On the Beat column artwork

The state championship banners on display in Philomath High School’s main gym represent the best in the long history of Warriors athletics.

Fans will glance up and study them from time to time, perhaps during halftime of a basketball game or between sets of a volleyball match. Students that spend so much time in the gym over the course of the school year know they’re up there with some realizing that mom or dad played on that state title team. You could say the banners even create a particular atmosphere for fans of opposing schools, providing them with plenty of evidence of Warrior success when they walk through those gym doors and take a seat on the bleachers.

The PHS girls tennis team that tied Marist Catholic for the 4A Showcase Tournament title this spring will apparently not see a state title banner go up. The girls and boys basketball teams enter this week undefeated with legitimate opportunities to win the state tournaments that have been arranged by Class 4A schools. But again, it appears probable that any first-place finishes in the culminating week tournaments would not be enshrined with a banner.

It’s a touchy subject among players and parents and you can’t blame them. The athletes have endured great challenges during the pandemic and using girls tennis as an example, they finished first in the postseason tournament that 4A officials had arranged. That was the tournament that was offered and Philomath was a co-champion.

In a nutshell, the Oregon School Activities Association opted to not hold official state championship events during the 2020-21 school year. Instead, these culminating weeks were offered and each classification came up with their own solutions to determine some sort of champion. Since the state tournaments or other postseason events are not official in the OSAA’s eyes, those winners do not go in the archives and they do not make it onto any state champion lists.

State championship banners hang in the Philomath High School gym. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“4A is going to make an appeal to the OSAA executive board to recognize the winners of the showcase events as state champions,” Philomath High Athletic Director Tony Matta said. “I think potentially that could work in most things, except like football because the committee just picked two teams to play each other.”

Matta sent an email to Brad Garrett, OSAA assistant executive director, on this topic.

“I guess the short answer is that we are not conducting OSAA state championships this year,” Garrett wrote in a returned email. “As far as I know, we will not be recognizing or archiving any data from the truncated seasons.

“Although word is that the 4A is going to request the board recognize teams/individuals as state champions — have no idea where that will go or what the decision would be,” he continued.

There are complexities to the notion of recognizing these tournament winners as state champions. For example, in tennis, Philomath competes in 4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 2. The Warriors are one of 10 schools in the special district and all of them are in Class 4A. In a few of the other districts, there are 3A, 2A or 1A schools mixed in.

“In Special District 1, which is north of us, Valley Catholic and Tillamook are the only 4A schools up there,” Matta said. “Valley Catholic didn’t participate (in the 4A showcase).”

The girls tennis team’s state title is recognized on the PHS boulder situated near the high school parking lot. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The 4A showcase also did not include schools such as Oregon Episcopal and Catlin Gabel, both in 3A. Valley Catholic, Oregon Episcopal and Catlin Gabel all happened to be longtime tennis powers.

“At the lower levels, you’re missing Oregon Epsicopal, which has won 16 state titles in tennis and Catlin Gabel, which has won eight state titles in girls tennis,” Matta said. “So you miss some of those and I think that’s what the OSAA is concerned about. If they call them state championships and they don’t compare to previous ones, does it devalue previous ones?”

You have to admit, it’s very likely that the outcome would be different with those tennis powers participating in the postseason tournament. Perhaps they don’t win the title, but just their presence would impact other outcomes. But that’s not what happened.

Matta had this to add about the 4A appeal and state champions getting banners in the gym.

“If the OSAA says yes, then we will do the same,” Matta said.

Despite this take on the state championship banners, Matta did say that the girls tennis team will be getting another type of banner that lists regional champions. The boys tennis team just got theirs in 2017 (if you haven’t noticed, it hangs above the section where the band usually sits and plays during games).

“It was the first time the girls won a tennis regional, so we’ve already ordered that banner that goes up in the gym and then it has space for every year you win it,” Matta said.

Now we’re into the “winter sports” seasons and it’s difficult to imagine another girls basketball team out there that might be able to beat Philomath. There will be the culminating week eight-team tournament to try to determine the best team.

“I don’t see in our conference so far anybody that you’d think this is a team that you really have to be concerned with on the girls side,” Matta said. “We’re pretty darn good and I would find it hard to believe that we aren’t the best team in the state.”

But if the OSAA says no to that appeal, Philomath’s girls basketball team would be dealt a tough blow again this season if the Warriors happened to win this upcoming tournament. In 2020, they’re told at the 11th hour that they can’t compete for the state title after an incredible season that included going unbeaten in 4A and earning the No. 1 ranking. In 2021, they could win an actual state tournament but then be told, sorry, it doesn’t really count.

I’m going to assume that the OSAA executive board is not going to recognize these tournament winners as state champions, nor accept any results from a 4A state tournament or meet in the official records. That would’ve been a difficult decision to accept if, let’s say, Cascade’s Emma Gates would’ve cleared 6 feet in the high jump down at Siuslaw.

Incidentally, PHS does have a state title banner hanging in the gym for the 1939 football team. This was a game that Philomath played before the OSAA football championships were established. After beating Arlington, 7-6, Philomath staked claim to the “B” championship in 1939. It was an arranged game and was not a situation where Philomath advanced through a playoff bracket to reach a championship game.

The OSAA does not include the 1939 result in its official state champion list with the only official PHS football title coming in 1988. Yet, the banner hangs in the gym. I’m not trying to question the validity of the 1939 football team’s accomplishments — I’m sure it’s deserving of a banner — but just making a point.

Perhaps asterisks could be the answer. List these champions in the OSAA records, but include an asterisk and statement that outlines the circumstances. Maybe that’s too messy. Anyway, as far as the Philomath News is concerned, I wrote that the girls tennis team won the state title and if the girls or boys basketball teams win 4A tournaments in late June, or any wrestlers take first in their season-ending meet, then I’ll call them state champions as well.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).