Thanks to Norma, the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Museum survived the pandemic and is going strong
Athlete, coach, crusader for women’s rights: Athletic director Norma Carr did it all in her career. Now, in her retirement she’s making sure the legacy of Utah’s sports greats have a permanent home
Standing at the entrance to the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Museum, a place that houses the institutional memory of Utah’s finest athletes and greatest sports achievements, Norma Carr, the acting manager of the museum, is asked if she ever feels the presence of the legends. As she wanders the displays, does she, you know, hear their voices?
“Well, yes,” she says with a grin. “We have the back monitor on all the time telling stories, so I’m always hearing their voices.”
The museum is among Salt Lake City’s newest — and least known — attractions. Tucked off the beaten path on the northwest corner of City Creek Center, just beyond Nordstrom on the southeast corner of the 99 West condo tower (confused yet?), the museum has had its growing pains.
Less than a year after opening its doors, COVID-19 shut it down for more than a year. Then when it finally got up and running, the indispensable daytime manager, Rod Young, experienced some health problems and had to step away.
Enter — or make that reenter — Norma, the person who has seen the project through since its inception and is determined to ensure its success.
She had the good (bad?) timing to be president of the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation in 2019, the year after Vivint Arena did a massive overhaul that included removing the concourse wall that for decades housed the plaques of the Hall of Fame inductees.
Suddenly, the plaques had nothing to hang on. Guys like Gene Fullmer and Alf Engen were orphans.
“We were in boxes,” says Norma.
She balks at taking credit for the gleaming if hard-to-find museum, crediting the brainstorming of a lot of smart and creative people on the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation board and executive committee with bringing to pass a facility that “goes way beyond what any of us expected.”
But, still, she was the person in charge; it was her baby; she’s the one who stayed at the helm and steered it to completion.
Figuring out how to pay for it, she says, “just about killed me.”
She’ll never forget the day Kem Gardner, Salt Lake City’s resident good guy, handed her a check for $200,000 as the first contribution. The ink wasn’t dry before she deposited it. After that the Millers, the Eccles, the Zions Banks, et al., followed suit and the foundation had the $1 million it needed to build out the museum and hire a design firm (insight exhibits) to make it a showplace. (Now that it’s operational, the Utah Legislature contributes an annual stipend).
Of course, anyone who knows Utah sports knows it wasn’t Norma’s first tackling of something hard, not to mention unprecedented. This is a woman who championed women’s sports before there were women’s sports. She was head coach of the first women’s volleyball and softball teams at the University of Utah. After 14 years at the U. she was named athletic director at Salt Lake Community College — the first woman to lead a sports department at a Utah institution of higher learning. Before she retired in 2014 after 25 years at the helm, she turned SLCC into a recognized national powerhouse.
Norma, 73, joined the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation board in 1995 — and you don’t have to ask if she was the first woman to fill that position.
Over the past 27 years, she’s been involved in the selection process of more than half of the hall of fame inductees, giving her a reverence and appreciation for those enshrined.
“I love sports and I love what this represents,” she says, beckoning toward the displays honoring Utah’s finest, from Arnie Ferrin and Merlin Olsen to Jay Don Blake and Haloti Ngata, from Rex Berry and Herman Franks to Natalie Williams and Logan Tom, and on and on. There are currently 246 men and women in the Utah hall.
This September, there will be 251. The Class of ’22 inductees include Steve Konowalchuk, the first Salt Lake City native to play in the NHL; BYU star lineman and NFL veteran Scott Brumfield; sports executive Dave Checketts; rodeo champion Cody Wright and — the lone female in the group — all-around athlete and administrator Norma Carr, the Rosa Parks of Utah women’s sports.
As you might expect, when asked about going into the hall of fame she’s helped build — in this case quite literally — Norma downplays the honor, preferring instead to focus on what’s on her to-do list at the moment. Top of which is finding a manager to alleviate some of her duties at the museum, such as making schedules for the small team of volunteers who staff the front desk, taking care of payroll and sending Christmas cards to legislators.
“I won’t always be here,” she says.
But hold that thought. After September’s induction ceremonies, her story will be one of those being broadcast in the hall.
Among the legends’ voices coming out of the back monitor, preserved for the ages, will be her own.
The Utah Sports Hall of Fame Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There is no admission fee, although donations are gladly accepted.