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Home arrow Sports arrow PREP arrow Small school hoops in trouble

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Small school hoops in trouble

The big numbers painted on the outside west wall of the Powder Valley High School gym tell the story of Badger basketball.

Each pair of numbers denotes the year a Badger sports team won a state championship.

Powder Valley has been a consistent contender competing against Oregon’s smaller high schools, those with an enrollment of 105 or less.

The Badger boys have won four state hoops titles: 1979, 1980, 1994 and 2009.

The girls were state champs in 2006.

But last Friday night in the gym at Baker High School, where each of those past Powder Valley teams had claimed its trophy, a different kind kind of game was played.

Whether the semifinal contest between the Powder Valley boys and Columbia Christian of Portland represents the future of Class 1A basketball in Oregon, or whether it was an anomaly, I can’t say.

I hope it’s the latter.

Because if Columbia Christian’s domination, not only of Powder Valley but of the entire tournament, is anything like what we ought to expect in the years ahead, then the Oregon School Activities Association, which oversees high school basketball, has a major problem.

Columbia Christian, which beat Horizon Christian of Hood River in Saturday’s championship game, routed Powder Valley, 82-48.

Two of the Knights’ first three baskets were slam dunks. They led the Badgers 25-5 after the first quarter.

The key to Columbia Christian’s success is obvious: the Knights were led by two seniors who have signed letters of intent to play Division I college basketball.

Kameron Chatman has committed to Michigan, and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan plans to play for the University of Idaho.

It is exceedingly rare, to be sure, for any Class 1A team in Oregon to have two Division I prospects.

But assembling such a roster is far more feasible for a private school such as Columbia Christian than for a charter school such as Powder Valley.

Actually it’s practically impossible for Powder Valley or any other charter/public school to “assemble” a team because charter/public schools are limited in who they can enroll, based on their district boundaries, in a way private schools are not.

This “recruiting” advantage for private schools is hardly new, of course, nor is there anything nefarious about the practice.

But in sports — and particularly in basketball, where one or two standout players can have an outsized effect on their team’s success — that advantage can be considerable.

History suggests that Columbia Christian’s 2014 roster, and its overwhelming performance, were unique.

Over the past quarter century, which roughly coincides with the proliferation of private schools among the Class 1A ranks, these schools, mostly affiliated with churches of various Christian denominations, have been fixtures at the state tournament.

But these schools haven’t exactly run roughshod over their public school opponents.

Over that 25-year span, private schools won just one girls state title, and three schools finished second.

Private schools have had much more success in the boys tournament, winning eight of the 25 championships and finishing as runner-up 10 times.

Columbia Christian has posted the most impressive record, winning state titles in 2014 and 2010, and finishing second in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Private schools’ record of success in the state tournament is not, however, disproportionate to their overall numbers.

They’ve won 32 percent of boys state championships since 1989. As of 2014, private schools make up 31 percent of Class 1A schools.

But I dissected the statistics a bit more thoroughly and found something interesting.

Of the eight boys state titles won by private schools, six were by schools that belong to The Valley 10 league in the Portland area. This list includes Columbia Christian.

It seems to me that private schools in the Portland area, with a population exceeding 1 million, have an inherent statistical advantage over both public/charter schools, with their geographic limitations, and over private schools in less populated regions.

Simply put, there’s a lot more basketball talent in the metro area, and it stands to reason that private schools there are among the beneficiaries.

I don’t think the OSAA ought to overreact to Columbia Christian’s unprecedented romp through the 2014 boys bracket.

But I worry that the tournament will lose the unpredictability that makes it such a compelling event if private schools such as Columbia Christian continue to put together rosters that ought to be playing against Oregon’s biggest high schools rather than its smallest.

The Knights, by the way, went 2-1 this season against Class 5A teams from the Portland Interscholastic League.

If that’s the future, Powder Valley, in common with schools throughout rural Oregon, won’t be painting numbers on their gyms.

Not for basketball titles, anyway.

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