When you divide all that Clackamas spirit between two schools, one thing is obvious: Can't wait for the rivalry game!
When you divide all that Clackamas spirit between two schools, one thing is obvious: Can't wait for the rivalry game!

[Editor’s note: The idea behind “Alphabet Stories” is to write one noteworthy athletics-related story about each OSAA-member school. We started with Adrian HS on Sept.18. Today’s story, more than four months later, is about Clackamas High School. The goal will be to write two per week. While we will be relying upon athletic directors to furnish story ideas, anyone may offer suggestions by emailing johnt@osaa.org]

In September, Adrienne C. Nelson High School will open in Happy Valley. Initially, Nelson will draw its students from Clackamas High School, transforming Clackamas from one of the 2-3 largest schools in the state to one that is much, much smaller.

A smaller Clackamas HS is, to be sure, a good thing on the education side. At approximately 2,600 students, the school was too crowded. Students should thrive with smaller class sizes. Teachers, too!

But what about on the athletic side? Population growth at Clackamas HS has ushered in a golden age of sorts for Cavalier sports programs. Between 2016 and 2019, the Clackamas football, volleyball, girls soccer, boys basketball and baseball teams all advanced to play for state titles at least once, with baseball and football winning championships in 2017.

Clackamas athletics should continue to be strong in the 2021-2022 academic year, as almost all rising seniors will remain at the school. After that, there may be a period of adjustment, as talent disperses between the two schools.

“There’s no point worrying about it or wondering who stays and who goes,” said boys basketball coach Cam Mitchell. “We’re going to see who shows up on Day 1 and give them the best possible athletic experience.”

With change comes opportunity. That’s what has Clackamas administrators and coaches alike really excited.

“The competition and numbers are really high right now and there are some very deserving student-athletes not getting the opportunity to compete in some of the sports that have to make cuts,” said longtime baseball coach John Arnston. “There will also be more opportunities in all sports, at all levels.”

“We have to cut sometimes upwards of 30, 40, 50 kids every year,” Mitchell added. “Telling a student-athlete, ‘You can’t play’ is a hard thing for us to do.”

“We know high school athletics can be such powerful, positive influences for young people, even transformational,” noted new Clackamas athletic director Joel Dunn. “Opening Nelson is going to provide athletic experiences to more students and that is really exciting to me.

Nelson will join Clackamas in the 6A Mt. Hood Conference.

Mitchell acknowledged that the talent pool at Clackamas will shrink when Nelson opens. Arnston said teams will not have the depth they’ve had of late. Both, however, remained bullish on the school’s athletic fortunes.

“Clackamas has a lot of good athletes and we’re confident that, after the split, we’re still going to have successful sports programs like we’ve had recently,” Mitchell said.

“There is a lot of tradition and pride in the athletic programs and I believe that will carry on,” Arnston said. “I also expect that Nelson High will eventually have a strong athletic program as well. Athletics is important to this community and there is a lot of support here.”

“It is always tough when you split a high school,” said Vicki Nelms, the former Clackamas athletic director, who will assume the same role at Nelson. “Many of these kids have played with each other for a lot of years and now they will be playing against each other. That will be tough.”

“The hard part is kids having to break away from their dreams of growing up and playing for Clackamas,” Arnston said. “A lot of these younger kids have grown up playing together and hoping to compete together as Cavaliers. Now all of a sudden they will be at different high schools competing against each other. It will take some getting used to for everyone involved. Eventually I think you will see a really strong and special rivalry develop between Clackamas High and Nelson High. We have to work hard to make sure it is a healthy and positive rivalry, but the idea of having a cross-town rivalry like Lake Oswego, Medford and others is a pretty exciting thing for our community.”