Title IX at 50: Gracie Olsen's Story

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

August 9, 2022

Gracie Olsen capped a career full of championships as a senior last fall, winning Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals titles in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 butterfly – and also finishing among the fastest to swim those events in MHSAA history. Her winning IM time of 2:01.58 ranks second on the LPD2 Finals list, while her butterfly winning time of 54.19 seconds ranks fourth in her division’s history.

The Finals championships were the fifth and sixth of Olsen’s career, and she won at least one title all four years of high school. She also swam on third-place 400 freestyle and 200 medley relays as Fenton finished fourth as a team. She will continue her academic and swimming careers at University of Indiana – which finished 11th at last season’s NCAA Division I Championships – and where she intends to major in exercise science.

"I started sports when I was 3 or 4 years old, and I didn't really realize how much of a privilege it was just to be involved. I played multiple sports when I was little – figure skating, soccer, dance, swim, pretty much everything. Of course, I made the decision to stick with swimming, which pretty much made me the person I am today.

“I've made all my best friends. I've become more confident. I've learned how to be a leader. I've learned how to work with others. And there's so much more that the sport has taught me – and without swimming, I'm not sure that I would've been financially able to attend a major university like Indiana. Needless to say, I'm very thankful that because of the opportunity women have to play sports, we also have the opportunities to go to colleges like that and learn all these skills and be a part of this whole community.”

Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.

Previous Title IX at 50 Spotlights

Aug. 2: Maddy Stern's Story - Read
July 26:
Reese Miller's Story - Read
July 19:
Macy Irelan's Story - Read
July 12:
Bridget Boczar's Story - Read
July 5:
Ella Boose's Story - Read
June 28:
Kaila Jackson's Story - Read
June 23: 
We Celebrate Our Past, We Look Forward to Our Future - Read
June 21: Assistant Directors Have Been Difference Makers - Read
June 14: 
Girls Lacrosse Finals Officials Set Empowering Example - Read
June 7: 
From Gymnastics to Wrestling, Girls Opportunities Continue to Grow - Read
May 31: 
Mumford Sprinter's Magnificent 2006 Final Remains Unmatched - Read

May 24: Scane, Whiteside Alone on 400-Goal, 500-Point Girls Lacrosse Lists - Read
May 17: Over 8 Days in 1988, Pair of Champs Set No. 1 Singles Standard - Read
May 10: 
Portage Central's Tarpley Scores as State's Superstar, U.S. Soccer Hero - Read
May 3: 
Prychitko 'Legend In Her Own Time,' Legend for All Time - Read
April 26: 
Braddock vs. Verdun Still Striding Among All-Time Sprint Matchups - Read
April 19: 
Holmes' Strikeout Record Rarely Approached, May Be Unbreakable - Read
April 12: 
Anticipation High as 45,000 Girls Return to Spring Sports - Read
April 5: 
Regina's Laffey Retiring as Definition of Legendary - Read
March 29: 
Edison's Whitehorn named 2022 Miss Basketball - Read
March 22: 
Carney-Nadeau Sets Girls Hoops Standard with 78-Win Streak - Read
March 15: 
Binder Among Voices Telling Our Story on MHSAA Network - Read
March 8: 
28 Years, Thousands of Cheers - Read
March 1: 
Kearsley Rolls On Among Girls Bowling's Early Successes - Read
Feb. 22: Marquette Ties Record for Swim & Dive Finals Success - Read
Feb. 15: Jaeger's 2004 Winter Run Created Lasting Connection - Read
Feb. 8: Marian's Cicerone to Finish Among All-Time Elite - Read
Feb. 1: WISL Award Honors Builders of State's Girls Sports Tradition - Read
Jan. 25: Decades Later, Edwards' Legend Continues to Grow - Read
Jan. 18: Iron Mountain Completes Championship Climb - Read
Jan. 11: Harrold's Achievement Heralds Growth of Girls Wrestling - Read
Dec. 20: Competitive Cheer Gives Michigan Plenty to Cheer About - Read
Dec. 14: 
Evelyn's Game Had Plenty of Magic - Read
Dec. 7: 
Council Term Ends, But Leinaar Leaves Lasting Impact - Read
Nov. 30: 
Basketball Season Ready to Add to Rich Tradition - Read
Nov. 23: 
Marysville Builds Winning Streak Yet to be Challenged - Read
Nov. 16: Wroubel Has Championed Girls School Sports from Their Start - Read
Nov. 9: Pioneer's Joyce Legendary in Michigan, National Swim History - Read
Nov. 2: Royal Oak's Finch Leading Way on Football Field - Read
Oct. 26: Coach Clegg Sets Championship Standard at Grand Blanc - Read
Oct. 19: Rockford Girls Set Pace, Hundreds After Have Continued to Chase - Read
Oct. 12: 
Bedford Volleyball Pioneer Continues Blazing Record-Setting Trail - Read
Oct. 5: 
Warner Paved Way to Legend Status with Record Rounds - Read
Sept. 28: Taylor Kennedy Gymnasts Earn Fame as 1st Champions - Read
Sept. 21: 
Portage Northern Star Byington Becomes Play-by-Play Pioneer - Read
Sept. 14: 
Guerra/Groat Legacy Continues to Serve St. Philip Well - Read
Sept. 7: 
Best-Ever Conversation Must Include Leland's Glass - Read
Aug. 31: We Will Celebrate Many Who Paved the Way - Read

Official's List of 'Favorite' Sports Grows with Dedication to Making Our Games Go

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

April 8, 2022

Any season. Any MHSAA sport.

