moved back to their original classification if they have a two-year in-classification winning percentage of 66.67% or higher or if a team that is playing down a classification wins an OSAA Football Championship game, regardless of round.

Co-op officially over

The OSAA also officially announced that it will not be granting Adrian and Jordan Valley an exception that would keep the co-op team alive while playing in 1A.

In January, the Adrian School Board opted to disband the co-op team when they were informed that the combined size of Adrian and Jordan Valley high schools was too big to continue competing in 1A, despite only four players from the co-op team coming from Jordan Valley. If the co-op team had continued, the Antelopes would have had to play in 2A, where there is no eight-man football.

“The group did reach consensus that while limited options are available in both situations it is incumbent upon those schools involved to exhaust those options before the Committee would consider creating an exception to their adopted criteria,” the OSAA Executive Board minutes read.

The Antelopes will stay in 1A Special District 3 as just Adrian High School. The change is not so simple for Jordan Valley, who will likely disband the football program for the foreseeable future.

According to Jordan Valley School District Superintendent Rusty Bengoa, the Mustangs wouldn’t be able to even field a six-man team in the fall. Bengoa said it might be four years before Jordan Valley is able to play varsity football again.

Six-man still unofficial

After two years of pilot seasons for six-man football among the OSAA’s smallest schools, the OSAA Executive Committee has decided to keep six-man football as a pilot program through the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

This means that the teams in the six-man leagues will continue to play, but the OSAA will not be sponsoring the state championships. Any championships awarded through the six-man leagues will be unofficial. The meeting minutes state that the OSAA has decided that the leagues will need a minimum of 25 schools before an official championship would be considered.

Nik Streng is a sports and news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4806 or by emailing niklass@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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