Times changing for local middle school football

Yet another youth football season got underway Thursday at Hood River Middle School as the Panthers took on their cross-county rivals, the Wy’east Eagles.

Just like the Gorge Youth Football and high-school teams before them, the four local squads showed flashes of early-season brilliance as HRMS won the first game 14-7, and Wy’east won the second, 30-0.

But there wasn’t the traditional seventh-grade game and eighth-grade game as in years past.

More than a few changes are in the air this year, and teams from throughout the Mid Columbia are doing their best to adjust.

First and foremost, this year’s coaching staffs have been asked to divide all their players into two evenly-matched teams per school (The Dalles also has two teams; Chenowith has one).

“It’s been a real headache for the coaches to decide on teams this year,” said Wy’east A.D. Matt Ihle. “Adjustments like this are tough, but I think the kids will see a lot better competition as they prepare for the high-school level.”

But there’s another twist. Since Goldendale dropped out of the league this year, there are an odd number of teams (7).

Which forced Ihle and the athletic directors from HRMS, The Dalles and Chenowith to figure out a way to include an eighth team from Portland’s Christian Youth Organization (CYO).

The system is set up so that the “bye” team in the nine-team CYO league will face one of the Mid Columbia teams each week. Ihle said it should offer superior competition for the local kids, while evening out the number of teams.

“The seventh-graders are going to progress a lot quicker this way,” Ihle said. “They might need to get thrown around for a year so they understand what it takes to play against bigger kids.”

Everyone knows that there’s always someone bigger at the high-school level, and Ihle believes that, although the Mid Columbia League had to adopt CYO rules, the overall change will be better for each of the programs.

“The number of players has been steadily growing since Gorge Youth Football started in 2000,” Ihle said. “Now, when the kids get to the middle school level, they aren’t starting from scratch. And pretty soon, we will start to see an even smoother transition to high school ball.”

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