Harold "Pinky" Primrose

Norway High School Coach : 1958-1964

Boys growing up in Norway, Iowa, in the 1930s and 1940s were, almost without exception, introduced to baseball before even beginning their formal education.  From impromptu ‘three-on-three’ games between seven-year-olds at the town diamond (or off at some remote corner of the field once the older boys showed up to play), through high school, the town team, and even at the semi-pro level on one of several teams in the vicinity, baseball – almost as surely as the planting and harvest cycles – was the metronome that kept the cadence for the community. 

Harold John Primrose, one of those boys raised in the Norway tradition, was born at the nadir of the Great Depression, on June 17, 1934.  He was the third of four children (after brother Robert and sister Susan, and before youngest sibling Gayle) in Lloyd and Esther Primrose’s family and was, literally, born to baseball.  His mother, Esther (nee Trojovosky), was one of Hal Trosky’s two elder sisters, and was a superior softball catcher in her own right. 

Primrose’s youth was consumed by the standard institutions of the era:  family, church, school, and sports.  In Norway, Iowa, ‘sports’ for boys meant basketball for three months, as both respite from the seclusion imposed by winter and as a conditioning tool for baseball, which occupied the rest of the year. 

Harold’s brother, Robert, the first Primrose boy dubbed “Pinky” was an accomplished ball player himself, and whose career at the University of Iowa led to a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Fortunately for the nation, Robert was not offered a contract, and instead accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force.  An elite pilot, one of a small, select cadre trained to fly at the boundary between earth’s atmosphere and outer space, he was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his superb airmanship while conducting reconnaissance over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In 1964, Major Primrose perished in a U-2 crash during a landing in Arizona.

Back in Norway, in the late ‘30s, however, the Primrose boys played baseball.  Once in eighth grade, and old enough to play on the town team, Harold found a comfortable fit at third base. The town team was coached by Clemens J. Pickart, who had also coached Hal Trosky a generation earlier, and it was “Jeff” (or “Stinger”, as he was nicknamed on the diamond) who both recognized Harold’s potential, and also drove the young teenager and his teammates to nearby towns to watch semi-pro games.  Through word and deed, by coaching and mentoring, Pickart built the foundation for many of Norway’s players.
Once in eighth grade, Primrose was eligible to play for the high school team.  Already on the town team, he was an established infielder, and had developed a close rapport among the high school squad.  Of course, the town team and high school team were generally populated by the same players, which grew their collective experience at a rate far quicker that that of teams from larger cities. 

But in 1948, the school had not yet grown the long tradition of baseball excellence.  That process was slowed when Norway introduced their new baseball coach, coincident with Primrose’s first year on the team.  The man was a track-and-field coach and knew virtually nothing about baseball.  It was only through the vocal intervention of the older boys that Harold was even allowed to play.  Predictably, though, the coach was replaced after a year, and under new coach Jack Davis’ guidance, Primrose blossomed. 

Following high school graduation in 1952, Primrose entered the State University of Iowa (now simply called the University of Iowa) to continue playing baseball – now known as “Pinky”, since his brother’s graduation – and to embark on a track mirroring that of earlier mentors Davis and Floyd Nelson, a path leading to a career in education and coaching.   
While Pinky’s formal baseball career had begun with high school and town team baseball starting in the 8th grade, he continued to play for over 20 years in the semi-pro leagues around eastern Iowa.  He played and managed in the M & J League, playing for teams like “Collins Radio”, “Allis Chalmers”, and “Iowa Manufacturing”, and managed the “Mid West Janitorial Team”, and also played for Norway, Watkins and Victor in the Thursday night leagues.  In the late 1940s the Watkins team took on barnstorming squads from the Kansas City Monarchs (of the Negro leagues), and from the infamous House-of-David during their annual mid-west swings.