Well, almost any.

You name it, and likely Jeff Brunner has officiated it. He may even have been selected to officiate an MHSAA Final in the sport as well.

He first started as a baseball umpire right out of high school. Family and work life created a 20-year absence from officiating for the 1979 grad of Romeo High, where he had played baseball for the Bulldogs.

Brunner, a 20-year MHSAA registered official, is about to work his favorite sport – softball – again. But, the 60-year-old readily admits he loves games so much, the favorite sport can change regularly for him.

“It’s kind of whatever is in season,” Brunner said of naming a favorite. “I love the pace of the game of softball, and I am a big proponent of providing as may opportunities for girls to play sports, whatever that sport may be. 

“For that reason I gravitated towards softball.”

He’ll have to wait though to get on the field. Both of his games were cancelled this week due to weather-related complications.

Jeff Brunner“Weather can create havoc with spring sports schedules – more so than any other season – so from an officiating standpoint, you have to count on some games being postponed or cancelled,” he acknowledged. “You just have to go with the flow and be ready to work when the weather allows.

“I feel a bit bad for softball and baseball players in particular, because those seasons are so short to begin with, and every contest date is important,” he went on. “When bad weather causes cancellations as a result of rain or the extension of winter, it makes the high school season that much shorter for the athletes.”

Brunner, a father of four grown children, is currently registered for softball, football, volleyball, swimming & diving and basketball. He once did lacrosse in addition to starting his officiating career with baseball.

“There is only so much time in the week,” he said. “I can’t do everything.

“I have at least one sport for each of the three sporting seasons,” he continued. “It’s fun.”

Brunner watched his three daughters grow up playing softball and competing in swimming. His son played baseball and competed in swimming. They all graduated from Traverse City St. Francis, swimming through a co-op program. His daughters were all pitchers for the Gladiators. Their first pitching coach was Dad.

His youngest daughter, Julia, just finished competing for Wayne State University at the 2022 Division II Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships in Greensboro, N.C.

It was his kids that got him into officiating, along with the extra money. But today, it’s just to be a part of a game.

“We were always around sports,” Brunner said. “I thought about officiating for a while.

“Originally I did it to maybe earn just a little bit of extra money, get a little bit of exercise, and kind of stay close to the game,” he continued. “Now, it is just plain fun — it’s fun to be around a game, whatever that game is.”

During his officiating career, Brunner has been selected to officiate MHSAA Finals in swimming & diving and football. He’s not likely to get the chance to umpire a baseball or softball Final as his other business obligations interfere with MHSAA spring postseason play.

Brunner familyWhile working a Final is a goal of most all MHSAA officials, Brunner said it is just another game once it starts. He sees the Final as a great experience for all coaches, participants, fans and officials.

“MHSAA always does a great job of putting on a Final,” he said. “It’s always special.

“You have a few butterflies prior the game or the meet, but once things start you started focusing on the game itself.

The longer Brunner officiate, whatever the sport is, he believes the key to making the right call often comes down to mechanics.

“Mechanics were drilled into me when I first started,” Brunner said. “A lot of making the right call in my opinion is having the right mechanics and knowing where to be. 

“You need to be in a good position to make the call.”

Many veteran coaches have noticed Brunner prides himself on being in the right position, and more. It is noted game after game, season after season.

“Jeff Brunner is the consummate professional as an umpire,” said Dave Kennedy, Traverse City West’s varsity softball coach. “He is excellent with his calls and positioning, but he is most concerned about getting the call right.

“Every time I see I have Jeff as part of the umpiring crew for my games, I know the game is going to be very well officiated,” Kennedy continued. “We are lucky to have Jeff as one of our officials in Northern Michigan — he’s definitely one of the best.”

Jeff Brunner"As an umpire, Jeff's professionalism and easy demeanor are much appreciated,” Hawkins said. “He runs the games he works in such a way that the focus stays on the players.  

“Jeff may not know every player on the field personally, but I'm convinced that Jeff takes on his job, which is a difficult one, for them – the players."

Brunner and his son Andrew’s high school baseball experiences made it easy for Jeff to jump into baseball — and the same was true for softball due to his pitching girls. Swimming & diving, though, has been perhaps the most challenging sport to learn how to officiate for Brunner.

Watching his four children compete in pools over the years was a big help. The physical aspect was much easier, but maybe not the rules.

“The hard part is knowing all the rules … knowing what is a legal stroke and what is not,” he said. “It was an easy transition — we had seen so many swim meets.”

Today Brunner is anxiously waiting to get back on the softball field. He’s got his gear ready in anticipation of calling his first pitch of the 2022 season.

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Official Jeff Brunner has his eyes on the action while officiating a football game. (2) Brunner monitors a starting block during November’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Swimming & Diving Finals at Calvin University. (3) Brunner and his wife Michelle support daughter Julie at March’s Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship meet. (4) Brunner’s gear sits ready for his first game this week before it was canceled due to bad weather. (Photos courtesy of the Brunner family.)