Huntsville Natatorium To Host Fran Norris Swim Meet

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Huntsville, Ala. – Tim Norris, a world renowned speaker and veteran Huntsville Swim Association instructor, is honored that HSA’s next meet on Oct. 27-28 is named after his first coach and inspiration.

“It’s nice that after all these years that my mom is recognized for what she’s done,” explained Norris, who is HSA’s head age group coach. “The Fran Norris Meet means a lot to me and so does her being inducted into a pair of Hall of Fames. She’s done so much for the sport in this area.”

The Jack Frost Meet was renamed the Fran Norris Meet in 2007 after the longtime senior development and masters coach for HSA. The weekend USA Swimming sanctioned meet will attract some of the top swimmers in the Southeast to Huntsville’s Natatorium. The 10-and-under swimmers begin warm-ups at 7:15 a.m. Saturday and Sunday with events starting at 8:30. The 11-and-over competition is held both afternoons.

“Fran touches and influences so much even today,” explained HSA Head Coach Matt Webber. “This town has produced two swimming Olympians and she had a hand in both of those. The swimmers now, they may not know her since she’s retired, but she still affects them, whether it is the facility they swim in which she helped acquire or even in the summer league that she helped start.”

One of the Olympians recalls her time under the direction of both Fran and Tim Norris. Margaret Hoelzer is a Huntsville native who went on to become an All-American at Auburn University. She also competed in a pair of Olympics, winning three medals in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.

“They both played a key role in my swimming career growing up and in the success I had leading up to my college swimming career,” Hoelzer said. “They both helped me to reach the highest levels of swimming you can reach at a high school level and that was a phenomenal platform to have to jump off of into my college career.”

During that time, Hoelzer was a member of the Space City Swim Team formed by Fran Norris. Norris was the head coach of that club team for eight years and her son Tim served as an assistant coach.

“Over at HSA, when she coached there, Fran basically started their winter program,” explained Glenn Carr, who has coached area swim teams since 1967. “In the winter, she was driving to Athens three to four times a week to practice at the Athens College pool. Then, every day, she would go to the mayor’s office and bend the ear of whoever was there at the time. It took several years, but she finally got the city of Huntsville to build a pool. In all honesty, it should be called the Fran Norris Natatorium.”

When Norris ultimately retired from the sport, she had molded swimmers of all ages for nearly half a century in Huntsville.

“Fran has done so much for swimming in our community,” said veteran HSA Masters Coach Brooke Pate. “She was the one who started a lot of the run and swim programs here and she’s served at just about every position on various teams and held things together over the years.”

The Norris family moved to Huntsville in 1961. In 1965, Fran Norris started a swim team atop Monte Sano.

“They told me I wouldn’t last,” she simply stated.

Forty-four years later, Fran Norris received the ultimate honor from her local community when she was inducted into the 2009 Huntsville Madison County Hall of Fame. Most recently, on Oct. 6, 2012, she was inducted into the prestigious Southeastern Swimming Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Orange Beach.

“I’ve always loved water and I’ve always loved working with children,” said Norris. “Whether it’s telling stories in Sunday school or whatever, I’ve enjoyed working with kids. I’ve coached everything from house painters to physicians. I’ve coached all kinds of kids, good and bad.”

Born in Galt, Ontario, Canada, Fran Norris received a degree in psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She then served as the water safety instructor at Michigan.

“We had a pond in our back yard,” said Tim Norris. “That’s where I learned to swim. She taught me and was my first coach. I remember that the university would do studies on fish in the pond and later there were all these tropical fish swimming around.”

Now, Norris oversees a talented group of Huntsville area swimmers darting through the water. Over the past 36 years, he’s coached athletes at basically every level. The swimming virtuoso mentored several southeastern champions, junior and senior national champions as well as athletes who became US Olympians.

The former University of Alabama distance star has lectured on various swim topics throughout the world, including France, Belgium, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Hong Kong. He was also an assistant at Alabama under Don Gambril, who is a three-time Olympic coach.

“Tim’s job as head age group coach with HSA, he sort of puts the fuel in the rockets and sets them off,” Webber said. “He gives the swimmers a set of fundamentals that can turn good into great.”

Tim Norris prepped at Huntsville High School and is a former state champion in several distance events. He was named an All-American at Alabama in 1975 in the grueling 1,650 freestyle.

“I was told when I was recruited at Alabama that I could be an All-American and that I could gain a world ranking (top 16 in 1975). I was also told I could win a SEC title and that happened twice.”

Norris has witnessed swimming springboard from its early beginnings in Huntsville to the record number of athletes participating this year.

“The basics of the sport haven’t changed much. There’s a slightly different approach to teaching. Some of the philosophy on strokes has changed, such as how the butterfly is taught. There are also some new rules that have been implemented over the years, but for the most part the basics stay the same.”

Courtesy PM Black