NORTH RIDGEVILLE — When word got out that the Northeast Ohio Conference was looking to expand from its 18 schools, North Ridgeville High School was interested.
With the West Shore Conference’s future cloudy after news that Midview, Lakewood and Avon are leaving for the Southwestern Conference for the 2015-16 school year (Avon is joining in 2014-15), North Ridgeville — which also was up for a spot in the SWC — wanted to weigh its options.
After attending a June meeting with 11 other schools hosted by the NOC and then meeting with its school board, North Ridgeville submitted an application to the NOC, athletic director Nori Okuma confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram on Wednesday.
“We went to their meeting, listened to what they had to say and met with our board, and felt it was in our best interest to submit that letter,” Okuma said. “So the short answer is, yes, we submitted an application to admission into NOC.”
Okuma did not know the 11 other schools at the meeting, nor how many of them applied.
“They haven’t given us a timetable,” Okuma said. “I’d expect some reciprocal communication before we ramp up for fall season. We expect something in early August and we’ll go from there.”
Okuma, with the blessing of his superintendent and principal, said the main reason they were interested in the NOC is for the student-athletes of North Ridgeville.
“In earlier articles when we talked about the potential breakup of the WSC, we wanted to do what was best for our kids,” he said. “While we want to see the WSC succeed, we want to do what’s best for our kids. We want to keep all of our options open.
“All this is a letter that says we’re interested in expansion, not saying we want to join right now. Basically, all this is doing is protecting the interests of the students of North Ridgeville.”
The only Lorain County school in the NOC is Elyria. The other members are Brunswick, Brush, Cuyahoga Falls, Garfield Heights, Hudson, Mayfield, Medina, Mentor, Normandy, North Royalton, Parma, Shaker Heights, Solon, Stow-Munroe Falls, Strongsville, Twinsburg and Valley Forge.
The NOC has three six-team divisions — the River, Lake and Valley — and teams are slotted in each sport based on strength, geography and traditional rivalries.
The NOC formed in 2007 when the Pioneer and Western Reserve conferences merged. North Ridgeville, which was a member of the Pioneer from 1997-2003, joined the newly formed WSC before the merger happened.
Okuma said the travel, which would involve going to schools on the east side of Cuyahoga County and Summit County, was considered.
“They are a large conference right now and some schools may be looking at other options, we don’t know,” Okuma said. “But the fact that they are looking to expand and they want to get bigger, I think that could set up competitive divisions within the conference. That’s what’s most intriguing for us — being placed in a division within the conference where we’re competitive year in and year out with each sport.
“Certainly travel is a factor. That’s a reason we love the WSC as much as we do. It’s created good rivalries for us and it’s centrally located. That was our attraction to the SWC as well. While the NOC is not the perfect travel situation, I think what they offer with competitiveness and flexibility outweighs that.”
Okuma stressed that North Ridgeville is just testing the waters and exploring its options.
“Our philosophy stands the same knowing we were losing Avon, Midview and Lakewood in 2015,” he said. “Certainly, we would like to see the WSC work. But if it doesn’t, we’d like to look for our best interests. If that’s the NOC, great, or if it’s another conference we haven’t pursued yet, so be it.
“Our job is to make sure we put our student-athletes in the best positions to compete and excel on the athletic field.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.