The Great Northern Conference (GNC), the forerunner to the Northern Lakes League (NLL), saw its first light on April 14, 1945. On that date a group of schoolmen met in Maumee and decided that a league was needed to “encourage and promote clean and wholesome inter-school activities” among the Toledo area schools. Present at that first meeting were the following: Clay – Bruce Berkey, Rodney Pyle, George Morse and principal Paul Clapper; Maumee – Joseph Jordan, Lewis Koehler and principal Jack O’Neil; Perrysburg – Jim Inman and principal O.C. Treece; Rossford – Robert Frank; Sylvania – Robert Schultz, R.C. Niswander and principal C.D. Cotterman; and Whitmer – Ralph Pritts and principal Elmer Marks. Various names were suggested for this newly formed league including Big Little League, Lake Erie League, Suburban League, Little Big Six, Big Six League, Maumee Valley League, Metropolitan League and the Great Northern Conference. Without much argument, the name Great Northern Conference was selected. The first officers chosen to guide the new league were the following:

Elmer Marks, Whitmer Principal
O.C. Treece, Perrysburg Principal
Paul Clapper, Clay Principal

In the early years, emphasis was placed on music as well as sports – except that Rossford did not have baseball until the spring of 1948. The first musical program was held at Perrysburg in 1946 and showed a profit of $31.90. For the next seven or eight years both vocal and instrumental league programs were presented and well received.

Additional sports were sponsored by the league as the interest developed. Reserve (JV) football was first sponsored in 1948 and wrestling became a league sport in 1952. Bowling was added in 1954, and golf and tennis in 1959.

By 1950, growing pains became evident due to increasing enrollment in some schools. In that year a proposal was made to unite with the Maumee Valley League which included Anthony Wayne, Delta, Holland, Ottawa Hills and Swanton. Some consideration was given to also asking Bowling Green and Port Clinton to join the GNC but no action was taken on either proposal.

The subject of league expansion came up again in 1951 with a feeler from Bowling Green. Enrollment figures at that time showed enrollment figures for grades 9-12 to be: Rossford 190, Perrysburg 400, Maumee 410, Clay 550, Whitmer 758 and Sylvania 840. Bowling Green’s enrollment was 515. Again no action was taken.

The Great Northern Conference grew to seven members in 1953 when Anthony Wayne left the Maumee Valley League and joined the GNC.

Growing pains continued to plaque the league. Finally, in 1955, the four smaller schools delivered an ultimatum – “something must be done”. A letter signed by the superintendents of Anthony Wayne, Maumee, Perrysburg and Rossford stated that those schools could not compete in athletics with the three larger schools – Clay, Sylvania and Whitmer. Their proposal, intended to permit the larger schools to kill each other off, specified that each of the larger schools must play each other twice in all sports each season and must play single games with each of the smaller schools. The smaller schools, in turn, were to play each other only once in each season, and the larger schools once in each sport each season. This plan was never adopted.

Study meetings were held during the 1956 school year with other schools invited to share in the discussions. Outside schools included were Bowling Green, Fostoria, Swanton, Oak Harbor, Genoa, Lake, Port Clinton, Holland (Springfield) and newly formed Rogers High School.

The meetings bore fruit, and the Great Northern Conference was enlarged and divided into a blue and an orange division. The blue division included Anthony Wayne, Genoa, Maumee, Perrysburg, Rossford and Port Clinton, while the orange division contained the larger schools Bowling Green, Clay, Fostoria, Rogers, Sylvania and Whitmer. The names of the leagues were changed in 1957 with the blue division becoming the Northern Lakes League and the Orange division becoming the Great Lakes League. This action brought to a close the Great Northern Conference which had been in existence since 1945. The two leagues continued to hold combined athletic meetings until 1960 when they became completely separate and independent leagues. Growing pains continued. Applications for admittance to the NLL were received in 1959 from Elmwood, Springfield (Holland), and Lake. Eastwood had applied in 1957 as well and in 1958 they became the 7th member of the NLL. Elmwood was admitted to the NLL in 1959, Lake in 1960 and Springfield in 1962. Following a discussion at the fall 1958 meeting of the GNC administrators, who continued to meet jointly, even though the leagues were separate, a committee consisting of Jim O’Brien from Clay, John Parlette from Bowling Green and William Roberts from Genoa was appointed. The committee’s task was to study scheduling problems and suggest possible realignment of the schools. The committee reported back with six possible solutions. None was acceptable to a majority and no action was taken. A suggestion was made that Maumee voluntarily transfer from the NLL to the GLL, but Maumee stated a preference to remain in the NLL. The status quo remained.

In 1959, Bowling Green, citing as a reason their inability to compete in football with the GLL schools (they won one league game in their first four years), withdrew from the GLL. In 1962, Port Clinton asked to be transferred from the NLL to the GLL. This move was approved and became effective with the 1962-63 school year.

A second realignment study was made by a committee in 1962 upon instructions from the GNC administrators group. The committee’s recommendation was as follows:

Great Lakes League
Port Clinton

Northern Lakes League
Anthony Wayne
Once again unanimity of opinion did not prevail and no action was taken.Applications for admittance to the GLL were received during the 60’s from Defiance, Tiffin Calvert, Cardinal Stritch and Sandusky Perkins. The NLL received applications from Swanton, Tiffin Calvert, Bowling Green and Lakota. None of the above schools were admitted to either league.

