Before she started the softball program at Sinclair, before her 408 victories there coaching volleyball, before her pioneering roles as an administrator at the local community college and with the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and long before Friday night’s Hall of Fame induction at Sinclair, came new T-shirts for her athletes and a private place for them to change into them.
“I remember the first thing I did at Sinclair was make them throw out the T-shirts that said ‘Sinclair Girls Volleyball’ on them,” Norma Dycus said with a laugh as she recalled her early days in 1976.
“We were women … not girls.
“There were a lot of little things like that I wanted them to understand. Back then they also had separate locker rooms for the men’s teams and the visiting (men’s) teams, but the women all had to dress in the community locker room.
“We got that changed.”
Dycus is remembered for a lot of things she did on the coaching sidelines and in the administrative offices at Sinclair, but her biggest impact came with the young women in her charge for whom she opened hearts and minds and doors for decades.
“Over the years there were so many young women who came to us who just didn’t have confidence in themselves and they needed that,” Dycus said. “They needed the support of people who believed in them and allowed them to thrive on their own.
“There were three things I wanted for them: To be good students, to be responsible athletes and to be citizens of the community. I figured if they established those things in the little time they had with me, they could be successful in life.”
In part, because so many of her athletes blossomed in those areas over the years, Dycus joins former Tartan Pride basketball standout DeSean Hadley as the newest inductees in the Sinclair Athletics Hall of Fame.
Thanks to Sinclair
Hadley found success at Sinclair two decades ago after being cut from his freshman and sophomore basketball teams at Patterson Co-Op and then getting no scholarship offers following high school.
Don Cundiff, then the Tartan Pride basketball coach, finally threw him a lifeline and Hadley made the most of it.
A year later – with Paul Bryant the new coach – Hadley helped lead Sinclair to the NJCAA Division II national title game and was named the NJCAA Division II National Player of the Year.
After Sinclair, he got a scholarship to Eastern Michigan University and played there. He then went on to a 11-year professional career, playing for four teams in the Continental Basketball Association, three in the United States Basketball League, as well as overseas for clubs in Spain, Italy Cyprus, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Turkey .
He then coached for a few years in the NBA’s Developmental League.
“Sinclair is pretty much where everything started for me,” the 41-year-old Hadley – now the father of two daughter, 17 and 8 – said by phone from his home outside Atlanta where he does individual coaching instruction and runs a couple of small businesses.
“Thanks to Sinclair I was able to pay for my education and continue on basketball afterward.
“So the Hall of Fame means a lot to me.”
Dycus – now 68, retired a couple of years ago and just a week into a move to the Tucson, Arizona area – has similar feelings:
“When I started out my adult life women just didn’t get honors like this. A Hall of Fame was not something you ever thought about. But at Sinclair a lot of things opened up for me that I didn’t even consider in the beginning.”
A start in coaching
Dycus grew up on farm outside of tiny Brownstown, Illinois in the south-central part of the state.
“We lived six miles outside of town so you had to make your own entertainment because there weren’t other kids to play with,” she said.
“I just loved the sports stuff and if my brother – he’s three years older – wasn’t available, I played on my own.
“I’d throw a ball against the barn and field it or I’d hit a rock with a broom handle. And I made a rustic high jump pit that I just loved.”
She’s also go with her dad or brother to play basketball on a half court they’d set up in the barn’s hayloft. Other times, so her brother, a catcher, got some practice, she’d throw him a steady stream of fastballs and breaking pitches.
When she was in high school – she graduated in 1968 and the opportunities that came with Title IX were still four years from passage – she said it “wasn’t legal” for girls to play on interscholastic teams in Illinois.
Instead she got her first taste of competitive sports playing fast-pitch softball in the summer.
“I just loved it,” she said.
She hoped to attend the University of Illinois but by the time she applied, the area in which she wanted to study was filled.
Although disheartened, she soon had an alternative when MacMurray College, a small school in Jacksonville, Illinois, offered her a chance. And because she’d been the salutatorian of her class, the state of IIlinois offered to pay half her tuition cost.
Her family sacrificed and paid the rest and Dycus made sure they got their money’s worth.
She shined in the classroom and played field hockey, tennis and basketball, where she started four years and was the MVP by the time she was a junior.
Before her senior year the college reduced staff and offered her a job to be a player-coach for the basketball and tennis teams.
“I talked to my high school friend, guys who played sports, and I went to every clinic I could find,” she said. “My morning breakfast was reading coaching books.”
She was so successful that MacMurray kept her on after graduation and had her coaching all five women’s sports.
“I got 20 years of coaching experience in just over four years,” she said with a laugh. “But it burned me out and I decided to move on.”
She drew interest from numerous schools, — Marquette, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Valparaiso – but chose Sinclair because rather than just coach, she was able to also teach in the classroom and was encouraged to pursue administrative opportunities.
‘I can do this’
“I came in the fall of ’76 and they had just opened the Physical Activities Center (PAC),” Dycus said. “I loved softball and was able to start the program and I was coming off a good year in volleyball (at MacMurray) so I felt good about that.
“There was a lot of opportunity for me and I got a lot of support from my immediate bosses and the administrators. They encouraged me to do other things and take on administrative responsibilities.”
She began attending regional athletic directors’ meetings and soon made a realization:
“I’d look around the room – and there were just a couple of other women there, it was always a man’s job – but I’d say to myself, ‘You know what? I can do this!’”
She was he assistant athletic director at Sinclair from 1978-2000 and served as the AD from 2008 to 2009.
She also was heavily involved in the NJCAA hierarchy and held nearly every position in the organization except president.
In 2001 the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators named her the junior college administrator of the year. The NJCAA Region12 has named its sportsmanship award the Norma Dycus All-Sports Award. And she’s also been inducted in the NJCAA Women’s Golf Hall of Fame and MacMurray College Hall of Fame.
Sinclair, though, is where she made her biggest mark.
“When I first came here I just wanted to gain respect from my peers, my bosses and my athletes,” she said.
“But I’ve been lucky my whole life. I swear to God, somebody up above likes me. They sort of paved the way for me so I could be where I needed to be to succeed.
“And the Hall of Fame is just a wonderful bonus to a life I’ve absolutely loved.”