Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Friday Night Frights

The Friday night lights of high school football animate many people’s lives. However, too many Friday nights in Oregon’s 6A high school championships end up as Friday Night Frights for outgunned schools served up as sacrificial lambs.

WPIAL-Class-AAAA-Football-Championship-at-Heinz-Field-6In the first round last Friday, there were 16 games featuring 32 teams. Four winners scored 70 or more points against their outmanned opponents. One team, Westview High School, scored 67 points – and lost.

These kind of one-sided conquests may be comforting for the winners, but are unnecessary extensions of an all-too affirming philosophy that everyone should be given a chance. They should, and they are. We call it the regular season.

A number of teams that served as first-round fodder in the playoffs posted losing records during the regular season. That is inevitable when 32 teams out of 50 high schools in the 6A classification that play football (St. Mary’s Academy doesn’t) are given berths in the championship bracket, making it as much jamboree as playoff.

Upsets occur in sports, which is why games are played. In the first round, four teams ranked lower than their opponents won. The highest seeded team to lose was South Salem as the sixth seed, which was defeated by Southridge, the 27th seed.

The top three seeds in the tournament – Central Catholic, Tigard and Grants Pass – each scored 70 or more points and outscored their hapless opponents 217 to 82. Seeds number four, five and seven – Sheldon, Sherwood and Jesuit – racked up 128 points while holding their opponents to 41. Suspense was not part of the program at these six games, where the combined point differential of winners over losers was 222.

More onslaughts are in sight in round two this week as Central Catholic, the number one seed, plays the number 16 seed, West Albany, and number two seed Tigard plays number 18 seed Sunset. Expect more pinball scores that would make the Oregon Duck blush.

Most years, the 6A championships don’t become truly competitive until the quarterfinal round, the final eight teams standing. So why not whittle down the playoffs to 12 teams. Give the top four rated teams first round byes and let the remaining eight teams play, producing the opponents for the top teams in round two. Twelve teams represent 24 percent of the schools in a classification with 5o high schools. That’s a lot more reasonable than a championship bracket with more than 60 percent of the schools in the classification represented.

Everyone likes underdogs. But football, especially at the high school level, isn’t a typical breeding ground for underdogs. One of the “underdogs” that staged an upset in round one was Lake Oswego. A second underdog that won by scoring more than 70 points was Lakeridge. A third underdog was Southridge. These aren’t schools commonly referred to as underdogs. They are three high schools with solid athletic reputations. Lake Oswego won the state title as recently as 2011 and finished as runner-up in 2012. Southridge won in 2008, defeating LO in the final. The Skyhawks were the runner-up in 2006, the first year of the 6A classification.

The Oregon School Activities Association placated the let’s-give-everyone-a-chance crowd a few years back by creating six classifications for the state’s 290 high schools. Now the 5A classification only has 33 high schools spread across five conferences. The most robust classification is 1A, the very smallest schools that range down to 10 students at Columbia County Christian. It has 80 high schools arrayed in eight leagues.

footballHigh school sports is not the National Football League or even major college football. It is a chance for young players to learn the game and hone their skills and, for the only time in their lives, play “big games” under the lights in front of their friends, families and girlfriends. High school playoffs are a chance for truly outstanding players and teams to stand out, for some earning a scholarship that pays some or all of their college education.

Losing is never fun, but it is part of sports, as life itself. Mercy killings aren’t really sporting and have no place in a high school playoff. Sacrificial lambs don’t get a moment in the sun; they get 48 minutes with their faces pushed into the mud.




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