The games were great theater for the baseball-knowledgeable region.  In one game, against the Monarchs around 1949, Pinky’s “Watkins” team moved ahead of the professionals by a slight margin.  Games like these only made money if spectators paid admission, so the professionals had an incentive to play just well enough to win, while still fanning the competitive excitement. Losing a barnstorming game, however, was not in their best interest, since the Monarchs were not one of the two ‘clown’ teams that also toured.  Primrose recalled that the Monarch batters applied just a small bit of acceleration, and reeled off four consecutive doubles to re-take a lead they never relinquished. 
After graduating from Iowa in 1956, Primrose took a job as head baseball and basketball coach, and history teacher, in nearby Lisbon.  Two years later, in 1958, he returned to his hometown to accept a comparable position at Norway High, taking over a moribund program that had only ten boys on the squad.  Those humble beginnings marked the start of a Hall of Fame coaching and teaching career for Primrose, and in turn established a baseball foundation that would mature, a few years later, into the dynasty that became Norway High School baseball.

As Primrose took over at Norway, good things continued to happen in his life.  On April 30, 1960, he married Florence “Flo” Lowell, and they started a family that now includes daughters Barbara and Ann, son Roger, their respective spouses, and grandchildren Michael, Sarah, Meredith, Robert, Mark, and Rachel. 

Norway High School, under his leadership, performed well during his six-year tenure, winning 165 games against fifty losses.  Not that baseball was the only activity for the educator.  Primrose stayed busy by simultaneously serving as, teacher, head basketball and baseball coach, Athletic Director, and – for two years – acting Principal.
In 1964, with a growing family to feed, he moved to Cedar Rapids to assume a teaching/ coaching billet at Washington High School.  At Washington, the lessons learned on the Norway diamond led to even greater success.  Between 1956 and 1987, his teams won 712 games, against only 385 losses.  Over those thirty-three years, Pinky’s teams won the Iowa High School Baseball Championship (1966), were Mississippi Valley Conference champions (1969, 1974, 1980, and 1985), and won numerous sectional, district, and conference championships.

In 1962 the Midwest professional baseball League (Class “D”, but became Class “A” the following year) expanded by three teams, and the Cedar Rapids Braves were welcomed as the newest members.  In 1964, Pinky was named to the Board of Directors (a position he retains in 2010), and was team president from 1973-1984.  He was also an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles in 1965 and 1966, and from 1990 -2009 for the Kansas City Royals.  In 1981 he was named head baseball coach at Coe College (NCAA Division III), and remained until 1988, and for 20 years co-hosted a radio show focused on high school athletics in the Cedar Rapids area.

These accomplishments have earned him enough awards to fill a museum.  Some of the many include induction into:

He was also named the American Baseball Coaches Association National Coach of the Year, the Iowa State Coach of the Year, and the ABCA District Coach of the Year in 1980.  He has also received numerous coaching and officiating awards (including the “TAIT CUMMINS” award for contributions to youth athletics; Cedar Rapids GAZETTE recognition for outstanding coaching; and several awards from the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches association).

In 1995 he was the recipient of the “LEFTY GOMEZ” award,  the most prestigious award in amateur baseball. 
That award is presented by the American Baseball Coaches Association each year to “an individual who has distinguished himself amongst his peers and has contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally, and internationally.”  Since the ABCA instituted the “LEFTY GOMEZ” award in 1962, it has honored collegiate coaching royalty like Ron Polk, Rod Dedeaux, and Les Murakami, but in those thirty-eight years (as of 2010),  it has been awarded only once to a high school coach. Norway’s own ‘Pinky’ Primrose remains that sole recipient.

Harold Primrose, for all of his baseball success, however, was and is much more than “just” a baseball man.  After completing graduate work in 1966, he was awarded a Masters degree in Education from Iowa, and was a long-time member of various local and state education associations.  The number of lives he has influenced in the classroom literally obscures the athletes he coached on the baseball field and basketball court, and in 2001 he was presented the “Outstanding Service” award from the National High School Federation.

While he coached and taught, Primrose focused his organizational and leadership skills on building a professional coaching organization in Iowa.  In 1969 he founded the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association, and served as president until 1971.  Until 2008 he filled the role of Executive Secretary and also directed their annual three-day clinic and four-day All Star series.  He also acts in an executive and managerial capacity for the Cedar Rapids Athletic Officials Association, making the assignments for football and basketball games in the metro area.

Harold Primrose’s coaching ability propelled Norway High School along the road to their legendary status and notoriety.  There is no question, based on his demonstrable record of achievement and peer recognition, that he is one of the finest baseball people ever to come from Norway, but it is his achievement beyond the athletic arena that has, literally, helped shape the region of Eastern Iowa for generations.