Is the NOL, which crowned its first football champions (Bellevue and Galion) in 1944, on its last leg?
There are a number of questions, but few answers, as the NOL learned it was losing another team Tuesday when the Ontario school board voted to pull out of the league after the next school year to join the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference.
That leaves just six teams left in the league — Norwalk, Willard, Bellevue, Sandusky, Shelby and Tiffin Columbian.
There has been talk of the NOL joining with the Sandusky Bay Conference to form a three-division league.
"At this point, Norwalk has expressed interest in joining other SBC schools to make a new league,“ Norwalk City Schools Superintendent George Fisk said. ”That's where it stands now.“
"We've gotten no response yet," said Fisk, who is unaware of any timetable.
The superintendent was asked if this might be a sign of the NOL eventually dissolving.
Fisk said it's hard to say, since select schools in the NOL have expressed interest in creating a new league with the SBC and it depends "if there's interest from the SBC schools in question."
Ontario High School Principal Chris Smith explained to the board and meeting attendees how the NOL disintegrated, as well as how Ontario ended up deciding to join the MOAC, the Mansfield News-Journal reported.
A proposed merger would have three divisions in the SBC, with Clyde and Perkins joining with the biggest NOL teams to create the big-school division. Willard would play in the middle division with schools closer to its size such as Edison, Huron, Port Clinton and Oak Harbor. Shelby’s status in the new league has not been decided, the source has told the Reflector.
A little over a year ago, Smith said, Willard High School expressed an interest in leaving the NOL because the school's enrollment numbers made them by far the smallest school in the league.
"Because we were a league of seven schools to begin with, this sprung everybody else into action, because when you have six in a league it becomes very difficult to sustain that league and difficult to schedule games," Smith said in the News-Journal story.
Ontario has been in the NOL three years since leaving the North Central Conference.
Smith said NOL first looked to add new schools to its league, but was unable to get any schools to commit. Ontario then considered membership in the Sandusky Bay Conference, but chose not to join because the conference would have matched them with schools that were a good competitive fit but were too far away geographically, such as Vermilion, Huron, Oak Harbor and Port Clinton.
The NOL at one time was the oldest continuous league in Ohio.
The league celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1993.
In a football preview story that year, former Trucker coaches Grant Walls and Bob Hart talked about the league.
Walls coached from 1944 (the first year of the NOL) to 1957 and his teams posted a 63-55-11 record.
Walls never minced his words.
“I think the coaches have gone overboard with the National Football League,“ Walls said at the time. ”They are trying to coach like the pros. The kids are bigger and stronger, but they are still 15 and 16 year olds. I think coaches should come back down to earth. They should coach more fundamentals.”
Walls said when he coached football wasn’t real fancy.
“Sometimes we walloped the hell out of them and sometimes they walloped the hell out of us.”
Hart’s teams posted a 51-40-1 record from 1972 to 1980, including the 1974 Class AA state title.
Hart graduated from Bellevue High School in 1954 and competed in the NOL as both a player and coach.
“It keeps evolving and improving,” Hart said about the game. “The fundamentals are the same but the kids are more football knowledgeable today because of TV.”
Hart talked about the state championship team.
“The first thing that comes to mind was that was probably the best high school team that I coached. A combination of things. Kids had success playing together in the earlier years. We had a large number of kids who played who were also very good in the classroom. It makes it easier to coach.”
He added: “A little bit of speed and good size. A lot of good things combined to have good success. Good coaching staff and good support from the school. You don’t always get them all together as the same time.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Reflector Staff Writer Cary Ashby contributed to this story.