Northwestern football program began 50 years ago

The following is another "Have Fun or Get Out of the Way" column by Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola.

Northwestern’s Jared Anttila (2) leads the Tigers in a cheer before running on the field in Maple on Friday night. (Jed Carlson/

The following is another “Have Fun or Get Out of the Way” column by Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola.


Dateline, Sept. 8, 1966 - By Stan May, Superior Telegram Sports Editor, “Northwestern High School of Maple will enter varsity interscholastic football for the first time in the school’s history this year as the rural Douglas County school will play a seven-game schedule after competing in a four-game junior varsity slate a year ago.”

Lance Boyle remembers it like it was yesterday. But it all began for me two years earlier as I toiled away in the eighth grade at Lake Nebagamon Grade School under the instruction of principal/teacher Pat Moreland.

There was a knock on our classroom door and Mr. Moreland summoned me to the hallway. Oh, oh, I wasn’t sure what, but I knew I must have done something wrong. This could not be good.


There stood Dwain Guelle, the newly hired football coach at Northwestern. After a couple of minutes of conversation, he tossed me a football and said, “I want you to be my quarterback.”

He wanted me to throw the ball as much as I could during the summer of 1964 so I would be  ready to quarterback the Tigers during my freshman year.

Well, as we all know, summers in “Shangri La” are full of activities like “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Dance, Dance, Dance,” courtesy of the Beach Boys, and Jan and Dean’s “Sidewalk Surfin.”

Baseball, roller skating, the Tamburitzan’s, dances at Danny Hildebrandt’s and Larry Johnson’s, burgers and fries at the Rockstone, hanging out at my aunt and uncle’s drug store located next to Leighton’s Super Market, where my parents violated every child labor law in existence, and of course, my trying duties making sure all of the girls were safe at the beach, kept me very busy. 

But I played a lot of catch with my buddies, Tom Miller, Gary Snydle, and the afore-mentioned, Danny Hildebrandt. What a summer it was, but I was ready for the task at hand when the first football practice was held in August of 1965.

To make a long story short, as a quarterback, suffice it to say, I was no Nick Mehlum.  Hand offs and learning the plays were easy but when my first pass play was called, my hands began to sweat. After all, as I recall, it was 120 degrees. 

The ball was snapped, both lines stood up, with the defense trying to kill the freshman quarterback and the offensive line trying, very poorly I might add, to protect said quarterback.

As Paul Harvey could have said in his famous “Rest of the Story” radio feature, “After that first pass play, when the quarterback was hit from all directions, north, south, east, west, high and low, it was determined that his left knee suffered no permanent damage, but perhaps he should consider another position on the gridiron.”


Well, whether Paul Harvey said it or not, a wide receiver was born.

Why Northwestern started football during my freshman year is interesting.

As Stan May further reported in 1966, “Opening of football at Northwestern has been a long time coming with Michigan-Wisconsin officials putting the pressure on the Maple school to participate in the major sport for several years.

“Northwestern has been in the M-W loop for nearly a decade and has competed in basketball on a conference basis. The start of football at Northwestern came after long planning and hard work of school officials there.”

Gordon L. Nelson was the superintendent of schools at Northwestern. Urban legend was that Nelson had a lot of friends and influence in Madison and was able to secure some funding for the field.

By starting football, Northwestern was allowed to stay in the Michigan-Wisconsin Conference which included Superior Cathedral, Ashland, Hurley, Wakefield, Bessemer and Ironwood. It was a tough conference, in all sports, and became known as “The Highway 2 Conference.”

That first year in the fall of 1965, Northwestern played JV teams defeating Superior Cathedral and Ashland, and losing twice to Superior Senior High School’s JV’s. In 1966, three varsity games were played - Superior Cathedral, Ashland and Hurley - and 1967 was the first full varsity season in the M-W Conference for the Tigers.

A lot of history has been written and has taken place over the past 50 years of Tiger football. I, Lance Boyle, being of sound mind and body, am asking for any help the great readers can give.


Stories, facts, urban legends, photos would be great, any other information you would like to share can be sent to my email, .  Another article will be forthcoming.

I know for a fact that two of my teammates way back in 1965, Bill Weinandt and Obe Saari will have some stories. I hope they can be printed. I can’t wait.


Opinions and/or story ideas can be emailed to or

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