Cuyahoga Falls move hopes to boost athletic programs

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The periods of excellence in public high school sports tend to unfold in cycles.

When it comes to a division as rigorous as the National Suburban League Conference, pretty much any school will have its ups and downs.

As Cuyahoga Falls athletic director Kenny Johnson notes, however, there have been many more lows than highs since the Black Tigers joined the Suburban League in 2015.

“With the National Conference all-sport championship in the Suburban League, we’ve never finished higher than the last one,” said Johnson. “And it was not close”

Thus, the Black Tigers will face a new set of enemies within the Suburban League starting this fall.

Suburban League Commissioner Keith Walker has confirmed that effective July 1, Cuyahoga Falls will begin playing in the American Suburban League Conference.

Cuyahoga Falls, running back Elijah Hicks stiff arms, Copley defensive lineman Sam Seevers in a game last season.  Falls and Copley will become league rivals this season, as the Black Tigers join the National Suburban League conference.

The Black Tigers will face Aurora, Barberton, Copley, Kent Roosevelt, Medina Highland, Revere and Tallmadge in conference.

Walker notes that the move was approved by league officials two years ago and should benefit the league as a whole.

“I think the vast majority are happy with it,” Walker said. “The American conference schools are happy because they no longer have to schedule an extra game. The National Conference schools will have to schedule an extra game, but I think there is a little more fairness with it. [Falls] American style.

“I think it will be better for everyone,” Walker notes, as the National Conference is reduced to seven schools in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Hudson, Nordonia, North Royalton, Stow-Munroe Falls, Twinsburg and Wadsworth.

This is the first major change in the make-up of the Suburban League since switching to its current two-conference format in the summer of 2015.

Walker notes that the league is still poised to find a 16th member, but no further movement is imminent.

As for Falls, Johnson is frank that the move was made on “strictly competitive grounds.”

While individual athletes enjoyed success in Falls during the Suburban League era – topped by Black Tiger bowler Justin Moyer winning the Division I individual state title in 2017 – Falls leaves the National Conference without winning of conference title in any sport.

“I think we could be a lot more competitive in the American Conference, at least to the point where we don’t finish last,” Johnson said. “With the number of registrations obviously smaller, I think we can compete in all sports. Logistically, in terms of travel, it was pretty much the same as the National Conference.”

Johnson has said he is bleeding black and gold and enjoys his time as a sporting director for the past several years. However, the 1996 graduate Falls notes that it was difficult to watch his alma mater struggle.

He also said the move to the American Conference would “absolutely not” be a panacea for the Black Tigers’ athletic struggles.

“I think the American Conference is strong in all sports,” Johnson said. “I think that was the perception of some people that we’re going to come down and dominate this conference. It was never my thought.”

In some sports – particularly soccer – Johnson notes that Falls might have a bigger challenge at the American Conference.

“Football is not a sport where going American is going to be good for us,” he said.

Johnson notes that he feels some members of the community are unaware of the realities that Falls faces.

“People knew Falls was the school that was good at everything,” Johnson said. “Since we were in the 1999 state baseball final, people think we should be at that level. That was 20 years ago. Now we are struggling to field a baseball team. first year.

“It’s mind-boggling to me. I saw what it can look like here. If it helps us, then we know we made the right decision.”

While there are many reasons for Falls’ recent sporting difficulties, one of the biggest is demographics.

When Johnson graduated from Falls in 1996, he did so in a class of 470 students. The 2021 class in Falls included 280 students.

Losing almost half a class of students would affect any school.

Johnson notes that the housing situation in the Cuyahoga Falls City school district is not conducive to sustaining large families.

“Cuyahoga Falls is landlocked. There is no real development under construction here,” Johnson said. “So when you have growing families looking for bigger homes, they go somewhere like Woodridge or Stow.

“It’s frustrating because we see a lot of children coming out of our youth programs,” he added. “We’re excited and then they walk away. It is a huge factor. The people of Falls just don’t see it ”

Johnson also notes Falls’ proximity to Jesuit Walsh, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Archbishop Hoban, and St. Vincent-St. Mary also puts a brake on student availability.

Additionally, success tends to breed success in high school sports. Johnson believes the community of Falls needs more heroes in black and gold to admire.

“When I was in the first and second years I watched all of these great teams play for Falls,” Johnson said. “I knew right away that I wanted to be a Black Tiger. You didn’t want to go somewhere and be good, you wanted to do it here. Until we get some of that back, I don’t know if we can. all to be what we were. “

Johnson notes that Falls has tons of good connections in the Suburban League and isn’t looking to leave the league as a whole anytime soon. He notes that Falls football played almost every member of the American Conference last season to prepare for this fall.

One thing Johnson wants to reassure Falls fans about: The rivalry with Stow is going nowhere, as the Black Tigers will play Stow in the first week of football this fall.

“We have already made this agreement that we will keep this rivalry,” Johnson said. “It might even strengthen the rivalry that we only play them once a year.”


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