1970s Pioneers Took 1st Track Strides

May 16, 2017

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

Between 1982 and 1987, Sue Latter-Addison was considered among the top 10 women runners for the 1,500 meters/Mile according to Track and Field News.

In 1986, she became only the eighth female in U.S. history to break 4:30 in the mile with a time of 4:23:93 at the Nikaia meet in Nice, France. Over the years, she ran with and against some of the greatest of all-time, including Mary Decker-Slaney. As a junior at Michigan State in 1977, she earned All-American honors in the outdoor 800 meters.

As a coach, she was named NCAA Division III Midwest Region Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year in 1999, in her third season at Wheaton College. Her previous coaching stops included stints at Brown University, Colorado, Florida State, and most recently at Hope College. Running professionally for Reebok and Nike, she competed around the world.

“We were fortunate to come along when we did,” said Latter-Addison, recalling some of the track trailblazers and a time when participating in high school sports was not a possibility for girls. “If we had been born a couple of years before, we wouldn’t have had the opportunities that we did.”

Sue Latter was a 16-year old junior at Clarkston High School in January 1973 when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1972 ruling that allowed girls to compete in varsity, non-contact sports with boys in Michigan. Since her high school didn’t have a girls track team, she joined the boys team.

“(Running with the boys) had advantages and disadvantages,” she said a few years later to the Lansing State Journal while running for MSU. “It did make me work harder, and my teammates were always encouraging me.”

The arrival of the first MHSAA Girls Track and Field championships in 1973, won by Marquette in the Upper Peninsula and by Lincoln Park in the Lower Peninsula, was the culmination of many things. 

The nation’s view of the female in society was rapidly changing. In many cases, the battle for the chance to compete against others was led by parents who believed in the educational value of athletics, and saw that opportunity denied because of gender. Thanks to their efforts, walls that prevented girls from enjoying opportunities that once were exclusively reserved for males began to crumble. Among those barriers were rules that prevented girls from competing athletically. Title IX, along with other lesser known lawsuits, meant rapid expansion of sports in Michigan and across the United States.

A survey of MHSAA member schools during the 1969-70 school year found 59 districts offered track for girls. A year later, 69 schools offered the sport. In April of 1972, the MHSAA announced plans to expand girls state tournaments to five sports – Tennis, Swimming, Gymnastics, Golf, and Track – during the 1972-73 school year. One year previous, gymnastics was the only one offered, beside skiing regionals that allowed teams containing males and females.

With the announcement, the number of girls prep track programs shot up to 150. However, Clarkston wasn’t amongst them.

A new sport called Powerball – a version of competitive volleyball – was added to the athletic menu at Clarkston during the 1972-73 school year. The girls converted from six-girl basketball to a five-girl team during the 1969-70 school year. The “ball” sports were the only athletic options, outside of cheerleading and skiing, that were offered by the Clarkston district for girls during the 1972-73 season.

“I liked competing and enjoyed running and realized I was pretty fast,” recalled Latter-Addison. “Obviously there wasn’t much to choose from. I liked individual sports, where you’re responsible for yourself and your own success. Coach, (Errol) Solley gave me a chance.”

“She had a lot of talent,” said Solley, now a resident of Florida who returns to Michigan for the summers. “She wanted to run. We didn’t have a girls team at the time. It was a time when things were changing and changing fast.”

A few other girls had joined Latter on the team, but by the 1973 track season’s end, she was the only female still working out with the boys. Solley entered her in the girls regional state meet at Madison Heights, where she won the 880 and 440-yard dashes. With the wins, Latter advanced to the state meet, hosted at East Lansing High School.

She was one of 366 entrants from 119 schools at the Lower Peninsula meet, open to all schools regardless of enrollment classification in that first year. In the Upper Peninsula, 29 teams competed at Iron Mountain for U.P. honors.  In 1974, the L.P. girls event was split into two, one for Class A and B schools and a second for Class C and D schools. In 1975, events were run for each of the state’s enrollment classifications. In the U.P., the event was segmented into Class A-B, Class C and Class D beginning in 1974.

And, like many others, Latter was the only qualifier present to represent her high school. According to the State Journal, Latter’s clocked time of 57.1 seconds set a national schoolgirl record in the 440-yard dash that year. She also won the 880 run with a time of 2:17.7.

Solley proudly relayed word to the Clarkston News that the University of Michigan girls coach had said he “hadn’t seen anything like her comeback from 880 to the 440 within an hour.”

“She opened up a lot of eyes,” recalled the coach more than 40 years later. “When you have a girl win two state championships, that will happen.”

Running second in the 880 was Sue Parks of Ypsilanti High School, who finished at 2:18.3. Park’s father Bob was head coach of Eastern Michigan University’s men’s track and field and cross country teams for 34 years. Like others, he had fought hard for his daughter’s right to run, and the 1971-72 school year found her practicing with the track team at Ypsilanti.

