TRAVERSE CITY —
Larry Glass had no inkling how deeply Title IX would affect his life when Congress in 1972 passed the federal law that mandated gender equity in athletics.
"I understood it, but I was kind of benign about the whole thing," said Glass, a former men's basketball coach at Northwestern University. "I couldn't see girls getting excited about it. I was dead wrong, happily."
The legislation profoundly impacted Glass' family.
Larry and Dee Glass had three daughters and a son, all athletically skilled. One daughter, Laurie, played on a state championship volleyball team at Leland High School and returned to coach the Comets to a pair of state crowns.
Another daughter, Rebecca, after winning a state basketball championship her senior season at Leland, earned a Division 1 scholarship to play at Michigan State and later became a coach at the high school and collegiate levels.
After that came six grandchildren, all girls and all involved in sports. Four have since graduated from high school, and all four received first-team All-State honors in volleyball or basketball, or both.
Two of the girls, Ashley Bouckaert and Alisha Glass, were on state championship volleyball teams and played at the collegiate level. Alisha was the state's Miss Volleyball and Gatorade Player of the Year. An All-American at Penn State, she was instrumental in the Nittany Lions winning three national titles in her four years at the school. She is now a member of the U.S. women's national volleyball team.
As for Larry Glass, he ended up in the forefront of the Title IX movement in Michigan. He was coaxed into coaching girls basketball at Leland in 1977 and quickly turned the Comets into a power; they won three consecutive state titles in the early 1980s. During one stretch, Leland, with class sizes hovering around 25 students, produced five Division 1 players in five years — four playing at Big Ten schools — a feat unheard of at a small school and one that would not have happened 10 years prior.
"I didn't see it coming at all," Glass said of Title IX's implications. "We've all benefitted by it. We've all been blessed."
By the time Title IX was approved, the Glass family had moved from Illinois to the small picturesque Lake Michigan coastal town of Leland.
Title IX became law in 1972, but it wasn't until fall 1975 that Leland began to offer sports for girls.
"I saw that other schools, like Glen Lake, had a basketball team, and I wanted to play," recalled Laurie Glass, who then was a freshman. "Jim Munoz, who was our athletic director, told me that if I could get seven girls to sign up, and find a coach, we could have a team."
That's how it started. Most of those same girls also became part of the school's first volleyball team that winter.
Laurie's older sister, Merri Lynn, was a senior that year. Title IX almost came too late for her.
"She had been doing the only sport available to girls at that point in time, which was cheerleading," Laurie said.
Merri Lynn was active in numerous school activities and opted out of basketball that last year. She played volleyball, though, and then went on to letter at Michigan Tech.
"She's probably more athletic than the rest of us," Rebecca (Glass) McKee said.
Rebecca was in middle school when Leland introduced girls high school sports. She played on the boys basketball team then, as did Julie Polakowski, who was a year younger.
Success came quickly. Leland won a state volleyball title in 1978. Two years later came the first of three consecutive state basketball championships.
"A lot of people, after the fact, asked me about the difference in coaching boys and girls," Larry Glass said. "I said there wasn't a lot of difference. If anything, the girls listened better and were more coachable. And we just happened to have a bunch of girls in the school that had an aptitude for it, as well as some skills. They cared right from the beginning."
Larry Glass never expected to be part of the school's remarkable athletic success. But when the girls coach, Nancy Boynton Fisher, became pregnant, Glass felt "some serious pressure" to take over.
"Dee said if it was (their son) Michael asking, you would take the job," Larry remembered. "That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I said, 'OK, but I want you to understand, if I'm going to try to do this thing right, I'm not going to be home a lot."
He took the job and put together good teams right away. One problem: Leelanau County rival Glen Lake was good, too. Very good.
"We couldn't beat Glen Lake for three years," Larry Glass said. "We finally beat them the fourth year when we started our run. We felt back then that the winner of the Leelanau district would be the state champion. We felt we were basically playing championship games at the district level. Glen Lake won one (state) title and should have won a second in that three-year span (1977-79)."
Leland finally broke through in 1980. Between 1980 and 1982, the Comets won 67 consecutive games. The streak ended with a loss at Traverse City, the largest high school in the north.
Polakowski became the state's first Miss Basketball in 1981. She finished with 2,109 career points, second in state history at the time. Back then, there was no 3-point line and the girls played with the larger boys basketball.
Polakowski joined Rebecca (Glass) McKee on scholarship at Michigan State. A year later, center Stephanie Chambers signed with Northwestern. Shawne Brow inked an offer from the University of Michigan the year after that. Marie Polakowski landed at Dartmouth.
"They were all one year apart," Larry Glass said. "That's why our run lasted so long."
"We didn't think there was anything special about it at the time," Rebecca McKee said of the scholarship spree. "We just did what we loved to do. We seemed to get lucky in that respect."
McKee stayed in basketball after her playing days at Michigan State were over. She was coach at Caledonia High School, then moved into the collegiate ranks as a grad assistant at Western Michigan, an assistant at Miami of Ohio and the head coach at Division III Mount St. Joseph's in Cincinnati.
