by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
The Suburban League has been around since 1949.
During most of that time, the league has functioned as a one-division, eight-team league.
Now, that is about to change dramatically.
In a joint news release Sept. 17, the Twinsburg, Stow-Munroe Falls, Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls city school districts announced that they will leave the Northeast Ohio Conference to join the Suburban League beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
The news release was sent out by Hudson superintendent Phillip Herman, Stow superintendent Dr. Russ Jones, Falls superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols and Twinsburg superintendent Kathi Powers.
According to the news release, "The Suburban League - Large Division schools have played each other in competition in years past. This move allows us to revive exciting rivalries and build great relationships in this newly expanded league. These relationships will also help foster healthy competition for our students both in the classroom and on the field. The close proximity of these schools will allow our fans, teams and band to cut down on travel time and expenses and is in the best interest of our students."
The four schools will join North Royalton and Kent Roosevelt in the new league, as the two schools said Sept. 14 they would join. Kent initially indicated it would join in the 2016-17 school year.
The moves for all schools are pending Board of Education approval for all districts.
Suburban League commissioner Keith Walker said Sept. 18 that Barberton also was rejoining the league after leaving in 2011.
Walker said he also is awaiting confirmation from Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Aurora, both of whom have been formally invited to join the league. Aurora is expected to vote on whether to join the league at its Sept. 23 Board of Education meeting.
"We're very hopeful they will be part of the new Suburban League," Walker said. "We're hoping that we're able to come to fruition."
If all schools accept membership, the Suburban League would expand to 16 members for the 2015-16 school year.
The league currently includes Copley, Cloverleaf, Medina Highland, Nordonia, Revere, Tallmadge, Wadsworth and Green, though Green will leave to join the Federal League in 2015.
Although he indicated nothing is set in stone yet, Walker said the new-look Suburban League would be split into two "conferences" based on enrollment. Walker indicated there was talk of naming the divisions the American Conference and the National Conference.
According to the news release, the new big-school division would include Hudson, Stow-Munroe Falls, Cuyahoga Falls, North Royalton, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Wadsworth, Twinsburg and Nordonia.
The small school division would include Barberton, Kent Roosevelt, Highland, Copley-Fairlawn, Aurora, Cloverleaf, Revere and Tallmadge.
The news release also stated the newly reconfigured league might be known as the Suburban Athletic Conference, but Walker said no discussions had been held on renaming the league.
Walker said he wanted to make a formal announcement on the new-look league "sometime next week."
Athletic directors happy with the move
Stow-Munroe Falls athletic director Cyle Feldman said in 2011 that he felt his school "belongs in the Suburban League." He expressed his gratitude to the league for making it happen.
"It took some maneuvering by current Suburban League members to include all the schools," Feldman said. "I think it's great for the Stow community and Stow students. Those schools fulfill the three factors that are important for us: Geography, rivalries and revenue."
Stow-Munroe Falls High School principal Chris Dimauro said the NOC had a principals meeting Sept. 18 where Stow, Falls, Hudson, Twinsburg and North Royalton notified the NOC of their intentions.
Dimauro said there should be no issue with the five NOC schools leaving in time for the 2015-16 school year.
Dimauro added keeping Stow, Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson together was a paramount issue.
"That's very important to us," Dimauro said. "Our schools and our students' eagerness to play those schools makes it very important that we're in the same league."
Cuyahoga Falls athletic director Tom DiFrancesco echoed Dimauro's sentiments, noting keeping Falls, Stow and Hudson together was "a driving force" in the move.
"Since I took over as AD, I wanted to find another league for us," DiFrancesco said. "In the NOC, we were going up to Cleveland to play. We don't associate Cleveland with Summit County.
"We're right in there with our enrollment numbers with the other big schools," DiFrancesco said. "We're driving 8 to 10 miles instead of having to go up to Shaker Heights or Lyndhurst."
Hudson athletic director Ray Ebersole also noted playing schools closer to home was a big deal.
"What it does is it enhances our ability to grow rivalries with local schools," Ebersole said. "It improves the travel time. I really believe it will help us academically because it will minimize the release time [for student athletes] and eliminate a lot of late-night return times."
Ebersole also said keeping Falls, Stow and Hudson together was a necessity.
"There's a strong desire to have that relationship with those two schools," Ebersole said. "We consider them to be a priority."
Twinsburg athletic director Mark Maslona said joining the new-look Suburban League would strengthen his school's relationship with surrounding schools.
"We've enjoyed being part of the NOC," Maslona said. "It was an opportunity for us to maintain relationships with similar academic and athletic institutions."
Maslona said he did not see a significant difference in competition levels from the NOC to the Suburban League.
"It's always a challenge," Maslona said. "I don't see it being any different. I want the kids to maintain a level of excellence that we've shown the last few years."