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High school sports: New-look SL almost a done deal

The new-look Suburban League is tantalizingly close to becoming official.

SL President Dana Addis confirmed Tuesday that superintendents from Aurora, Barberton, Brecksville, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Kent Roosevelt, North Royalton, Stow and Twinsburg have accepted invitations to join the 64-year-old circuit.

The only hurdle to clear is board approval from each school. They are expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

“I would say we’re way beyond excited,” Addis said. “We have a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting work.

“We think this stabilizes us for a long time, but we also have reached our top priority, and that is to make sure our student-athletes are taken care of in every way. From a competitive, academic and community standpoint, we’ve given all our kids a greater opportunity to have an amazing high school experience.”

The new SL, which will start in the 2015-16 school year, will have two divisions of eight. The big-school division will have Stow (OHSAA enrollment of 1,338), North Royalton (1,334), Hudson (1,250), Cuyahoga Falls (1,217), Wadsworth (1,183), Brecksville (1,163), Twinsburg (1,090) and Nordonia (1,018), while the small-school division will have Barberton (931), Kent Roosevelt (881), Highland (873), Copley (867), Aurora (787), Cloverleaf (737), Revere (679) and Tallmadge (633).

Medina and Kenston were the only interested schools not to be invited. Ravenna and Norton showed minimal interest in leaving the Portage Trail Conference, which will now have to replace its biggest member, Roosevelt.

After receiving invites from the SL last month, Brecksville, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Stow, North Royalton and Twinsburg discussed forming their own league with Medina and Solon. Those discussions never gained any traction, however, as the prospect of joining Wadsworth and Nordonia in the SL won out.

All nine schools also took longer to decide than the SL preferred.

“It was a little nerve-racking, but we asked for their patience most of the summer,” Addis said. “When we were able to deliver stuff to them, we gained a brand-new respect for the process. Whether we knew on September 6th or 30th didn’t matter. It wasn’t going to change things. We recognized they needed time to do things. We were more anxious and excited than nervous.”

Medina and Brunswick are now in a bit of a pinch, as the NOC will need to be revamped.

In June, the NOC held an informational meeting that coincided with the SL’s. Aurora, Kenston, Willoughby South, Eastlake North, Brecksville, North Ridgeville, Bay and Rocky River were in attendance, while Berea-Midpark, Green, Wadsworth and Highland did not attend.

The fallout has worked against the NOC, which at the time wanted to add a fourth division of six schools. Green chose the Federal League last month, Bay and Rocky River join forces in the new Greater Cleveland Conference, Aurora and Brecksville will join the SL and North Ridgeville is now a realistic possibility to replace Brecksville in the Southwestern Conference.

The remaining schools in the NOC are Brunswick, Brush, Elyria, Garfield Heights, Mayfield, Medina, Mentor, Normandy, Parma, Shaker Heights, Solon, Strongsville, and Valley Forge. Complicating matters, Elyria has expressed interest in the SWC.

NOC Commissioner Dan Gerome isn’t concerned. The first goal is to replace the five leaving schools — Kenston is a logical fit and North Ridgeville is still a possibility after applying to the NOC this summer — though outside interest has yet to grab hold.

Gerome is willing to compromise. If the 18-team format can’t be maintained, the NOC will go to two divisions of seven or eight teams. The last-resort option is to do nothing at all and have one division of seven and another of six.

“Let’s be honest, people are always posturing for the right place to put their football team,” Gerome said. “That’s what it’s about 99 percent of the time. It can be about travel and gate receipts, but those are less of an issue. What we’d like to do is to stay at 18 and keep the format we have with the competitive balance.

“We’ll move forward,” he added. “When those five schools are going, we would replace zero to five because at the moment our principals and athletic directors left weren’t having a problem with the competitive balance.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

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