Retired athletic director Lorin Cartwright will always be a Pioneer, in more ways than one
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Thirty-two years later, Cartwright is finally taking that next step. In June, Cartwright retired from Pioneer after 32 years with the district, including the last 17 as the school’s athletic director.
“It was quite a fluke really, I never really felt like I was going to stay at Pioneer,” Cartwright said.
“I felt like now is the right time because there were days when I was going to work that I was not as happy as I’d been in the past,” Cartwright said. “I needed a change of venue at that point.”
But walking away from that venue won’t be easy. How could it, when her impact goes far beyond anything accomplished on any of the athletic fields she helped develop?
“Lorin is a legend in her own right. To do the things that she has done at Pioneer is incredible,” said Dottie Davis, athletic director at Huron High School.
Sleeping on the job
Cartwright arrived at Pioneer in 1980 after having spent the previous year working at Grand Valley State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and health and biology. She was hired at Pioneer to be the head athletic trainer.
If not for a chance phone call, though, Cartwright may have never come to Ann Arbor.
“I sent my resume in, and there was no response to my resume,” Cartwright said.
Hearing nothing back, Cartwright decided to follow up and call to inquire about the job. Athletic secretary Betty Smith answered the phone and was shocked to hear that Cartwright hadn’t been contacted.
“I can remember it so clearly, she said ‘they haven’t called you?’ I said ‘no,’ and she said, ‘well you’re the only one qualified for the job.’”
The following Monday, Cartwright accepted the job before she even had a place to live in Ann Arbor, so she improvised.
“I lived in the training room, and I slept on the benches in the training room,” Cartwright said. “Every morning I’d get up and go in the girls’ locker room and take a shower and change into whatever I was going to wear today, and away I’d go.”
AnnArbor.com file photo
In addition to working as the head trainer, Cartwright was also teaching three hours a day at Foresythe Middle School. Between the two jobs, Cartwright was making far more money than she would have working for a college program.
“I was working about a 60-hour work week and was happy as a clam, living on something along the lines of $24,000,” Cartwright said with a laugh, “Thinking I had hit the pay dirt.”
Soon, Cartwright began to think about giving back to the profession that helped her so much. She ran for a position on the Michigan Board of the Athletic Trainers - and won.
“I don’t know what they were thinking,” Cartwright said.
Richard Ray a colleague of Cartwright’s at the time was the one who encouraged her to run and knows first-hand what they were thinking.
“She was well-spoken and cautious with her language. She was well-informed and quick to educate the public about the benefits that athletic trainers play in society,” said Ray, who is currently the Provost at Hope College in Holland, Mich.
Cartwright eventually became the first high school trainer and first woman to become president of the Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association.
“I was a pioneer from that prospective, but I was very well supported by all the people I was involved with. They wanted me to be the president,” Cartwright said.
GLATA’s membership represented 25 percent of the athletic trainers in the United States, making it one of the largest bodies in the country.
According to Ray, she was a perfect fit in the role.
“She’s kind of a trailblazer. She entered a territory that was predominantly men. It was a pretty amazing feat on her part,” said Steve Rodriguez, longtime golf coach at Pioneer. “That’s why she was so successful, because she just pulled up her chair and said, 'here I am and here we go.'"
Throughout her career, Cartwright has been a beacon for advancing women’s roles in sports, both on and off the field. In her tenure as athletic director, girls teams have won 54 state championships.
“She was always a leader in pushing female athletics and making sure they got the recognition that they deserved,” said Saline High School athletic director Rob White.
“We are all better for it, with the things she has done. With women being empowered in so many different areas; not just as an AD, but assistant principal,” Davis said. “Kids can see that and say ‘wow, one day I could do that.’”
‘How bout you?’
As Cartwright was settling in as GLATA president, Pioneer was in the midst of change in its athletic department. Rodriguez served as the interim athletic director in 1994, but made it clear the school needed to find a replacement.
Bob Galardi had just become the principal at Pioneer and immediately sought out Cartwright for her opinion on who should be considered for the job. After speaking with Cartwright, Galardi knew exactly who he wanted as his next AD.
“How bout you?” he asked her.
After taking some time to think about it, Cartwright accepted. But like Rodriguez, she only wanted to serve on an interim basis.
“I’d made a name for myself at this point in athletic training all over the country,” Cartwright said. “I wasn’t interested in leaving that.”
As the 1994-95 school year was coming to a close, Galardi asked if Cartwright was willing to stay on as AD. She agreed, but only until a permanent replacement could be found. Galardi, however, was determined to keep Cartwright in that role. In order to change her mind, he wrote her a note listing the top-ten reasons why she should stay as the permanent athletic director.