Anita Lee of Detroit Cass Tech was the day’s other double winner. In 1970 as a 12-year-old, Lee’s name landed in “Faces in the Crowd,” still a feature of every issue of Sports Illustrated, for setting “her seventh world age-group record with a long jump of 18'6¼" at the U.S. Youth Games in New York.”  According to the magazine, she already held the 10-, 11- and 12-year-old girls world records in both the long and high jumps.

A sophomore in 1973, Lee won both the long and high jump in the MHSAA’s open meet. A year later at the Class A-B track championships, she won the long jump, the 80-yard hurdles, then ran the opening leg of the 880 relay, also won by Cass Tech. As a senior in 1975, Lee grabbed the top medals in both the long jump and high jump at the Class A championships. Like Latter, she would compete at Michigan State after graduation. There, she would post jump records that would last for years.

“When you have success, it is addicting,” said Latter-Addison.

Unfortunately, Latter’s success didn’t translate into a girls track team. Clarkston still didn’t sponsor a girls squad in 1974, her senior year. So she and some other female classmates accepted their only option and ran with the boys squad. Now running the 100 and 220, Latter was Oakland County champ in both events at the first county meet, held at West Bloomfield High School. Ready to return to statewide competition, suddenly a roadblock appeared.

“A question of Sue’s eligibility arose last weekend as she and three other Clarkston High School girls prepared to run in the regional meet” at Madison Heights Madison, stated the Clarkston News that May.

“Because Clarkston did not field enough girls for a girls track team, the co-eds had practiced with the boys’ team and ran practice in their meets. They … ran afoul of a new athletic rule which says that a boy or girl must elect which team they will enter competition with.”

As explained by a school official, “if a girl decides to play with the boys’ tennis team, for instance, she cannot play with the girls team.”

Since there was not a girls team at Clarkston, officials were unable to present a clear ruling on eligibility, and it was initially decided that the girls would not be allowed to run in the qualifying regional.

“I was very emotional,” said Latter-Addison, recalling the incident.

Clarkston school officials had said they had no intent of violating state rules. Unable to get a clear cut decision, ultimately Latter and her three female teammates, Vadna Seyler, Judy Henderson and Nancy McAlevy, were allowed to compete. Latter was the only Clarkston girl to qualify for a trip to the state finals, but at the conclusion of the meet, it remained uncertain if there had been a violation.

Similar occurrences happened around the state, and confusion reigned. Ultimately, it was decided that the rule needed to be re-examined. The performances were accepted and Latter was cleared to run at the state meet, held in Grand Rapids in 1974.

There, she finished second in both the 100 and 220 to Josephine Hobbs of Detroit Central. Hobbs would win both events again in 1975 and 1976, and then run for Delaware State.

All were pioneers, shattering pre-conceived notions about girls and athletics. While it may seem a clichéd phrase, those early participants truly paved the way for today’s female athletes.

For Sue Parks, the freedom to run competitively led to a fabulous college cross country career at Eastern Michigan University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in 1980 and a master’s degree in 1988. 

During her college days in Ypsilanti, she served as head girls track coach at Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard High School in 1982 and head girls cross country coach at Ann Arbor Huron from 1979 to 1983. That was followed by a coaching career that included years at the University of Michigan, Michigan State, the University of Arizona, and Ball State before returning in 2006 to EMU. 

There, she still heads the women’s track and field and cross country coaching staff.

“Look how far it’s come,” stated Latter-Addison, remembering the challenges and opportunities that came from the chance to compete.

Her daughters with husband Ron Addison, an All-American runner at the University of Tennessee, earned MHSAA state championships while at Grand Haven High School. Both Becca and Laura Addison later ran for the University of Michigan.

“I wasn’t awarded an athletic scholarship at Michigan State until my junior year,’ Latter-Addison said. “They simply didn’t exist for girls. Back then, you had to be happy with a free pair of shoes. Today, the opportunities are there.”

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at peschstats@comcast.net with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Lansing's Betsy Leverich takes the baton from Cathy Mueller (right) during the first MHSAA Girls Track & Field Finals in 1973, as captured by the Lansing State Journal. (Middle top) Clarkston's Sue Latter stands for a photo with coach Errol Solley. (Middle below) Detroit Cass Tech's Anita Lee was among the earliest Michigan high school female track stars. (Below) Sue Parks also was an early star and the daughter of a collegiate coach who went on to compete at the next level. (Photos provided by Ron Pesch.)

East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

August 8, 2022

Maia Perez and Gabriela Leon saw it coming.

In fact, the two 2017 East Kentwood all-staters each predicted remarkable post-high school success for each other long before graduation.

Perez was a four-year letterwinner as a soccer goalkeeper who led the Falcons to the Division 1 Semifinals as a sophomore and now plays professionally in Los Angeles. Leon, an all-state pole vaulter in high school, recently became University of Louisville's first NCAA champion in that event.

The two say the success doesn't come as a surprise to either, that part of that success can be explained because they continually pushed each other athletically at East Kentwood.

"Obviously there are a lot of good athletes at East Kentwood, and she was one of those amazing athletes," Perez said of Leon. "When she accomplished something, I wanted to do something big, too. I was all-state in soccer, she was all-state in track, and it was nice to have someone push you, even on days when you didn't feel like being pushed."

