The Suburban League is one of Ohio's oldest high school conferences, having been founded in 1949. However, the Summit County stalwart is about to undergo the biggest change in its 66-year history.
Beginning this fall the league will transform from eight teams and one division to a 15-team, two-conference format. It will encompass eight of the 10 largest schools in Summit County and the two biggest in Portage County, including Aurora.
It will bring together a diverse group of schools which has enjoyed success in virtually every sport from football to gymnastics.
Needless to say, league commissioner Keith Walker, who has worked with the league since joining Copley as a teacher in the early 1970s, is raring to go.
"I'm excited," Walker said. "It's uncharted territory for us, dealing with twice as many schools."
Here's how things will break down:
• The American Conference will be the "small school" division with seven members. Current Suburban members Copley, Highland, Revere and Tallmadge will be joined by Aurora, Kent Roosevelt and Barberton.
• The National Conference will serve as the "big school" division with eight teams. Current Suburban members Wadsworth and Nordonia will be joined by former Northeast Ohio Conference members Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, North Royalton, Twinsburg and Stow-Munroe Falls, and Southwestern Conference member Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
Building new league
One hallmark of the Suburban League throughout its history has been stability.
Its last major expansion was in 1958, when Mogadore, Twinsburg and Woodridge joined.
While individual schools have left every so often, the league has been able to keep its compact, eight-team format for most of the last 40 years.
The Suburban has undergone only two changes since the turn of the millennium.
In 2005, Norton left to join the Portage Trail Conference and was replaced by Barberton. Then in 2011, Barberton left, allowing Nordonia -- one of the league's charter members -- to return.
What was different this time that the league decided to expand?
"We had talked a few years ago about expansion when Nordonia joined the league," Walker said. "At the time, we weren't interested in three schools [Stow, Falls and Hudson] joining."
The shift began in 2013 when Green, a charter member of the league, decided to move on.
"We got word the Federal League was courting Green," Walker said. "That was a big move for them. We had a couple of athletic directors say, 'If we're ever going to expand, we better do it now.'"
The Suburban League put out feelers to see who might be interested in membership, and 12 schools responded. It extended invitations to nine schools and by September 2013, all of them had accepted.
After the new members were determined, it was decided the new league would have two conferences.
While Walker said there would be "no mandatory crossover games between the two conferences," he added it was important for the league to function as one unit.
"We don't want to have two leagues going on parallel routes," he said.
However, one domino fell after the league's new format was announced.
In December 2013, Cloverleaf of Medina County, which would have been the smallest school in the league, left for the Portage Trail Conference.
"The biggest challenge facing the conference right now is finding that eighth team for the American division," said Tallmadge athletic director Don Seeker.
The league talked with Bedford, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Maple Heights and Canal Fulton Northwest about joining, but none of these schools earned the 12 votes necessary to join.
Stow athletic director Cyle Feldman, who sits on the league's expansion committee, said the search for the 16th member is ongoing, but no new member will be in place until at least the 2016-17 school year.
Schools ARE READY
Aurora joined the Suburban after several schools decided to pull out of the Chagrin Valley Conference in 2013.
Fifteen member schools then reorganized the CVC and added Geneva to make it a two-division, 16-team league. Kenston joined the new Western Reserve Conference.
"I think each district looked at its own needs and made the decisions they had to," said AHS athletic director Paul Powers. "We're still going to play Kenston a lot. We were without a league, but we both landed on our feet."
Powers believes the new Suburban League will be strong, and that Aurora can contribute to its success.
"Its principles focus on both academic and athletic needs," Powers said. "The other schools know who we are in football and baseball. We're looking forward to playing our neighbors.
"Without a doubt, it's going to be one of the premier conferences in Northeast Ohio. I think everyone brings a little to the table. These schools are just like Aurora."
The Suburban will give Kent Roosevelt a chance to play league matches in sports not sanctioned by the PTC -- like swimming and girls golf.
"First of all, the PTC is an outstanding league; it's very well run," said Roosevelt athletic director Mark Pfaff. "We just felt a move to the Suburban League gives our kids more opportunities."
Nordonia will reunite with Twinsburg, Stow, Falls, Hudson and North Royalton after leaving the NOC in 2011. Knights athletic director Rob Eckenrode believes his school is perfectly placed.
"Geographically, we're in a very good position in terms of the league," Eckenrode said. "It will be great for our transportation costs and for our students to be able to get to games.
"Twinsburg and Aurora are two of our biggest rivals. It will be nice having Brecksville involved in the league as well. We're kind of surrounded on Route 82.
"We've got some quality schools coming in," he added. "It seems to be a win-win for everybody."
Twinsburg athletic director Brian Fantone said the Tigers are ready for Suburban League competition, even if Twinsburg will be on the small end of the National Conference.
"I think everyone is really excited," Fantone said. "With some of the neighboring communities that we'll play, I think it's a chance to form new rivalries. Staying with Hudson, Stow and Cuyahoga Falls, it kind of gives us some familiarity."
Tallmadge will remain among the smallest schools in the league, but athletic director Don Seeker said being in the American Conference should benefit the Blue Devils.
"We're going to be playing teams a bit closer to our size," Seeker said. "We won't be dealing with Wadsworth and Green anymore. It's exciting to be a part of it. But we'll miss the current members."
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