September 10, 2002 11:00 pm

zBy Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

IMBLER — Imbler High School could join the Class 1A Old Oregon League as early as next fall.

The Imbler School Board is considering asking the Oregon School Activities Association to move IHS, which is experiencing falling enrollment, from the Class 2A level to the 1A classification. The 1A level is for high schools with 115 and fewer students. The 2A level is for schools with 116 to 325 students.

"Moving to the Old Oregon League would give our athletes a better chance to compete in the future,'' Imbler High School Principal Mike Mills told the school board, which did not take any action at Tuesday's meeting.

Imbler teams have been competitive in the Class 2A Wapiti League for years. However, the chances of being successful in the future may diminish because of falling enrollment.

IHS now has 99 students, down 13 from the last school year. The high school's enrollment picture will not improve any time soon.

The school is projected to have 99 students in 2003-2004, 108 in 2004-2005, 103 in 2005-2006, 108 in 2006-2007, and 100 in 2007-2008, Mills said.

All of the high school's coaches support making the move to the 1A level, Mills said, adding that the Old Oregon League has submitted a letter supporting Imbler's proposed move.

On Tuesday school board members voiced one primary concern about the move — the fact that IHS teams would would have to travel considerably more.

The longest trips teams would have to make from Imbler would be to Crane, at 494 miles round trip; Jordan Valley, 419 miles; Adrian, 352 miles; and Prairie City, 300 miles.

The four longest trips Imbler has to make to play Wapiti League foes are to Grant Union in John Day, 395 miles round trip; Nyssa, 262 miles; Pine Eagle in Halfway, 220 miles; and Joseph, 125 miles.

Forrest Warren is among the school board members concerned about the long trips.

"My biggest concern is the wear and tear on the kids,'' Warren said.

Board member Kent Coppinger wants to know what could be done to reduce the amount of travel Imbler teams would have to make in the Old Oregon League.

He and other board members want to know, for example, if it would be possible to split the Old Oregon League into two divisions comprised of the schools closest to each other.

The Old Oregon League also includes Cove, Powder Valley and Wallowa high schools. The other members of the Wapiti League are Enterprise, Union, and Elgin.

The OSAA normally changes school classifications every four years. The next scheduled change is in 2006. The OSAA does, however, make changes in other years if schools file petitions. The OSAA's executive board must approve these requests.

The Imbler School District will have to make its request to the OSAA by December to have a chance to move to the 1A classification by the start of the 2003-04 school year.