June 11, 2003 11:00 pm

People often express concerns about diminishing returns in Oregon's educational system.

Although state general fund dollars have been declining in Oregon public schools for several years, it is apparent that the quality of education has remained high, especially in rural Oregon. How do we know?

This week the Oregon School Activities Association announced the winners of the prestigious 2003 Oregonian Cup. And in the 3A category for the second time since the cup's inception, La Grande High School took top honors. (LHS won the cup in the competition's inaugural year of 1999.)

The competition is based on athletic and non-athletic state championships and the participants' academic performances.

La Grande students scored 3,907 points; a whopping 603 points ahead of second-place Tillamook. La Grande was powered into first place by the boys swimming team and the a cappella choir, after both groups won their third straight state title in each event. Also adding points were the boys golf team, the band and the volleyball team, which all finished third in the state. Not to be outdone, the boys swimming team maintained an awesome 3.82 grade point average, the best at any level in the state. The boys basketball team maintained a solid 3.75 grade point average.

The Oregonian Cup shows how highly-motivated students supported by highly-motivated teachers can prove to be a successful combination.

Lest you think that only La Grande High School is doing well, schools in Union and Wallowa counties also fared well in the Oregonian Cup challenge. Wallowa High School placed third, Powder Valley was fifth, Cove 11th, Enterprise 17th, Imbler 23rd and Joseph 24th in their respective OSAA categories. We applaud the efforts of both students and teachers throughout the area for such an outstanding school year.

No disappointment

A brass band made up of kids? Why bother to show up at McKenzie Theatre at 7:30 tonight to hear the Fundacion Brass Band of Ecuador, made up of 26 children, ages 7 and older?

Because this kids' band is very, very good.

As Eastern Oregon University music professor Peter Wordelman pointed out, the group is not what anyone would consider a typical fifth- or seventh-grade band. Wordelman, who has been on assignment in Ecuador, said he was pleasantly surprised when he first heard the band. "The students picked up their horns and played some very complicated music at a very high level."

Those paying the $5 admission charge at the door tonight and hearing these youngsters play won't be disappointed.