Larry Glass spent 15 years in his first stint as Leland's coach and won 84 percent of his games in that span. He returned a few years later to coach his granddaughters.
Munoz might be the unsung hero here.
One day while Glass was fishing along the Leland River, Munoz, the principal at the school and an avid angler, decided to introduce himself. That encounter was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
It also marked the beginning of a new career for Glass, who along with Dee owned a motel in town. With Munoz's urging and support, Glass was hired as an English instructor at the junior high level. Not long after, he found himself coaching boys junior high basketball.
Munoz knew, once Glass decided to take the girls coaching job, what might happen.
"We had a really good crop of female athletes and we had really good coaching," he said. "When you put those two things together, the sky is the limit."
Munoz remembers the Comets first state title win, a 65-36 drubbing of Ashley.
"We beat Ashley in the finals quite badly," Munoz said. "Their coach was upset. He did not like the fact that we had all these JV kids Larry brought up for the tournament sitting on the bench. He didn't play any of them. He played his varsity kids.
"Well, Larry takes his team to a camp the following summer at Wolverine and the Ashley coach is there with his team. When Larry walked in and saw him and he went to talk to him. He said, 'Now listen, I know you're ticked because you think I poured it on. But I want you to know something, you're going to see seven kids walk through that door in a few minutes. This is my varsity. If we go to the state finals this next season, these are the seven kids that are going to play in that game.'
"Larry's point was, these seven kids, even though there are only seven, these are the kids who are doing what we have to do to be good. They're sacrificing in the summertime. They're the ones putting the time in. They're the ones who are going to play. That's the substance of Larry's philosophies."
A girls sports town
Michigan ranks sixth nationally when it comes to the number of girls who participate in high school sports, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association. During the 2010-11 school year, 133,147 girls competed throughout the state.
The trophy cases and gymnasium walls tell the story of Leland's remarkable successes in the 40 years since Title IX's passing. Those displays are dominated by the girls volleyball and basketball programs. One gymnasium wall is dedicated to volleyball --16 Final Four banners, including the three state title flags.
Mike Kenney coached that first state championship team. Laurie Glass led the Comets to the other two.
And it wasn't that long ago that volleyball was relegated to the school's smaller, secondary gym.
"Volleyball was always played in the little gym and boys basketball in the big gym," Laurie Glass said. "When they built the new gym in Leland, which was my junior year, they wouldn't put the volleyball holes in the floor. If there's no volleyball stanchions there, there's no sharing the court. You don't even have to negotiate. It took a very long time before they did it."
Now it's the big trophy-winning sport at the school.
Glass has been involved in sports as a player, coach and parent. She played volleyball for one year in college at Grand Valley State and has coached for more than 20 years.
"It's been a big part of my life," she said. "I certainly think my life would have been considerably different (without Title IX). It has dictated so many things for me. It's such a part of who I am."
She's also coached her nieces and daughter. Ashley Bouckaert played on the 2002 state championship team and went on to become a first-team all-conference middle hitter at Aquinas College. Ashley's younger sister, Emily, was on Leland's state runner-up team in 2005. Laurie's daughter, Alisha, led the Comets to the 2006 crown, and set a single-match record of 48 kills in the title game.
Another niece, Elizabeth McKee, just finished a standout senior season, leading the Comets to the quarterfinals in volleyball and basketball. Her younger sister, Caitlin, was a starter on the basketball team, too. Elizabeth is headed to Macomb Community College to play in the fall.
Alisha, meanwhile, has a good shot at making the Olympic team that will play in London this summer.
"Alisha has shown that people in tiny schools, tiny towns, can get the job done," Larry Glass said. "She's shown that no matter where you live you can become a world class-caliber player, you can become an Olympian. That's an amazing thing."
Laurie Glass is amazed, too, just looking at the 40-year timeline since Title IX came along.
"To think this historic change happened in my lifetime, and to see how much it's impacted our lives, is incredible," she said.
Sports provided Alisha an avenue to attend and earn a degree tuition-free at an exemplary out-of-state college that would have cost Laurie, a single parent and special education teacher, dearly.
"Other than little things, I didn't have to pay a cent for her," Laurie Glass said. "Not for her books, not for her tuition, not for her room and board. I didn't pay for any of it. Neither did she. She came out of college with a degree and without a student loan."
Title IX, in essence, has allowed Alisha to travel the world, too, playing professional volleyball. She'll play in Italy later this year after stints in Brazil and Poland the previous two years.
The one boy in the mix, Larry and Dee's son Michael, coached girls basketball in the Grand Rapids area for more than 10 years.
His daughter, Mickayla, is in eighth grade. She plays volleyball, too.
"Isn't it funny that my dad, who's lived his whole life in sports, his whole career (prior to Leland) in boys sports, ends up with three daughters, a son and six granddaughters," Laurie said. "If Title IX doesn't come along, he doesn't get all these sports fixes that he's wanted. There would have been a whole lot of pressure on Michael to get the job done."