In 1966, Adams Township was annexed to Toledo so Rogers withdrew from the GLL and became a part of the Toledo City League effective with the 1967-68 school year. In that same year Bowling Green reapplied for admission to the GLL and their application was approved. beginning with the 1969-70 school year.

In 1968, a third discussion concerning possible realignment resulted in Maumee again being invited to transfer to the GLL. Their reply was short and sweet, “Maumee prefers to remain in the NLL”.

In the fall of 1970, a letter was circulated by Genoa High School indicating a dissatisfaction with present league alignment. Subsequent meetings were held and as a result three schools (Genoa, Eastwood, and Elmwood) announced their intention to withdraw from the NLL. Schools in the new league were Genoa, Gibsonburg, Eastwood, Elmwood, Lakota, Oak Harbor, Otsego and Woodmore. The league would be known as the Suburban Lakes League. These withdrawals left the NLL with six schools at the end of the 1970-71 school year. They were Anthony Wayne, Lake, Maumee, Perrysburg, Rossford and Springfield.

GLL membership as of this date included the following: Bedford, Bowling Green, Clay, Fostoria, Port Clinton and Sylvania.

For a few years cross-over contests according to league standings in the NLL and GLL were played. For example, the first place team in the NLL would play the first place team in the GLL, etc. This was not popular and it was dropped with the two leagues going their separate ways. To this day there are still some interleague contests but it is not a joint venture on the part of the NLL and GLL.

In retrospect, unlike the GLL the NLL has remained a very stable league over the years as the chart below will show. Other than the early years, (1957-70) when many changes occurred, the NLL has maintained the same membership, with a few exceptions. The charter members of the NLL in 1957 were Anthony Wayne, Genoa, Maumee, Perrysburg, Port Clinton and Rossford. Applications for admittance to the NLL were received from Eastwood in 1957 and from Elmwood, Lake and Springfield in 1958. Eastwood became the seventh member of the NLL in 1958. Elmwood became the eighth member in 1959 followed by Lake in 1960 and Springfield in 1962 to make the NLL a ten-member league. During the 60’s the NLL received letters of application from Swanton, Lakota, Bowling Green, Tiffin Calvert and Oak Harbor. None of these applications were approved by the NLL. In 1962 a committee of personnel from the Great Northern Conference of Administrators recommended a realignment with Maumee and Port Clinton joining the GLL to form two eight member leagues. An unanimity of opinion did not prevail and no action was taken. In 1962 Port Clinton asked to be transferred to the GLL and this transfer was effective with the start of the 1963-64 school year.

In 1968, a third discussion concerning possible realignment of the league resulted in Maumee again being invited to transfer to the GLL. Maumee’s reply was short and to the point, “Maumee prefers to remain in the NLL.”

In the fall of 1970 a letter was circulated by Genoa High School officials indicating a dissatisfaction with present league alignment. Subsequently, meetings were held and as a result three NLL schools – Eastwood, Elmwood and Genoa – announced their intention to form a new league to be known as the SLL – Suburban Lakes League. The other members of the SLL were Gibsonburg, Lakota, Oak Harbor, Otsego and Woodmore. This league began play in the fall of 1972. This action left the NLL with six schools – Anthony Wayne, Lake, Maumee, Perrysburg, Rossford and Springfield. In 1976 when Sylvania High School was divided into Northview and Southview, Northview remained in the GLL and Southview became the seventh member school in the NLL. Also in 1978 Bowling Green again withdrew from the GLL and was admitted to the NLL. The last change in membership in the NLL occurred in the fall of 1996 when Lake withdrew from the NLL to join the SLL. The return to an eight team league for the NLL was accomplished at the same time as Sylvania Northview withdrew from the GLL and filled Lake’s vacancy in the NLL.

In 2011, due to size differential, Rossford left the NLL to join the newly formed Northern Buckeye Conference. The NLL considered Clay and Napoleon to replace Rossford with Napoleon being selected for membership with the start of the 2011-12 school year.

In 2021, Maumee announced it was leaving the NLL to join the Northern Buckeye Conference. The NLL then announced it was expanded and added the following schools: Clay, Findlay, Fremont Ross & Whitmer. These schools would then begin competing in the NLL starting with the 2023 – 2024 school year. With the expanded league, the NLL will become two divisions, the Buckeye Division, and the Cardinal Division. The schools division is determined by the OHSAA total enrollment numbers for each school.

NLL Membership over the years:
Anthony Wayne High School * 1956 – Current
Bowling Green High School 1978 – Current
Clay High School 2023 – Current
Eastwood High School 1958 – 1971
Elmwood High School 1959 – 1971
Findlay High School 2023 – Current
Fremont Ross High School 2023 – Current
Genoa High School * 1956 – 1971
Lake High School 1960 – 1996
Maumee High School * 1956 – 2023
Napoleon High School 2011 – Current
Perrysburg High School * 1956 – Current
Port Clinton High School * 1956 – 1963
Rossford High School * 1956 – 2011
Springfield High School 1962 – Current
Sylvania Northview High School 1996 – Current
Sylvania Southview High School 1976 – Current
Whitmer High School 2023 – Current

* Charter member from GNC

Northern Lakes League Commissioners:
Wayne Stewart
James Knierim
James O’Brien
Phillip Williams
Larry Jones
William Sanford
Larry Morrison
Richard Browne

History written by Jim O’Brien, GLL Secretary, 1949-95

Edited by: Larry Morrison, GLL Commissioner, 1990-2003, NLL Commissioner 2001-2015

Richard Browne, NLL Commissioner 2015 – Current

Last Updated: May 26, 2023