Aug. 22–Since 1944, the Norwalk Truckers have entered every season with the same goal in mind: win the Northern Ohio League championship.
After 73 years, their goal has finally changed. They now want to win the Sandusky Bay Conference championship.
“The new league is exciting, but it is still a bit heart wrenching because it will not be our core group anymore,” Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland said.
“I grew up playing in the NOL and coaching in it. The conference had some of the best schools and communities out there. The nice part about our division is that four teams in the Lake Division are coming with us from the NOL. So we will always have that bond.”
Though it is a new expansion to the SBC, there will still be four of the former seven NOL schools in the Lake Division joining Norwalk. Bellevue, Tiffin Columbian and Sandusky join the Truckers as former NOL members in the new SBC Lake Division, so it isn’t so much of a drastic change. And the Truckers have loaded up their non-conference schedule with former NOL foes just to keep the tradition alive.
“We still play Shelby and we are going to play Willard again, so we almost have our full group other than Ontario,” MacFarland said. “We will continue that history that we created from so many years in the NOL it just will not have the same meaning that those game had from years past.”
The Truckers host Willard in Week 1 and take on Shelby in Week 5. The NOL tradition will live on at least for another year. Shelby will move to the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference as soon as next season.
“It will be nice for us this year to be able to continue some of those NOL rivalries,” MacFarland said.
“I don’t think it worked out like that for other schools. We have created some nice bonds thanks to our location with Willard and Shelby and we just wanted to keep all of that going. The NOL schools had such great traditions that I think it would be a shame to not see Norwalk and Willard play or Norwalk and Shelby. That is 75-plus years of playing each other.
“It is also great for the fans,” MacFarland said. “Our fans enjoy traveling down the road to the NOL schools and visit their towns and eat at their restaurants and keep that tradition alive. It is bittersweet, but it is a new day in Ohio high school sports.”
Between Willard and Shelby, Norwalk picks up Edison, Port Clinton and Margaretta before beginning their final five weeks of conference games. The Truckers start SBC play at Bellevue followed by hosting Sandusky, traveling to Perkins the Clyde and rounding it out by hosting Columbian in Week 10. What seems like a grind of a schedule turns out to be a nice challenge and just what MacFarland was looking for in a schedule.
“We were asked about the last five-week schedule,” MacFarland said.
“We picked up Clyde and Perkins and for us, those games used to be Week 11 and 12; those were teams we play in the playoffs. So we are now playing them in the regular season. Our conference now has two more playoff teams, so that makes the final few weeks of the season and the entire season really a tough, tough grind.”
The new move to the SBC also eliminates those long drives to Cleveland John Hay and Columbus East and instead gives Norwalk a chance to start some new traditions with schools much closer.
“I hope that the communities come back a little bit and pack the stands,” MacFarland said. “We were going to Columbus and Cleveland the past few years so now we have some very close games right down the road. We know these communities all the way down to our youth programs. I think the atmosphere on Friday night will go back to where they were 10 (to) 15 years ago when high school sports were as big if not bigger than they are now.”
Norwalk hosts Willard on Thursday night in an annual kickoff to high school football a day early.
Last season, the Truckers traveled to Port Clinton for a Thursday night game, but this year has a different feel to it; call it an old school feel. Norwalk hosts Willard, the way it should be — two NOL rivals kicking off the high school football season in style, just like the old days.
“It is nice to have an old NOL rival, have it on a Thursday night to kick off the season and to be able to host it is awesome,” MacFarland said. “We are the only game in town and it will be our first day back to school, so the buzz will be electric around town. It is going to be great for our kids and for high school football fans around the area.”
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