Odell Beckham Jr. is the most-famous football player in the country after "The Catch'' for the New York Giants on Sunday night television.

 

His mother, Heather Van Norman, remains the most-honored athlete to compete for Windom High School in southwest Minnesota.

I went to Windom to write a long (and to me, enchanting) story on her a month after her high school career ended in 1988. I've written about Heather a few times since then, including in 1993 when she was an LSU athlete, and last fall, as her son was starring for LSU.

Heather said in that 2013 piece that her son, Odell, had "hit the genetic jackpot,'' in reference to her and his father, Odell Sr., a former LSU football player.

Here are some excerpts from past Star Tribune pieces. They make for an extra-long blog post, but as I said, she was an enchanting kid.

JULY 24, 1988:
WINDOM, MINN. _ It is late in July here on the prairie. Heavy gray clouds are being
swept along by a strong breeze. There is an occasional sprinkle of rain. It is a cool, moist interlude to Minnesota's hot, dry, discouraging summer.

The change in the weather has done nothing to alter Heather Van Norman's outlook. She's bored and restless. She's anxious to get started on the next step in her life: college.

"Windom is a great place to raise a family. I would recommend it to anyone," Heather says. "But when you get to be a sophomore or junior in high school, there's nothing to do ...''

"Heather's problem is that most of her friends are busy. They are out of town, or they have jobs," says her mother, Millie Van Norman.


A visitor asks Heather if it's tough to find a summer job in Windom, a town of 4,500 in southwest Minnesota. Before Heather can answer, her father jumps into the conversation. "It depends on if you look or not," Don Van Norman says.

There is laughter around the Van Norman dining room table. Heather's secret is out. The most dominant high school track star in Minnesota's history isn't exactly a whirlwind when it comes to
household chores or pursuing employment opportunities.

BUSDGET CRUNCHES are common for Minnesota's school boards. Windom went through it early in this decade. A town meeting was held in an attempt to figure out where the cuts would take place.

"One of the things brought up at that meeting was the possibility of dropping track," Don Van Norman said. "I got up and said, `I have a little girl in the fifth grade who can run like the wind. If we don't have track in Windom, where is she going to run?' I turned out to be
more prophetic than I thought."

Track and field survived Windom's budget cuts. … By the eighth grade, Lyle Riebe -- the boys' and girls' track coach at Windom for the past 30 years -- had convinced Heather to move from junior high to varsity competition. It was the spring of 1984, and Heather finished third at 200 and 400 meters in the state Class A meet.

For the rest of her high school career, Heather was unbeaten – as a freshman, as a sophomore, as a junior and as a senior. She won the 100, 200 and 400 meters in the Class A meet all four years; the "quadruple triple" is what they call it in Windom. She finished her high school career in June with a winning streak of 147 races.

"The high school kids here like to hang their medals on their letter jackets," Don Van Norman said. "If Heather pinned her medals on her jacket, she would be bulletproof."

JUNE 15, 1993:

The NCAA outdoor track and field championships were held early this month in New Orleans. There was an item in the Star Tribune concerning the confusion that surrounded the women's 400-meter relay. Louisiana State wound up being required to win the race twice, while it was romping to the women's team title. The LSU foursome - Debbie Ann Paris, Heather Van Norman, Youlanda Warren and Cheryl Taplin - ran an official time of 43.49 seconds, the fastest in the world this year.

And there was the name from several years past: Heather Van Norman from Windom, Minn.

Don and Millie Van Norman adopted a biracial baby girl in 1970, and Heather turned out to be the most dominant high school track star in Minnesota history.

Heather was contacted by the track powerhouses from the South. Her father, a strong believer in Ski-U-Mah, lobbied for Minnesota. Heather signed a letter of intent to accept a Minnesota scholarship, and then had immediate regrets. Her father, working in the Windom post office, already had mailed the letter.

Five years ago, on a July afternoon in Windom, Heather said: "My goal is the Olympics. I want to go to a school in the South, where reaching my goal might be possible. There was a big snowstorm on my birthday this year. My birthday is in April. A snowstorm in April . . . give me a break.''

Minnesota refused to give Van Norman a release from her letter of intent. Coach Gary Wilson told Heather to come to the university for a year and if she still was unsatisfied, the Gophers would grant the release.

Heather was amazed at the contrast in lifestyles she encountered, from the prairie of southwest Minnesota to the poverty-filled, swampy areas that surround Baton Rouge. "It was the first time I really saw the poor side of life," she said. "Everything was so comfortable growing up in Windom. I found out I was spoiled …

"The group I'm closest with at LSU, naturally, is the track team. Most of the girls are black, and they are my best friends. But Windom is home. It's a wonderful place. My five-year class reunion is Aug. 7, and I'm excited about going back."

Heather will have some baby pictures to show off at the reunion. She became the mother of a boy - Odell Beckham Jr. – last November. The father, Odell Sr., played football at LSU. "We call the baby O.J.," Heather said. "He is 6 months old, and he already is a traveling man."

NOVEMBER 17, 2013: 

Louisiana State hung with Alabama until the middle of third quarter eight days ago, then gave up the last 21 points and lost 38-17 to Nick Saban’s dynastic Crimson Tide. This was the third loss of the season and put the Tigers in position to be the most talented team America won’t see in a BCS game.

“We were right there with them in the second half, but beating Alabama in its stadium is so tough,” Heather Van Norman said. “We did it to them over there when Odell was a freshman … the season that they got us back in the national championship game.”

Odell Beckham Jr. is a junior receiver and returner for the Tigers. A 6-foot, 195-pound jet, he is expected to announce for the NFL draft …

… [Van Norman] is now in her second season as the women’s track and field and cross-country coach at Nicholls State. She lives in New Orleans with 11-year-old daughter Jasmyne.

“What makes me proud of Odell is the way he goes about being a talented athlete,” she said. “He truly is a humble person. He is as excited for the success of a teammate as he is for himself.”

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