The Ashland High football team will be a full fledged member of the 5A Midwestern League beginning next fall, AHS athletics director Karl Kemper announced Thursday.

The Ashland High football team will be a full fledged member of the 5A Midwestern League beginning next fall, AHS athletics director Karl Kemper announced Thursday.

The Grizzlies played a MWL schedule last season and were included in the league's all-conference awards, but were not eligible for the league championship. That will change next season after the 37 athletic directors of the 5A schools voted unanimously on Wednesday to allow both Ashland and Eagle Point membership in football only.

"I think it's huge for our football program," Kemper said. "It was something we had hoped would happen a year ago and had been proposed to the OSAA, but for a variety of reasons it didn't happen."

The 5A Midwestern League schools are: Churchill, Marist, Marshfield, North Eugene, Springfield and Willamette.

Last season, Ashland's first in the newly formed Southern Oregon Hybrid league, the Grizzlies and Eagles faced off in a winner-take-all game to determine which team would grab an automatic bid to the 32-team state tournament.

The Ashland-Eagle Point pairing in the 5A SOH will remain the same in the other team sports, with the head-to-head meetings determining automatic playoff bids. When it comes to the other sports, Kemper pointed out, the number of regular season games (and thus the amount of travel necessary) made a similar SOH-MWL merger impractical.

Kemper added that the partnership is expected to gain final approval by the OSAA, making the MWL an even more competitive conference.

Last season, two teams from the Eugene-based league advanced to the 5A state quarterfinals, with Marist losing a hard-fought game to Sherwood in the championship game.

"They certainly have a great standard that we have to try to meet," Ashland head football coach Charlie Hall said, "and I like that challenge, to find out where we're at and how close we are."

In other OSAA-related news, the 5A athletic directors also voted 37-0 to freeze the power rankings prior to state play-in contests.