Wanted: A new rival

HH file photo Hermiston football players run through their new bulldog tunnel on the way to the field last year for a non-conference game against Lewiston.

Hermiston High School will be seen as the rookies this upcoming athletic year.

This year is their first as a member of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) after leaving the OSAA earlier this summer. With that comes a major cultural overhaul within the local athletics community. Their longstanding rivalry with Pendleton High School will be no more. In fact, Hermiston isn’t set to face any Oregon schools at all during their upcoming season.

The Bulldogs will open their football season on Friday, August 31st against Pasco, which shares the same mascot, marking their first-ever WIAA event. Still, potential new rivals are still under consideration.

“Rivalries are born from competition,” said Hermiston athletics director Larry Usher. “It’ll take a few years to decide. We’re now in the Mid-Columbia Conference — the most competitive conference in the state of Washington. The coaches and kids are well aware that things just got real tough.”

Usher says that Richland and Chiawana are shaping up to be their fiercest competitors. Last year alone, the Richland Bombers took home the state championship in football and baseball, and the Pasco Bulldogs took home the title in boys’ soccer. Chiawana is the newest high school in the Tri-Cities, opening its doors in Kennewick in 2009, but they’ve already claimed state titles in football in 2014 and girls’ bowling in 2016.

The schools that populate the Mid-Columbia Conference also dwarf the schools that Hermiston used to face in population. While Pendleton has a student body of 891, Kennewick, the smallest in the conference, practically doubles that with 1,600. Chiawana is the largest with 2,543 students as of 2017.

It isn’t just Hermiston’s competitors that are set to change, however. This year, Hermiston is adding girls’ bowling and slow-pitch softball to their roster of extracurricular activities. There’s even talk of adding a girls’ wrestling league if enough interest is shown.

“The culture of wrestling is just centered around boys,” Usher said. “We’re looking to change that.”

Hermiston is no stranger to bowling — it has hosted both a boys’ and girl’s bowling club in previous years, but this is the first time it’ll be recognized as a competitive team sport.

“We’re really excited. This is a great opportunity for the girls,” said bowling coach Joanne Chapman. “We want to grow as a team and as bowlers.”

Chapman says the boys’ bowling club will continue to play in tournaments in Oregon, but are looking to get things set up to compete in the Mid-Columbia Conference in the coming years. They hope to establish varsity and junior varsity teams, as well.

The boys’ soccer program will also move from fall to spring in order to be able to compete with the rest of the schools in the conference.

The proposal to change conferences came about primarily to reduce Hermiston’s traveling distances for away games. Instead of having to drive a bus full of athletes to Portland for a game, they’ll only have to travel as far as the Tri-Cities or Walla Walla.

“This year, our kids won’t be pulling in on a bus at 3 a.m.,” Usher said. “Our students will get to have a normal high school athletic experience for once. Our athletes, coaches, and staff have embraced that we’re unique. This is an opportunity that not many other schools get.”

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