Nancy and Jack Nortz

First met during the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games. Built a pickleball court in their backyard in 1997.

Story by Van Mitchell, Staff Writer

Nancy and Jack Nortz of Oklahoma City are seniors that love playing pickleball almost every day. They even built a pickleball court in their backyard in 1997.
Jack Nortz is a retired sculptor whose resume includes sculptures of former OU quarterback Sam Bradford at Heisman Park in Norman, singer Vince Gill at Northwest Classen High School. He also created sculptures of all the national champion coaches at the University of Alabama.

Nancy and Jack Nortz are an active and competitive couple.
The Oklahoma City residents wanted to find a sport they could do together in their senior years that allowed them to stay physically active, and keep their competitive edge.
The answer was pickleball.
“We just love doing physical things, both of us,” said Nancy Nortz, 71. “We have both competed in many sports, but they are not lifelong sports. If pickleball hadn’t come along, we wouldn’t have a competitive thing that we did every morning. There’s not another sport like it that allows you to be really physical and very skilled. It’s responsible for a lot of our mental and physical health.”
The Nortz’s love pickleball so much that in 1997 they had a pickleball court installed in their backyard.
“I think my favorite thing about pickleball, it’s the only sport I know that we can compete with anyone,” Nortz said. “It’s a game of strategy. It’s not just a power game. You can play a soft game and beat people. We will get on a court with some 20-something kids that are really talented athletes but haven’t played pickleball very long and kick their butts.”
Jack Nortz added why he enjoys pickleball.
“It’s just fun,” he said.
The couple recently competed in a United States Senior Pickleball tournament qualifier for the indoor national championships
“As a mixed team we won some matches and lost some. We didn’t medal. I won a gold in women’s doubles,” she said.
Nortz said playing pickleball has allowed them to have an additional circle of friends.
“We’ve created a whole group of friends. Not that they’re the only friends we have, but they get to be some of our favorite people,” she said. “Pickleball is very much a social thing for people that do it because it’s addictive. You work your life around pickleball. People I know that are still working will come early in the morning and play before they go to work, or they’ll come play under the lights in the evening after they get off work. Because we’re retired, we’re able to play almost every day in the morning. We’ve got lots going on, but we’ll make time for pickleball. It gives us a chance to go hang out with our friends and do something social and physical.”
The Nortz’s are no stranger to athletics. They first met during the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games.
“In 1976, I had a gymnast that was a member of the U.S. Olympics team from here in Oklahoma,” she said. “Jack was coaching a girl that was from the Syracuse area, which is where he lived. Both of the girls made the Olympics training camp. They take the top 10 gymnasts in the nation, and they select the Olympic team. My gymnast made the team, and Jack’s gymnast was very young but very gifted. She didn’t make the team, but he was there (in Montreal) watching the gymnastics. We were running around together with a group of coaches and going out for meals in between sessions. We started talking and ended up dating long distance for two years.”
Nortz operated the Oklahoma City Gymnastics Center. Her business partner retired after the Summer Olympics, paving the way for Jack to join her in the business.
“My partner had just retired right after the Olympic Games, so I really needed his help down here,” she said. “He moved here in 1978, and then we got married in 1980 and had three kids.”
The couple operated the gymnastics business until 1987 before moving on to other business ventures.
“We were running a training center together and Jack was sculpting as a hobby,” she said. “After our third child was born, he told me, well, I’m really getting tired of coaching and I’d like to try and earn my living as a sculptor. I told him, well, if you’re not coaching anymore, that means that we’re done with this training center. So, we closed that and he became a sculptor. He is self-taught.”
Nortz said her husband had a successful sculpting career, creating a variety of pieces across the country including a sculpture of former OU quarterback Sam Bradford in the Heisman Park in Norman, and singer Vince Gill at Northwest Classen High School.
He also created sculptures of all the national champion coaches at the University of Alabama.
Nortz said Jack started his artistic career as a woodcarver in 1976 after meeting an amazing driftwood artist at an art show in Syracuse, New York.
When he moved to Oklahoma, he added sandstone carving to his ever-widening repertoire. He later started sculpting and carving for MTM Recognition, picking up clay sculpting for creating bronzes.
Nortz said Jack has been privileged enough to create hundreds of sculptures, but one stands out above the rest: the sculpture he created for the University of Oklahoma Gymnastics Center called “Equilibrium.” Just over 11-feet tall, the bronze piece features two graceful figures that appear to be made of intertwining ribbons.
According to a story from MTM Recognition in Oklahoma City, Jack, 74, came up with the idea for the piece by chance one day, noticing the beauty in a simple piece of cloth billowing in the wind.
He said he loves to approach each project with the eyes of a child- his favorite aspect of the creation process is the beginning, when he gets to gather information and envision the final design.
“It’s a high that is in me that is hard to explain. It is kind of like jumping off a cliff into a lake. It’s the anticipation that gets the heart-pounding when you’re looking over the edge, not the jump itself,” Jack Nortz said in the MTM article.
Jack also had the privilege to challenge himself with sculpting famous athletes, from the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award to the Brett Hull statue outside St. Louis’ Scottrade Center.
Nortz said she is very proud of her husband’s sculpting skills.
“He’s done an amazing job,” she said.