“His number one reason was ‘because Bob Galardi needs it,’” Cartwright said with a smile. “I still have that note.”
Cartwright wanted to become an AD at some point, but didn’t see herself in that role for a few more years.
AnnArbor.com file photo
But unlike at the college level, Cartwright is left to do the majority of the day-to-day operations on her own. Depending on the day, Cartwright could be found taking stats, announcing or painting lines on a field.
“We don’t have development people, or marketing people or sports information people. That’s me," Cartwright said.
Cartwright estimated that she worked 60-70 hours per week and that included working on weekends and virtually every holiday in order to keep things running smoothly.
“The time away from your family and friends is very, very difficult. They’ve (athletic directors) got to like what they do,” Cartwright said.
And then there's the parents. Oh, the parents.
“Every parent believes that their kid is by far-and-away the best,” Cartwright said. “And they really are the best. They are the best kid that that parent has.
“But it’s about the kid being skilled enough to keep himself safe when he is playing and to do what is in the best interest of the program.”
That approach to the conflict was a major confidence booster for the coaches at Pioneer.
“She is a coach’s AD. She’s not a micro-manager. She trusts her coaches. As long as they are following the rules, she gave us the freedom to run our sports,” Rodriguez said. “She made it so easy to be successful and she instilled an element of trust and support that almost made us feel like if it was within reason, she would support us.
“She never shied away from (handling conflict). She rolled up her sleeves and was right there.”
Building a Legacy
Gradually, Cartwright began making her mark on the program and developed Pioneer athletics into what it is today.
That includes upgrading and building many of the facilities that now exist on Pioneer’s campus.
AnnArbor.com file photo
Cartwright is particularly proud of the improvements made to the athletic fields and the relief she's felt knowing students need not worry about poor field conditions.
“I can remember the first year we had field turf on Hollway field, I would just sit up in the bleachers and just stare at the field,” Cartwright said. “It was just so wonderful to know that for generations there was going to be a surface there where kids can play their sport and not have to worry about getting hurt.”
Cartwright was instrumental in developing the alumni base that now is an integral part of Pioneer.
“What I really like is the way she’s brought back and celebrated the alumni and kept them involved in the tradition of Pioneer football,” said football coach Paul Test. “It has been instrumental to the football program.”
Cartwright started the Pioneer Hall of Fame, designed to honor the athletes that have succeeded at Pioneer and beyond. Hall of Fame members include numerous former NCAA champions, All-Americans and professional athletes.
In her time at Pioneer, the school won 80 state championships. The boys lacrosse team nearly sent her off with a final championship in the final event she oversaw this spring, but finished Division 1 runners up. Choked up on the sidelines afterward, Cartwright lamented about how good a run it had been.
Success on the field was always a welcomed bonus, Cartwright didn’t place a focus on it.
“Her focus was always on the student-athletes. She could always bring it back to what’s best for kids,” said White. “It spoke about where her priorities were.”
And it’s the kids whom Cartwright said she'll miss the most about the job.
“The kids make you old, but they also keep you young. They learn so much from athletics, and to see each one of them grow and develop over that span of time is very important,” Cartwright said.
End of an era
Cartwright didn’t hesitate to start enjoying her newly found free time.
“I went to Paris for five days. I went to Munich for four and Austria for one,” Cartwright said. “I already have my next (vacation) lined up for Christmas; I’m going to St. Martin.”
It was a relaxing time for Cartwright, who usually spent her summers preparing for the hectic fall-sports seasons. When she isn’t jet-setting to a foreign country, Cartwright plans on spending time with her family and friends.
Don’t expect her to stay away from Pioneer for too long, though. Cartwright said that she will be around to help Claar transition into her new role.
“I’ll do what Eve wants me to do,” Cartwright said. “This is something that Eve has trained for for a long time. I think she deserves the opportunity. Eve is a great athletic director.”
For Claar, having Cartwright around to help ease the transition serves as an immeasurable asset.
“It’s pretty sweet. She has every answer I need, and she is sitting in the office with me. I can’t ask for anything more than that,” Claar said.
Even though it’s coming 32 years later than she thought, Cartwright also plans on finally taking that step into the world of collegiate athletics. She said she is considering volunteering her time at Eastern Michigan University or at the University of Michigan sports medicine departments.
“I do want to get back into the athletic training education,” said Cartwright, who has written multiple textbooks on the subject. “It’s going to be on my time. I’m going to decide how much I want to do this.”
Hopefully she won't have to sleep inside Michigan Stadium.