Rec Sports Leader Retires after Four Decades at San Jac


Courtesy of Mary Shelley

Butch Sutton (right, facing forward) joined San Jacinto College in 1979 when he was 23 years old. He retired from the College on Jan. 31 after forty years of service.

On his first day of work, San Jacinto College opened a brand new campus on Beamer Road, a gallon of gas cost $.86, and ESPN launched the first-ever television sports channel.

Butch Sutton, Central Campus’s Director of Recreational (Rec) Sports, retired Jan. 31 after spending a staggering 40 years working with the College’s athletic programs.

Sutton’s tenure at San Jac impacted both students and colleagues, but none more so than Senior Administrative Assistant Mary Shelley who worked closely with him in the Rec Sports program for 12 years. 

“He was exceptional,” Shelley said. “He was someone you gravitated towards for his attitude and personality and (he) truly loved what he did. And I fed off of his passion for the job.”

Sutton’s enthusiasm for sports was apparent early in life and led him to play college-level football. An injury sidelined his career but helped him discover a new calling: reaching people.

“I want to be remembered as being always approachable,” Sutton said. “I loved the one-on-one time that Rec Sports and teaching allowed me to have with the students.”

However, he noted, reaching students through Rec Sports was not always easy. Before Sutton became the first dedicated employee to organize sporting events outside of varsity athletics, the only opportunities for students to play sports were random tournaments hosted during the school day. After Sutton took over, the program that started with a budget of $750 grew into a multi-sport league that continues to expand to this day. 

“It’s not about the money, even though money is very important,” he said. “Everyone wants to belong to something. Rec Sports affords people the opportunity to find others with like hobbies and interests and allow them to come together and become a group; almost like family.”

Moreover, Sutton made sure to keep the idea of “family” at the center of his program which led to substantial and lasting bonds; as evidenced by numerous invitations to former students’ weddings and other celebratory occasions.

“He would always say the best part of his job was the students,” Shelley said. “The other stuff he couldn’t care less about, but it was the interactions with them and the relationships he built over the years with his students that mattered the most to him.”

Sutton credits the cohesiveness of the Central Campus Rec Sports program to his and his staff’s willingness to spend time getting to know students, a practice that stands in sharp contrast to campus recreation directors at large schools where they primarily serve as administrators.

“They don’t have a clue who is playing in their program,” Sutton said. “The great thing about being here is that it was basically a one-man show until I was so blessed to have Mary get on as full-time staff. We were the officials; we were the promoters; we were everything.”

Moving forward without Sutton will be hard, Shelley said, but she is hopeful that the new director will strive to keep Sutton’s work going and expand to “reach different students with different interests.”

Sutton joined San Jac when he was 23 years old and is retiring after spending two-thirds of his life with the College. Although he sadly admits, “I’m going to miss the students badly,” Sutton said it was the right time to hang up his athletic shoes. 

“I’m still adjusting to retirement but, it’s like the Circle of Life,” he said. “I’m happy I’m retiring.”