Banks boys basketball players celebrate their 4A final win over Cowapa League rival Seaside in 2019. (Photo by Pete Christopher)
Banks boys basketball players celebrate their 4A final win over Cowapa League rival Seaside in 2019. (Photo by Pete Christopher)

In 2018-19, Banks was the toast of 4A, becoming the first Oregon school to win state championships in football, boys basketball and baseball in the same school year since North Valley did it in 1984-85.

Starting in 2022-23, though, the Braves will be making the switch to 3A. They will leave the 4A Cowapa League, their home since 1994, to be part of the seven-member 3A Coastal Range League.

With a projected three-year enrollment of 269 for next school year – well below the 4A range (311-607) – Banks initially petitioned in October to play up in 4A for the next four-year time block.

But as the classification process unfolded, and current 5A schools such as Crook County, Pendleton, Scappoose, North Bend, St. Helens and The Dalles were ticketed for 4A, Banks had a change of heart and rescinded its petition.

“They kind of tweaked the top end to accommodate those schools,” Banks athletic director Ben Buchanan said. “With the range of student population, it's a lot for a school our size to be playing schools like that all the time, especially when we're shrinking. That was kind of the tipping point.”

Still, it wasn't easy for Banks to make the final call to leave the Cowapa and cut league ties with longtime foes Astoria, Seaside and Tillamook.

“I'm torn, for sure,” Banks football coach Cole Linehan said. “We've had so much success in 4A, and I wanted to stay there. We've won the league four straight times, so the idea of leaving that is tough.”

Buchanan said that opting for 3A “was not a unanimous decision. I kind of rode the fence, just knowing the relationships we had with the teams in our league, and the ADs I've had to work with. That's hard for me.”

Banks has a projected four-year enrollment of 330 for 2022-23. When the OSAA split into six classifications in 2006, Banks was at 429.

The school does not anticipate growth anytime soon. The middle school and elementary school typically have had classes in the 90-100 range. Now, though, classes are in the 80s at the middle school and in the 70s at the elementary school.

The shrinking enrollment is showing up in the football program. It wasn't long ago that Banks had turnouts in the 65-70 range. But the Braves had only 36 players this season and expect about the same next season.

Still, the football team has continued to win. Since winning the 4A title in 2018, the Braves finished as state runners-up in 2019, went 5-1 in the spring and 9-2 this year, reaching the state quarterfinals.

Had Banks stayed in 4A, it would have had the lowest enrollment in the classification. Banks will have the No. 16 enrollment in 3A.

“We've kind of always prided ourselves on beating schools that are twice our size,” Linehan said. “And we'll play schools that are twice our size all the time.

“But with some of those schools coming down, eventually something's got to give. It's like, 'Are we playing schools three times our size now? Is that putting our kids in the best opportunity to be successful?'”

How does the Banks football community feel about moving to 3A?

“If you talked to the players, I think some of them probably wanted to stay in the Cowapa League, just because of the tradition,” Buchanan said. “I think that was a big part of it. Change can be hard.”

Banks will look to establish new football rivalries. The Coastal Range League is the domain of perennial state power Rainier, the 3A champion in 2018, and also includes Warrenton. Both teams made the 3A quarterfinals this season.

“Rainier used to be a big rivalry with us, back when they were in the Cowapa,” Buchanan said of the Columbians, longtime members of the Cowapa until leaving after the 2006, six-classification split. “But the rivalries we had in the Cowapa were great with Astoria and Seaside, and with Scappoose coming back into the ranks, that was kind of intriguing to me, too.”

It's possible that Banks might feel more at home in 3A, though.

“It will be the first time we drive into towns, from here on out, where we'll be like, 'Oh, this town looks kind of like us. This is a one-stoplight town,'” Linehan said.

Banks team sports have been generally successful of late. Last season, the softball team went 15-1 and was runner-up in the 4A Showcase. The baseball team finished 15-2.

The boys basketball (14-1) and girls basketball (8-3) teams were highly competitive last season and are on the fringe of the top 10 in the 4A coaches polls this season.

Fall revealed some struggles, however, as volleyball (5-14), boys soccer (2-9-2) and girls soccer (3-7-4) all failed to make the playoffs. Considering numbers are low for cross country, track and wrestling, and softball expects to have a difficult time fielding a varsity team in the spring, the athletic program has its issues.

“The programs that are marginalized have a better chance of building and being more successful at the 3A level,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan said the decision ultimately came down to what is best for the students in the coming years.

“This town is going to grow eventually,” he said. “There are developments that are going to be put in. But it's not going to happen anytime soon.

“So we'll re-evaluate in four years and kind of see where we are. But the way our population is trending, it's difficult for us to say we're a 4A school when we're really not.”