Clay officially moving to Northern Lakes

J. Patrick Eaken

By a 4-0 vote on Tuesday, the Oregon City Schools Board of Education voted to leave the Three Rivers Athletic Conference and join the Northern Lakes League.

The addition of Clay, Whitmer, Findlay and Fremont Ross to the NLL will create an 11-team league that will begin play in 2023-24, unless the schools are released from their current conferences earlier. Fremont Ross voted to accept the invitation on April 12 followed by Findlay on April 19. The NLL will be divided into two divisions.

“It is something that since I have been here, certainly as superintendent, but even as an assistant superintendent, and since the TRAC was formed, there have been conversations about this,” OCS Superintendent Hal Gregory said. “Having this happen kind of in a quick fashion — there always was a lot of talk.

“We know how the divisions will line up. At this point in time, there are plans to be two divisions — a large and small. We are planning to be in the small division at this time. Mr. (Clay athletic director Mark) Beach and Mr. (Clay principal Jim) Jurski will participate in the NLL planning committee moving forward, so they are going to get involved and be part of this decision-making process.”

The large school division will consist of Whitmer (839 boys, 766 girls), Perrysburg (672, 580), Findlay (600, 575), Anthony Wayne (544, 438), Sylvania Northview (511, 503) and Fremont Ross (454, 399). The small school division will be Springfield (452, 432), Clay (442, 432), Sylvania Southview (368, 377), Bowling Green (361, 353) and Napoleon (248, 258).

“You see there is an unbalanced league there, and I think there is hope that there might be another small school that possibly comes in at some point,” Gregory said. “We really have no inside knowledge on that, but I think there is still talk about some other leagues and other schools that could happen. We don’t know but that is the way it is shaking up right now, but thank you for the support ever since the talks started, we got the invite, and I know our coaches are excited about that.”

Gregory said competing in the NLL will be good for everyone involved, and he thanked the OCS school board for its vote and the NLL principals for its unanimous vote inviting Clay.

“This is a very good move for Clay allowing for a strong competitive environment, limited travel and excellent fan experiences.  I just want to kind of emphasize that — going around to the NLL schools and what we are going to experience that is different for our kids and fans,” Gregory said. 

“The NLL schools have outstanding school traditions, strong academics and influential school leaders.  I want to personally thank the NLL commissioner, Richard Browne, the NLL principals, athletic directors and superintendents for having faith in Clay High School and inviting us to be a part of the NLL.”

Every TRAC school had sent letters of interest, but only four of the five public schools were invited. The remaining TRAC schools are St. John’s, St. Francis, Central Catholic, St. Ursula, Notre Dame and Lima Senior.

Gregory said that if the TRAC allows Clay to leave earlier, that would be even better. He added that the TRAC was notified of Clay’s decision immediately after Tuesday’s vote.

The league dominoes started falling when Elmwood announced it was leaving the Northern Buckeye Conference for the Blanchard Valley Conference effective 2023-24.

The Maumee school board voted 5-0 to leave the NLL and join the NBC, filling Elmwood’s spot, while at about the same time the NLL announced an expansion plan. In the NBC, Maumee will be the largest school, currently housing 285 boys and 282 girls in three grades. Maumee will join Rossford (218 boys, 214 girls), Fostoria (207, 191), Eastwood (189, 173), Lake (185, 176), Otsego (187, 171), Genoa (185, 156) and Woodmore (138, 112).


Second time around

Clay has been here before — auditioning to the NLL in 2009 to fill a spot made vacant when Rossford left to join the NBC. Napoleon was also in contention, and the NLL chose Napoleon over Clay by a 4-3 vote. In June 2009, Napoleon accepted the invitation and began participating in the NLL in 2011.

Clay had been a charter member of the Great Northern Conference in 1945, which split into what would become the Northern Lakes League and Great Lakes League in 1956.  Clay stayed in the GLL until it folded, joined the Toledo City League and then the TRAC.

The TRAC began its inaugural season in the fall of 2011. The idea for the creation of the league was brought about following Toledo Public Schools’ decisions to close Libbey High School and athletic cuts within TPS which were made by the system to offset a reported $39 million budget deficit. 

In May 2010, the TPS board of education voted to cut all junior high (seventh and eighth grade) and freshman sports, as well as the discontinuation of boys tennis, cross country, golf, ice hockey and wrestling. This caused concern for the non-TPS members, who wanted to have competition in those sports and at those levels without struggling to find games.

Clay, which joined the City League in 2003, was the first school to announce that they would leave following a unanimous vote of 5-0 by the Oregon District in mid-July 2010.



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