Possible expansion could alter Suburban League, high school athletics in Summit County

By Michael Beaven
Beacon Journal sports writer

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Stow's Dylan Stone pulls down Hudson's Tim Kennedy after he caught a pass for a short gain during a game last season at Hudson. Stow and Hudson are two of the schools invited to join the Suburban League which is looking to form a 16-school league with two eight-school divisions. (Michael Chritton/Akron Beacon Journal)

The Suburban League could have an entirely different look in a few years and as a result so could the landscape of high school athletics in Summit County.

Suburban League Commissioner Keith Walker said Wednesday he hopes to keep all eight current members in the league and possibly bring in an additional eight schools to form a 16-school league with two eight-school divisions.

The eight-team divisions would be based on enrollment figures and schools would be full members in all sports in the fall, winter and spring.

The idea would bring together several of Summit County’s largest public high schools that reside just outside of Akron, and possibly include schools from Medina, Portage, Cuyahoga and Geauga counties.

“We started with the idea that we have three schools in the big school division, Wadsworth, Green and Nordonia; and five schools in the smaller school division, Highland, Copley, Cloverleaf, Revere and Tallmadge,” Walker said.

“Then we would add five schools to the big school division and three schools to the small school division.”

Walker said Nordonia could move down to the smaller school division if needed based on the enrollment figures.

Let’s meet

The Suburban League held an informational meeting in June that included athletic directors and principals from 20 schools.

“We invited 12 schools: Medina, Stow, North Royalton, Hudson, Cuyahoga Falls, Brecksville, Twinsburg, Barberton, Kent Roosevelt, Aurora, Kenston and Ravenna,” Walker said. “We didn’t invite Solon to the meeting; however their principal did email us. We took that as their formal letter of interest.”

Walker said the new Suburban League could be a go as early as 2015-2016, but cautioned that because several of the schools are currently in other leagues a lot of paperwork and discussions would have to take place.

“We had a breakfast presentation and outlined what our plan was,” Walker said. “This was precipitated by the Federal League’s interest in Green. They scared us a little bit because we didn’t want to lose Green. We listened to their concerns and we listened to the concerns of all of our schools. Some of our smaller enrollment schools voiced their concerns. For example, Tallmadge has almost half as many students as Wadsworth.

“The ADs thought maybe we would look at two divisions or conferences based on enrollment, and have eight schools in the big conference and eight schools in the smaller conference.”

Walker said schools returned questionnaires by July 1. They were asked to identify their interest level on a scale of “mildly interested, definitely interested and very interested.”

Walker chose not to comment on what schools said in their responses.

“All we have are questionnaires and we have the idea of their level of interest,” Walker said. “July is a vacation month for a lot of school officials.

“We will analyze the data and formalize what we think are the best schools for us to invite into the Suburban League. I would think we would probably work on that at the earliest in late August and at the latest in early September.”

Green, Wadsworth weigh in

Green, Wadsworth, Aurora, Stow, Cuyahoga Falls, Barberton and Twinsburg each attended a meeting last month about possibly joining the Federal League. They have until July 15 to make a decision.

The Federal League currently has six members: Canton McKinley, GlenOak, Jackson, Lake, North Canton Hoover and Perry. Lake Principal Kevin Tobin and Federal League Commissioner Joe Eaton have talked about possibly putting together a league with 10 or 12 members and have two divisions of five or six schools.

Athletic directors from Green and Wadsworth both said Wednesday their schools are weighing their options.

“Green is very close to a decision,” Bruce Johnson said. “Our principal, Cindy Brown, is conferring with our superintendent, Jeff Miller, and our board. We are excited about where we are headed and we are excited about the possibilities.”

Wadsworth’s Rich Berlin said: “The Suburban League is a tremendous conference that regardless if it stays an eight-school league or a 16-school league will remain a tremendous conference.”

Stow’s interest level

The Northeast Ohio Conference could take the biggest hit because member schools Medina, Stow, North Royalton, Hudson, Cuyahoga Falls and Twinsburg are at least entertaining the thought of bolting to another league.

Stow Athletic Director Cyle Feldman said Wednesday the Federal League doesn’t appear to be a good option for his school.

“We don’t think we are going to pursue that,” Feldman said. “We liked the original structure, but in our discussions at Stow we don’t associate with Stark County that much. We are a Summit County school. We have played Lake, North Canton Hoover, GlenOak and Jackson in recent years in nonleague games. We have great respect for all the schools in the Federal League and think it is a great league, but we are not a fit.”

Feldman does believe the Suburban League would be a good fit.

“We have submitted a letter of interest to the Suburban League,” Feldman said.

“For me, the things that seem to be ignored in the NOC are geography, revenue and rivalries. I like some of the structure and concept within the NOC, but I feel like geography, revenue and rivalries are the most important aspects.

“Why are we playing North Royalton and Elyria in league games? Playing schools like that, that are so far away from Stow, makes no sense. I look out on a Friday night at a football game and we are playing a team like North Royalton that goes 8-2 or 9-1 in the regular season who is nowhere near us in terms of geography. We are playing a good team, and I look out into the crowd and think, ‘where is everybody?’ There is not a big crowd because we have no rivalry with this school, and as a result the crowd is not big.”

Feldman said he likes the idea of Stow being in a big school division with current Suburban League members Wadsworth, Green and Nordonia, and possibly Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Twinsburg, Solon and Medina.

“The sooner the better,” Feldman said. “Our revenues are down. We would like to play in a league with Wadsworth, Green and Nordonia. They are schools that are near us and have a following. You look at our rivals, Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson, yes, they are in our league, but in football they are not in our division. We have to ask to play crossover games against Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson in football. In some of the other sports we are in the same division as them, but not in all of the sports.”

Barberton is currently an independent, Kent Roosevelt and Ravenna are in the Portage Trail Conference, Aurora and Kenston are in the Chagrin Valley Conference and Brecksville is a member of the Southwestern Conference.

Other chatter

Hudson Athletic Director Ray Ebersole and Barberton Athletic Director Rob Culbertson would not go into detail when asked of the status of their schools.

The standard protocol to go to another league is to give the league you are leaving notice two years in advance.

Athletic Director Paul Powers said Aurora is leaving the disbanding Chagrin Valley Conference, along with Kenston, after the 2014-2015 school year.

“We did not submit our application back to the Federal League,” Powers said. “We have been to the Suburban League meeting and the Northeast Ohio Conference meeting. I can’t tell you what we are going to do at this point.”

Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or mbeaven@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.


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