With the end of the 2014-15 school year, the grand experiment that was the Northeast Ohio Conference is no more.

It has ceased to be.

It has kicked the bucket.

It has played its final game and gone off to meet the great league commissioner in the sky.

This is an ex-conference!

Much like that famous parrot in the Monty Python sketch, however, its demise has been long in coming.

Ever since the Western Reserve Conference and Pioneer Conference joined forces with Lakewood and Garfield Heights to form the NOC a decade ago, the league has always felt like a far-flung patchwork quilt.

Full disclosure: I liked the NOC's concept.

Pitting teams of similar strength against each other by division on a sport-by-sport basis seemed like a good idea.

That said, I think geography trumped competitiveness in the NOC. It's much easier to play the same schools in every sport than switch divisions from night to night.

What do I think ultimately killed the NOC? Gas prices.

It's hard to make the case for a Stow parent to go to Elyria one night, Shaker Heights the next and then Mentor in a week -- which was possible.

As has so often been the case with the local high school league switches, Nordonia was the first domino to fall.

Despite being an original member of the NOC, the Knights switched to the Suburban League just four years after joining the league.

In retrospect, it proved a good move. The Knights have done very well in the Suburban League.

However, Nordonia wasn't the only one looking for greener pastures.

Lakewood, which routinely struggled in the NOC, bolted for the West Shores Conference in 2012.

For a while, it seemed the NOC could adapt. Bringing in Mentor to replace Nordonia and Shaker Heights to replace Lakewood -- two of the biggest schools in Northeast Ohio -- seemed to show stability in the league.

However, the killing blow came from the local schools.

As early as 2011, Stow-Munroe Falls athletic director Cyle Feldman said his school "belongs in the Suburban League."

Feldman got his wish two years later, as Stow, Twinsburg, Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson jointly announced they were leaving the NOC on Sept. 13, 2013.

That move, along with North Royalton's move to the Suburban League, seemed to be one that caused the league to implode.

The loss of its southern wing left the NOC spanning too far a distance.

However, the forces that created the NOC in the first place -- league instability, shifting enrollments, a desire to get in the "right" league -- have not abated at all.

Given that, the death of the NOC has helped three new conferences to sprout up -- and one to double in size.

For starters, the three Parma schools have joined with fellow west side high schools Bay, Elyria Catholic, Holy Name and Rocky River to form the new Great Lakes Conference.

Over on the east side of Cleveland, Mayfield and Brush have helped resurrect the Western Reserve Conference. The league also includes Kenston, Willoughby South, Eastlake North, Chardon, Painesville Riverside and Madison.

Speaking of resurrection, after nearly 20 years on hiatus, the largest members of the NOC have joined forces to remake the Greater Cleveland Conference. The new-look GCC looks very strong, as outgoing NOC members Brunswick, Elyria, Medina, Mentor, Shaker Heights, Solon and Strongsville are joining Euclid.

Also looking strong is the new two-division, 15-member Suburban League.

We'll have plenty more to talk about regarding the Suburban League in the coming weeks. Suffice it to say, the seven largest schools in Record Publishing Co. weekly division coverage area are finally moving under one roof.

As the schools move forward, however, I look back at the eight-year history of the NOC and remember some excellent high school play.

In high school leagues as in life, though, it seems the only constant is change.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

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