Olympic Spotlight: Era Ending After 25 Years

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- ScarletReport.com goes outside the box for a special piece on the ending of an era at Rutgers. Women's gymnastics coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton will coach her last home match today at 1 p.m. at the Livingston Gym. After 25 seasons of leading, not to mention building, the program, she will retire at the end of the season.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – There is no exotic vacation planned, but a quiet, non-Blackberry summer at the beach house in Avalon will suffice.

Chrystal Chollet-Norton isn't sure what the summer will bring, but Saturday will make the last time she coaches a home match at Rutgers.

After 25 years as the women's gymnastics coach, Chollet-Norton is putting a nifty bow on her career when the Scarlet Knights host a quartet of teams, including Cornell and Yale, at the Livingston Gym at 1 p.m. as she retires after the season.

She knows her future will include time with her pets, judging gymnastics competitions and keeping up with the Scarlet Knights.

"I'm really big into animals," said Chollet-Norton, who owns several cats. "I will probably do something with the S.P.C.A., or an animal rescue, or something like that. I'll probably pick up some hobbies. I love to read, but I haven't been able to read.

"I love to workout and run, that sort of thing, so I might get back into marathons or half-marathons."

Chollet-Norton arrived at Rutgers under tragic circumstances, and leaves having saved the gymnastics program when it was on the chopping block a few years back.

She arrived earning $5,000 a year salary and with a $2,000 budget for scholarships, and leaves the program as a full-time head coach, two full-time assistants and an increasing scholarship budget that is up to 10 thanks to fundraising, and the support of athletic director Tim Pernetti.

"Chrystal is a fighter, and has a can-do mentality, and she's always been able to overcome (financial hurdles) by fundraising," Rutgers assistant Mary Peters, who also competed for the Scarlet Knights. "The reason we have a Division I conference (East Atlantic Gymnasts League) is because of Chrystal. It's because she has always gone and fought for the sport."

A former coach at Trenton State (now College of New Jersey), Chollet-Norton left after one of her gymnasts suffered a devastating neck injury that resulted in paralysis from the shoulders down. Adding to the psychological trauma, Chollet-Norton was the spotter.

She sought a change of scenery, and while doubling as a teacher in the Bridgewater-Raritan school district, accepted the job at Rutgers in 1986. Back then, the gymnasts trained in the College Avenue Gym, and Chollet-Norton still remembers the first day of practice.

"I remember saying, ‘The equipment is in the closet? Where does it go?' " Chollet-Norton said. "I had to take it out of the closet, put it down, and take it back into the closet."

Since then Chollet-Norton has a 247-242-1 record, including 14-7 this season, which is quite an achievement given the meager resources she inherited in the mid-1980s.

However, her biggest win won't be found in the record, or on a game report.

When former athletic director Bob Mulcahy was planning to cut sports five years ago, women's gymnastics was on the block …until Chollet-Norton hit the fundraising path even harder than usual to save it.

"I'm leaving the program, for whoever takes over, with a strong program that should go to (NCAA) Regionals next year," Chollet-Norton said. "I'm getting sad. The last's meets going to be sad."

Chollet-Norton coached 27 all-conference performers since joining EAGL in 1996, and produced 10 all-Americans in her 25-year career at Rutgers.

She will turn 60 soon, and wants to enjoy some time with her already-retired husband, James Norton.

"My husband says, ‘You're not going to be Joe Pa,' " said Chollet-Norton, referring to 84-year-old Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. "You want to be able to relate to the kids."

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