A reclassification of schools by the Oregon School Activities Association will give the Cowapa League a “Back to the Future” look beginning with the 2022-23 school year.

Out goes Banks and Valley Catholic, in comes St. Helens and Scappoose. Or, rather, a big welcome back to the Lions and Indians, who were members of the Cowapa League almost 20 years ago.

Astoria, Scappoose football

The Astoria Fishermen and Scappoose Indians, shown here facing off in a 2010 football game, will once again be Cowapa League rivals starting next fall.

Because of changes in enrollment, the OSAA reclassifies leagues every four years. The realignment for the next four-year block will give some local leagues a very different look.

No local schools will change leagues or levels, but the 4A Cowapa League will be losing two of its smallest — and most competitive — schools in athletics, as Banks and Valley Catholic drop down to 3A because of declining enrollment.

Two smaller 5A schools, St. Helens and Scappoose, will move down into the Cowapa League.

The Cowapa is “going to look more like it did 20 years ago,” said Astoria athletic director Howard Rub, as the Fishermen prepare for more road trips along U.S. Highway 30.

“I prefer 30 to 26,” said Rub, on his choice of highways. He added, “(the Banks Braves) have been a great competitor. We have a tremendous amount of respect for everything that’s going on in that little corridor on 26, between Banks and Valley Catholic. They’ve done it well and done it right.”

Also, “I know Scappoose is excited to be back in the Cowapa League,” he said. “There’s a certain level of respect that exists amongst our athletic departments, and that’s what makes it so tough about Banks and Valley Catholic leaving. But the same is true about getting Scappoose and St. Helens back.”

In addition to St. Helens and Scappoose, other schools moving from 5A to 4A next school year include Crook County, North Bend and The Dalles.

Elsewhere, Neah-Kah-Nie — struggling in many sports in the 2A Northwest League — will move up into the 3A Coastal Range League. Due to a lack of numbers, the Pirates did not even field a football team last fall.

Class 3A Clatskanie will move down to replace Neah-Kah-Nie in the 2A Northwest League.

Regardless of who’s coming and going, Astoria boys basketball coach Kevin Goin was hoping the Cowapa would have added more than just two schools. The league will still have five schools: Astoria, St. Helens, Scappoose, Seaside and Tillamook. Milwaukie will join the league in football.

“I’m just disappointed there’s not more teams,” Goin said. “We need to get more schools in our leagues. For (boys basketball), it’s hard to find games. That’s why we do so many tournaments. I’ve had numerous calls with schools from Portland, big and small, to get games. It’s become problematic.”

Goin is “fine with having Scappoose and St. Helens. That part doesn’t bother me. I was just wishing we’d get seven or eight teams in the league. We play 16 nonleague games before we get to league.”

When the OSAA expanded from four to six classifications in 2006, they went one class too many, according to Goin and other coaches.

“Five classes would have been the way to go,” he said. “The problem is you don’t want to be the small fish in a big pond. They moved quite a few down from 5A (to 4A), which I’m fine with. The big issue is that there’s nobody close for us to play.”

So long, Braves

Banks — the perennial champions of Cowapa League football and softball — will now be a problem for the likes of Rainier and Warrenton, as the Braves will call the 3A Coastal Range League their new home for the next four years. Valley Catholic will be in the Lewis & Clark League, all 3A Portland-area private schools.

“I’m torn, for sure,” about leaving the Cowapa League, Banks football coach Cole Linehan said.

Linehan is a graduate of Banks, played football at the University of Oregon, and later coached track at Astoria. His football team finished the 2021 season ranked fourth at the 4A level.

“We’ve had so much success in 4A, and I wanted to stay there,” he said. “We’ve won the league four straight times, so the idea of leaving — that is tough.”

Since 2018, the Astoria and Seaside football teams are a combined 0-9 against the Braves, which includes Seaside’s loss to Banks in the 2018 state championship game. Astoria defeated Banks in the 2008 state title contest.

“It’s rough that we’re losing Banks,” Rub said. “The Braves have been a big part of the Cowapa League, and have been very strong athletically. They were a great school to have in our league. We’ll miss them.”

When the OSAA went to six classifications in 2006, Banks’ enrollment was at 429. Banks now has a projected three-year enrollment of 269 — well below the 4A range of 311 to 607.

Conference of ex-champions

Sportswise, the Cowapa League may be losing a big part of its “Conference of Champions” label with the departure of Banks and Valley Catholic.

Over the past 10 years, most of the Cowapa League state titles have come from the Braves and the Valiants.

Banks won state championships in baseball (2019), boys basketball (2019), football (2018), softball (2012, 2013, 2016) and volleyball (2015). The Braves also have second-place finishes in football (2019), softball (2010, 2015) and girls basketball (2017).

Valley Catholic has collected state titles in boys cross-country (2014, 2016), girls soccer (2014, 2017), volleyball (2018, 2019), boys golf (2018) and dance (2015, 2016, 2018). The Valiants have second-place finishes in girls soccer (2016, 2018), volleyball (2017) and boys basketball (2017, 2018).

Although the Cowapa will still have state powers in Astoria girls and Seaside boys basketball and Tillamook wrestling, the absence of Banks and Valley Catholic will leave some big holes atop the league standings in certain sports, such as boys and girls soccer, both won last year by Valley Catholic at a combined 18-0.

At the same time, the league should remain competitive in football. Scappoose was a 5A state playoff contender last fall. Both the Indians and Lions also usually have strong numbers in track and cross-country.

“We have been very competitive racing against the St. Helens and Scappoose teams in the past,” said Astoria cross-country coach Andrew Fick, “and I think we will continue to be competitive with them moving forward. There is a good amount of camaraderie between runners and coaches at different schools as well, and I’m confident that even with the changes, that culture of both friendship and competition will continue.”

As Rub and Goin both say, success runs in cycles in most sports.

“All of that stuff is cyclical,” Goin said. “Banks only went to the state tournament once for a long amount of time, until recently. You get a run of kids and you’re going to be good. I don’t blame them or Valley for switching to 3A. You don’t want to be the smallest.”

In the Cowapa League, that distinction will now belong to Seaside. In the OSAA’s projected three-year enrollment, St. Helens will be the largest school at 598, followed by Scappoose (501), Tillamook (454), Astoria (398) and Seaside (313).

Gary Henley is a sports reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 503-861-8493 or ghenley@dailyastorian.com.