By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – Looking around his office in late May, you wouldn’t know that Norm Sellers still had four sports still alive in the spring season. The walls were bare, just a photo of his family adjoining the double monitors on his desk, and a box and a basketball on a chair on the other side of his desolate athletic office.
If the walls could talk, they could tell stories of one of the most successful athletic departments in the area. On the final Friday of May, Sellers was all but checked out.
“Yeah, there’s not a lot left in here,” Sellers said with a grin. “I’m about packed up.”
Sellers announced his retirement as athletic director of NorthWood earlier in 2021, making official a long and proficient chapter of his life. But with the third of his three children, Kyle, set to graduate from NorthWood and his wife, Kim, more a priority than ever with her health needs, it was time. The chance to be home with his wife was the key, but not without the difficulty of leaving the baby he oversaw for 14 years.
One of the most notable details of Sellers’ office was the lack of an outdoor window. Stating it was “an absolute blessing in disguise” to not have the ability to constantly look outside, his windows either faced the hallway adjacent the outer wall of the swimming pool or out to the main lobby of the front offices of the school. Norm left the weather reports to then secretary Rachele Hill, “Norm, have you looked outside?” Hill would ask. “No, and I’m not gonna.”
The NorthWood athletic brand has become one of the more known, and for Sellers, successful outfits in the area. If asked, Sellers knows exactly how many sectional titles the school has won since he joined on in 2006. “There’s 78 of those trophies out there,” he was quick to say, and knew exactly where all of them were located. But as well as he was rehearsed in the successes of the athletic department in the 14 years of his guidance, Sellers pointed to one of the first days on the job and where improvement was immediately needed.
“One of the first days I was here, I looked at the baseball field and it was covered in dandelions,” Sellers said. “I found a couple janitors and we walked the field. I said this will never get this bad again. And it wasn’t just baseball, but I wanted to make sure all of our facilities were top notch, and not growing dandelions, so to speak. That was important to me from the start. And right now, I’d put our facilities up against anyone around, I feel good about what we have for our student athletes.”
After Sellers, a former baseball and football coach at Bremen as well as a highly respected IHSAA official, got his prized baseball field in order, he felt like the rest fell into place. Creating the personal motivation to “walk the perimeter” in a nod to the baseball field, Sellers took that directive to the football field, the basketball courts, the swimming pool and all of the NorthWood programs. Choosing to walk with the coaches in charge of their programs rather than fixing their fields for them, Sellers’ approach worked in building state championship football and girls basketball teams and those 78 sectional championship teams.
Sellers now steps away in a time where colleagues Dave Harms at Northridge, Mark Hofer at Fairfield, Darlene Mathew at Westview and several other athletic directors around the area have decided to retire. The passion in Sellers’ voice for the thousands of people he came in contact with in his job is evident, and furthermore when he talks about his three sons, Trent, Chad and Kyle, as well as Kim. But one topic still chokes him up, showing a true emotion that surrounds the pride of why he spent so many late nights on the job, so many phone calls and so many corporate meetings telling him what he could and couldn’t do.
“It was a bucket list night for sure,” Sellers said, choking back some fresh tears as he unfolded his recollection of his first state championship as an athletic director at NorthWood in February 2020. “Whether you are a basketball official, or a baseball coach, or football assistant or an athletic director, to play for a state championship proves you are the best of the best.
“For that season, with that group of kids, and to make the run along with Adam (Yoder, then girls basketball head coach), we worked together for a long time and coached football together at Bremen. If he hadn’t called me, I would have never came here. But Adam kept telling me in that tournament we had a game plan that could get us another win. And then we had five wins in a row and we’re in Indy. To share that moment after they beat Salem, I will never forget it.”
But as Sellers opens a new chapter in his life, one which will include much more fishing boats and muted iPhones, there is one part of the job he points to that gave him great pride.
“For a long time, I did take stuff home with me,” admitted Sellers of the grind of being an athletic director. “The long days, starting at 7:30 in the morning and getting home at 11 at night, there was a lot to manage. And all the while, I did it by myself. And I take an immense amount of pride in my 15 years, it was just me and my secretaries. What was going on here was me. Crazy to think about that. I’ll miss it, but I feel I did it the right way.”