December 09, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Falling enrollment is altering Northeast Oregon's high school sports picture.

The Oregon School Activities Association's executive committee voted Monday to move Imbler, Joseph and Pine Eagle high schools from the 2A to the smaller 1A classification. The change takes effect beginning with the 2004-05 school year.

"I couldn't be happier. It will allow the students to be more competitive and make if safer for them in football,'' said Imbler School District Superintendent Larry Glaze.

The 1A level is for high schools with 115 and fewer students. The 2A level is for high schools with 116 to 325 students.

Imbler, Joseph and Pine Eagle will likely move from the Class 2A Wapiti League to the Class 1A Old Oregon League.

Imbler High School (grades 9-12) has 99 students, down 13 from last year. Joseph has 112 students, down about six from last year. Pine Eagle has 104 students, 26 fewer than a year ago.

Joseph High School athletic director Rhonda Shirley said she is happy with the decision but was hoping that the OSAA would have moved her school to the Class 1A level starting with the 2003-04 academic year. The OSAA's executive committee deadlocked at 5-5 in a vote to move Imbler and Joseph to Class 1A in 2003-04.

The executive committee delayed the classification moves for one year to make sure that enrollment at any of the the high schools does not quickly jump over the maximum standard, Glaze said.

"They wanted to make sure that the enrollment was solid,'' Glaze said. "There should not be any question.''

Imbler and Joseph teams have competed in the Class 2A Wapiti League for more than 20 years. Pine Eagle, which has has been in the Wapiti League for most of the past 20 years, was in the Old Oregon League for four years in the early 1990s before moving back to Class 2A.

Pine Eagle Athletic Director Duane Miles was also hoping that the OSAA could have moved his high school to Class 1A a year sooner. Concern for safety of the high school's football players when playing larger schools is the main reason.

Pine Eagle will move out of the Wapiti League in football in 2003 and play an independent schedule of eight-man football, Miles said.

The Joseph School District is considering doing the same thing with football in 2003, Shirley said.

Imbler High School will remain in the Wapiti League for football in 2003, Glaze said. The Panthers finished in a three-way tie for the Wapiti League title this fall.

The OSAA executive committee also voted Monday to approve petitions allowing Gilchrist High School to move from Class 2A to 1A and for Glide and Lakeview high schools to move from Class 3A to 2A. All of the changes approved take effect in 2004-05.

The executive committee approved the petitions by a 9-1 vote. The committee did so after coming within one vote of approving a proposal to make the moves effective for 2003-04.

Travel concerns

Moving to the Old Oregon League will mean that Imbler, Joseph and Pine Eagle would have to travel greater distances for competitions. This problem may be addressed by the OSAA before 2004-05. On Monday the OSAA was directed by its executive committee to look into league realignment because of how the changes made Monday will impact the Wapiti and Old Oregon leagues.