Leon credits Perez for helping her grasp the difference between toiling as an ordinary athlete and rising to an elite status as early as the ninth grade.

"When you see high-caliber athletes in the state finals, I think you see the struggles that others don't see," Leon said. "I saw what she was doing, and I learned from that. I learned, and I think she did too, that you have to work hard to be good, to achieve your goals. There is definitely mutual respect between us."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe two met as freshmen and quickly became friends. They originally had soccer in common as both played junior varsity as freshmen before Perez was promoted to varsity later that spring. The teammates began hanging out together off the field, be it at the beach or while taking the school's advanced physical education class together. By the time they were sophomores, however, it had become apparent that Perez's future – despite being a good basketball player – would remain in soccer, while Leon – who had also lettered in volleyball and cross country – narrowed her focus to track.

Both excelled after leaving East Kentwood. Leon had earned her first top-eight MHSAA Finals places as a sophomore, and as a senior placed fourth in pole vault, third in long jump and ran on the fourth-place 400 relay and third-place 1,600 relay as East Kentwood finished third in Lower Peninsula Division 1. Her high school personal records were 13 feet in pole vault and 18-11 in long jump (with a wind-aided 19-7). She broke Louisville's indoor and outdoor records in the pole vault as a sophomore and never looked back. She won the 2022 NCAA outdoor championship in June with a jump of 15-feet, one inch (4.6 meters) while becoming just the fourth collegian ever to amass three clearances over 4.6 meters.

Perez was a three-time Ottawa-Kent Conference Red soccer pick in high school who helped the Falcons in 2015 to their best postseason finish, when they lost to 1-0 in a Semifinal to eventual Division 1 champ Saline. She went on to play at University of Hartford after attracting interest from other programs including Western Michigan, Coastal Carolina and Pittsburgh. She wound up playing every minute of all 37 of her starts as a sophomore and junior while missing just 45 minutes over 19 games as a freshman. COVID-19 wiped out the program's season when Perez was a senior. Still, she is eighth on the school's all-time saves list with 206 while ranking 10th in shutouts with 12.

Following college, Perez was signed by the Los Angeles-based Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. While she wasn't drafted by any NWSL club, Perez impressed coaches enough during a tryout to land a spot on the team's "Discovery List" as the youngest of three goalkeepers.

"Things have been going real well for me there," Perez said. "I feel like I've improved a ton."

While Perez credits Leon with pushing her as an athlete, she said the two didn't necessarily dwell on what they accomplished in high school. They did, however, compare notes on the similarities it took for both to succeed, both physically and mentally.

"We didn't necessarily talk about (honors) a lot," Perez said. "We both knew what each other accomplished, and I don't think we need to talk about it. But I just knew one day she would be really good in track."

East Kentwood soccerLeon said the trait which stuck out about Perez in high school was her competitive drive. She hated to lose, Leon said.

"She was always a very impressive athlete," Leon noted. "She always had (success) in her because she was a real hard worker. Going into high school you could see her work ethic. We had a mutual friendship, and I saw what a work ethic and being humble could do for you."

As for herself, Leon, like many athletes, explored playing many sports. But she always came back to track.

"I always wanted to be the best athlete I could be," she said. "I was never just satisfied with just doing something. I always had this deep desire to perform to the best of my ability."

Perez remembers the first sport which interested her was skateboarding. In fact, the first time Perez met then-East Kentwood coach John Conlon, she told him she was only marginally interested in soccer. Conlon, who led East Kentwood’s girls and boys programs to a combined 654 wins and the boys varsity to five Division 1 championships, quickly made a convert of Perez.

"It's funny how things work out," Perez said. "I was looking for something that I could really be a part of, and now it's my job and I'm so happy I can say I'm getting paid for something I really like."

2021-22 Made in Michigan

Aug. 3: 3-Time Finals Champ Cherishes Memories, Considering Golf Future - Read
Aug. 1: 
Lessons Learned on Track Have Jibowu's Business Surging to Quick Success - Read
July 28: 
Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
July 25: 
2005 Miss Basketball DeHaan Cherishing Newest Title: 1st-Time Mom - Read
July 21: 
Championship Memories Still Resonate with St. Thomas Star Lillard - Read
July 14:
Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
July 12: Coaching Couple Passing On Knowledge, Providing Opportunities for Frankfort Wrestlers - Read
June 30: Hrynewich's Star Continuing to Rise with Olympic, Pro Sports Arrivals - Read

PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from left, Gabriela Leon competes for the East Kentwood and University of Louisville track & field teams, and Maia Perez plays soccer for East Kentwood and trains for the NWSL's Angel City FC. (Middle) Leon holds up her NCAA championship trophy in June. (Below) Perez is one of three keepers for Angel City FC. [Photos courtesy of East Kentwood's athletic department (2017 soccer), Run Michigan (2017 track & field), the Louisville athletic department (2022 track & field) and Will Navarro/Angel City FC (2022 soccer).]