Norma Carr will retire from Salt Lake Community College this summer, handing the keys to another athletic director who will oversee a highly successful, five-sport program that’s respected on the campus and competes in nice venues.
Twenty-five years ago, Carr was just happy to get an office door with a lock.
She had moved from the University of Utah to SLCC, where the Bruins fielded two basketball teams that played in high school gyms. The athletic department was barely tolerated by the school’s administration. The men’s basketball program was on national probation. Carr’s office was in a shed that had been converted into a dorm, with a sheet covering her doorway.
Otherwise, it was a dream job.
Carr can laugh while telling those stories now, having lived through the difficult, early days — about 10 years of struggles, actually, before the program grew into something resembling its current status.
“The whole athletic department was in shambles,” said Norm Parrish, then an assistant basketball coach. “People don’t realize how bad it was.”
SLCC’s program is far removed from that era, which means Carr is walking away just when her life is getting good. “It’s extremely hard to leave,” she said on a recent morning, her voice catching. “I’m barely getting to where I can talk about it.”
Her last day of work is July 31. Competitively, her tenure ended May 10 when the Bruins’ baseball and softball teams lost in the regional finals. That ended an academic year in which SLCC played in the national tournaments in women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball.
The Bruins’ facilities are part of Carr’s legacy. The athletic department is housed in the Lifetime Activities Center, with a basketball arena suitable for Kevin Durant and other NBA stars to have made their pro debuts in the Rocky Mountain Revue. The baseball team hosted the conference tourney at Cate Field, on SLCC’s Jordan campus. And the softball diamond, where the baseball team once practiced, has produced a three-time national runner-up.
Carr was a Davis High School and BYU athlete in the ’60s, prior to Title IX opportunities. Now, in her mid-60s, she can look back proudly on the growth of women’s athletics — and her own quest to become established in a male-dominated profession.
She retains the toughness that once was required to fight for facility access for her girls teams as a Davis coach, yet has softened just enough over the years in her role as the only Utah woman to administer men’s collegiate sports. “She’s more approachable than people think,” said Parrish, who was SLCC’s head basketball coach for 20 years before joining the University of Utah staff in 2011. “She puts on a little facade; she’s kind of stoic, but when you go to her with a sincere problem, she sincerely tries to help you.”
After arriving at SLCC, Carr made the coaches stick to budgets, recruit players with higher character and follow departmental policies. SLCC acquired the former South High School building and the Bruins played basketball games in the old gym, while visiting teams used the pool locker room.
The athletic department expanded in the mid-’90s, about the time the new, on-campus building opened. Carr is credited with establishing the baseball and women’s volleyball teams (softball would come later), which is true — except she would like to have been consulted before the school’s president impulsively declared the sports would be added.
That meant Carr had to take sod-cutting tools to create a baseball infield for practice, among other tasks, besides increasing the athletic program’s budget. She made it all work, building a well-rounded department with coaching stability and consistent excellence on regional and national levels.
Parrish’s team won the 2009 NJCAA title, after finishing second the previous year. The volleyball team claims two second-place finishes and the softball team lost in the title game each of the past three seasons. And women’s basketball coach Betsy Specketer posted her 400th win this year, while taking her team to the NJCAA tournament.
The Bruins have won big, without compromising. Whatever stereotypes exists about junior college athletics, SLCC defies. The Bruins feature genuine student-athletes, mostly from Utah, and many of them participate in the Know Greater Heroes leadership program. They conduct elementary school assemblies that reach some 15,000 students annually in the Salt Lake Valley.
All of that reflects Carr’s impact. SLCC’s next athletic director will have much to live up to, but will step into a much better job that the one she inherited.
Mary Kay Amicone coached SLCC’s softball team for nine years before moving to Weber State last summer. She had reunited with Carr after playing for her at Utah, where Amicone remembers thoroughly scripted practices in which “there wasn’t a minute of wasted time.”
That’s how Carr approached her job at SLCC, and 25 years have allowed for a lot of productivity.
SLCC’s top NJCAA finishes
First • Men’s basketball, 2009
Second • Women’s volleyball (‘99, ‘04), men’s basketball (‘08), softball (‘11-’13)
Norma Carr’s recent honors
2014 • George E. Killian Award of Excellence, NJCAA
2013 • Days of ‘47 Pioneers of Progress Award
2012 • Outstanding Achievement Award, YWCA
2009 • Administrator of the Year, National Association of Collegiate Women’s Athletics