ELi’s Trojan of the Week, Nikki Norris, Has Devoted Her Career to Athletics

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Courtesy of the Norris family

East Lansing Athletic Director Nikki Norris (center) with her daughters Elizabeth (left) and Meredith after having received the Women in Sports Leadership Award in February.

She started her athletic career as an Ithaca Yellowjacket, eventually became an Alma Scot, and has since flown the school colors of the Carson City-Crystal Eagles and the Corunna Cavaliers.

But for the past two years, ELi’s “Trojan of the Week” has bled blue and white, at all times day and night.

East Lansing High School Athletic Director Nikki Norris has thoroughly enjoyed her lifetime in sport even if it includes something as rare as what happened six weeks ago when the Michigan High School Athletic Association temporarily halted both the winter and spring sports seasons.

“Unchartered waters,” she said at the time the seasons had been suspended. “It’s something that no one could have predicted.”

Norris, however, was well prepared to meet the challenge of making sure her coaches, athletes and staff were able to work through the difficulties that the sudden end to the seasons presented. Her father, Howes Smith, was assistant principal and then principal at Ithaca High School, and both her mother and grandmother also were teachers.

A teacher and coach herself for three decades, Norris often relies on advice from her father in times of crisis.

“My dad used to always tell me, in difficult times the sun will always come up tomorrow,” Norris said. “For those of us who, at this point in our lives have seen a lot of things … it’s easier for us to understand that. Right now our kids need to know that in the grand scheme of things, state championships create great memories but it’s the relationships you’ve built on teams that will last a lifetime.”

Prior to arriving at ELHS, Norris had been athletic director at Corunna High School for eight years where she also coached varsity volleyball and basketball for an additional eleven years. She coached and taught for six years at Carson City-Crystal and has served as an MHSAA registered volleyball official for a total of 12 years.

Many of those accomplishments and contributions were celebrated in early February when she received the MHSAA’s 33rd Women In Sports Leadership Award during the group’s annual conference in Lansing.

Previous winners of the award from the Lansing area include Suzanne Martin (East Lansing, 2001),  Melanie Miller (Lansing, 2006), Gina Mazzolini (Lansing, 2010), and Teri Reyburn, DeWitt (2014).

The MHSAA Representative Council annually considers the achievements of women coaches, officials and athletic administrators who show exemplary leadership capabilities and positive contributions to athletics. Testimonials from fellow athletic directors Brian Osborn (Fowlerville), Dallas Lintner (Owosso) and Mike Bakker (Fenton) all noted Norris’ positive influence on students, staff and colleagues in the areas of safety and educational values.

“My goal is to always give our student athletes the best opportunities we can give them, so that they can have the best experiences,” Norris said. “I was very fortunate and very blessed to have the opportunities that I had. The life lessons learned in interscholastic athletics are amazing and for students and their coaches to have that experience in a safe place, I think, is critical.”

“They’re going to be supported, whether they make a good decision or bad one,” she added. “We’re here to support them. It’s my privilege, not my job, to give them the very best opportunities that we can to have a positive experience.”

Over the years Norris has contributed to a range of MHSAA committees, having provided input on a variety of sports, site selection, officials selection and the Scholar-Athlete Award. She also annually volunteers as a tournament administrator at the volleyball state finals in November and baseball, softball and girls soccer state finals in June.

In addition, she is a certified Red Cross instructor and facilitated sessions and presented at the annual Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) conference.

Rob Smith, the Trojans’ girls basketball head coach for the past 18 seasons, said Norris was instrumental in putting together one of the most competitive schedules his teams have ever played.

“Not easy to do,” Smith said, “but (Nikki) brought it all together very smoothly. We were as prepared, competiton-wise, for the postseason as we’ll ever be.”

For Norris, it’s all in a day’s – or night’s – work. Even on the weekends.

Her advice for anyone considering a career in sports administration?

“You’re going to be exhausted but there’s no better reward than to see your student athletes work toward a goal, and to be able to give them the opportunity to do that,” she said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

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