For Hermiston High School Athletic Director Mike Kay, the winter prep sports season is the toughest of the three high school sports seasons for which to prepare.

During the winter season, the Bulldogs will field four boys basketball teams, four girls basketball teams, varsity and junior varsity wrestling teams and dance and cheer squads. Kay said he also has the various middle school teams to consider.

Hermiston schedules nearly 700 contests throughout the year at the high school level. Kay said a little more than 400 of those contests come during the four-and-a-half month winter sports season.

“It’s definitely the hardest season to schedule, mostly because basketball plays so many games,” Kay said.

The Bulldog basketball teams play 24 games a year. Kay said, with so many non-league games, building relationships with other schools and leagues is crucial. Hermiston gets most of its non-league competition from schools in the Tri-Cities area.

“Our philosophy right now is to get as many games from the schools in the MCC and the Big Nine as possible,” Kay said. “Those schools are all big enough where they will have enough teams to match up with each one of our teams. That’s why we rely mostly on them to fill out our non-league schedule.”

Kay said a strategy the school now uses is to have both the girls and boys games at the same venue on the same day. The Bulldogs use this method when playing schools from the Mid Columbia Conference of Washington as well as Pendleton.

“We’ll have all the teams from both schools, boys and girls, play in the same location throughout the day,” Kay said. “We’ll start with the younger teams and end with the boys and girls varsity teams playing the last two games.”

Kay said the new system has its advantages.

“The neat thing about it is it gives people in the community the chance to see everyone play,” he said. “They don’t have to pick and choose which teams to support because they are all playing in roughly the same location. Before, you would have to decide whether to watch the local game or go to the out-of-town game. This way, you can see both the boys and the girls games when they are playing at home.”

Kay said he thinks stacking the basketball games gives fans a better opportunity to get to know both the girls and the boys programs.

“Without stacking the games, it’s almost like the two programs are completely different entities because they are never in the same location,” Kay said. “This way, fans of one team can become fans of the other. It breeds more enthusiasm for all of the teams.”

In the past, spectators having to choose one game over another proved problematic on rivalry nights.

“Imagine if we had games against Pendleton on the same night at opposite sites,” Kay said. “People would only be able to catch one of the games. There wouldn’t be as many people attending, and everything would get watered down. This way, the atmosphere is always electric.”

Kay said the winter sports season presents a few challenges he doesn’t have in the fall and spring.

“For starters, there are 15 non-league games for each basketball team each season,” Kay said. “Compare that with football, which only has nine games total all season.”

Kay said the winter weather deters many Portland-area schools from making the trip to Hermiston to play basketball.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t want to come all the way over here for a basketball game either,” Kay said. “They have so many options in the Portland area and Vancouver. It makes more sense for them to stay over there. That is why our relationship with the Tri-Cities schools is so important.”

Kay said Hermiston is an asset to the Portland schools during the fall and spring seasons.

“They love playing us during the other seasons because the weather is much nicer over here,” he said. “The spring season is especially easy because everyone is looking to come play baseball or softball in the sunshine. During the winter, no one wants to drive through the mountains. I can’t blame them.”

The Bulldogs have a full schedule of hoops, which kicks off Dec.6 and Dec. 7 with both boys and girls teams hosting games that weekend.

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