Norwalk High School is set to host the official end at Whitney Field on Saturday as the seven schools will battle it out for the last track and field championship. The headlines all year long have been about the last NOL game and matchups and championships in different sports, but Saturday will be the final NOL event and at the conclusion, the NOL will be a part of history.
Norwalk track coach Ron DeLuca, a 1967 Bellevue graduate, has spent most of his life in connection with the NOL from player to now coach. He started coaching at Norwalk in 1973 as the girls’ track coach when the girls’ program started. Off and on for the next 44 years, DeLuca had his hand in the NOL at one level or another. His girls’ team won the NOL title in that first faithful year.
“We are excited to be able to celebrate the end,” DeLuca said. “We will have commemorative shirts for sale so everyone will have that piece of memorabilia. We are looking at this as a nostalgic event, especially coaches like me who have been around forever.”
For a coach who has been involved in the league since shortly after its conception in 1944, the end of the NOL will be a weird and trying time for the veteran leader.
“It is a real sense of loss,” DeLuca said. “It has been a very stable league and I have found over the years that the league has made some very good decisions with the kid’s interest at heart. Everyone worked really hard to win a team title in the NOL. It was a great honor to win a team NOL championship.
“All of the rivalries around here are just deep as it goes. Bellevue and Norwalk has been going on for 100 years or more. Neither team like each other, but they respect each other. It is settled on the athletic field. Then Shelby and there is no love lost there. Every game is fought hard every night.”
Norwalk, Bellevue, Shelby, Columbian, Sandusky, Ontario and Willard will all meet at Whitney Field at 9 a.m. on Saturday to battle for the last NOL championship up for grabs in any sport. DeLuca is expecting a lot of fireworks.
“The NOL has a huge tradition in track and it always seems the conference meet brings out the best in these athletes,” DeLuca said. “The NOL is always well-represented at the state meet. But it also brings all of the schools closer together. When Norwalk went to state in basketball, the other schools wrote letters and supported them all the way down to Columbus. The NOL is camaraderie through competition.”
But after 40-plus years of coaching, change will be difficult for DeLuca.
“It seems like I have been in this league for a long time, but more importantly, the league has been here a long time,” DeLuca said. “I am an NOL guy through and through and it will be very difficult for me to be a part of this new league. We will be a huge league and I will be very worried about the logistics of it.”