Gladstone Coach Smith Built Champions

October 24, 2016

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ESCANABA — Gerry Smith put his life into helping area youngsters get a foot into the athletic doorway, and in the process touched the lives of so many people.

“Smitty” died Oct. 15 following a lengthy illness.

“God got a great softball coach,” said retired Gladstone athletic director Matt Houle. “He was unique and old school, but his love for kids and the game always showed clearly. He had such a passion for the game of softball and just loved working with kids.”

Smith, 70, worked at Mead Paper Co. for more than 30 years and was IBEW 979’s business agent for 21 years. But he will perhaps be most remembered for his 43 years on softball and baseball fields throughout the area. He spent 11 years as Gladstone High School’s head softball coach, directing the Braves to MHSAA titles in 2004 and 2009. He was 290-77-1, but missed much of the 2008 season because of shoulder surgery. The Braves were 31-10 under interim manager John Malloch, which would give Smith an overall 321-87-1 record.

“He put a lot of trust into people he asked to help him out,” said Ashley Hughes, who succeeded Smith in 2014 and guided the Braves to the MHSAA Division 3 title that year.

Hughes, who joined Smith on the softball staff when she became a teacher at her alma mater in 2009, also pitched for Smith and the Braves before getting a softball scholarship to Lake Superior State University.

She recalled Smith sought her services when she returned to Gladstone. “Hey kiddo, how about helping us out this year,” is how Hughes remembers that conversation.

He then told her, “I’m going to teach you everything I know and in a few years this will all be yours,” Hughes related.

“For me to come as head coach after Smitty, there was so much pressure. I wanted to live up to everything he had provided for this program,” Hughes said. “I didn’t want to disappoint him. He put a lot of faith in me.”

She said Smith also had an impact when she was a player. “He was so in your face in such a positive light. He wanted you to be successful, whether you had never touched a ball or had the ability to go on to play college ball. He was a spit-fire. He was so intense.

“He just exuded passion, at practice, at games. He had so much love for the game. That is something I’ve held onto because I too loved that game. To have someone like Smitty be so passionate and intense helped me become passionate and gave me the drive to be like that.”

Bill Buchmiller and Smith were partners for 40 years and he became godfather to Buchmiller’s children. In addition to guiding the Braves’ high school varsity, they served as American Legion coaches in the early stages of Gladstone’s program, worked together as Little League coaches and were softball teammates.

“He took a program from nothing to two state championships,” said Buchmiller. “He always encouraged the group. He may have broke them down a little bit but he always built them back up. He was a hard guy to get to know, but once you got to know him, he was a great guy.”

Smith used the knowledge he had gleaned from many years as a player and infused that into his players. “He just dwelled on the basics of softball. If you had to play small ball to win, that is what he played,” said Buchmiller.

“He covered all the different bases of softball. He stressed defense. He told (hitting coach) Al Verbrigghe, ‘You give me one run Al and we’ll win the ball game with my defense. Give me a run and we’ll manage somehow.’”

Theresa Shepeck, who joined Smith on the GHS staff in 2003, agreed with that assessment.

“Smitty always thought the short game was the way to go,” she said. “It was about bunting, not the long ball. You get a runner on one, you bunt her to two. You get somebody on three, then you suicide (bunt) her home.”

Shepeck said his players thrived on his various idiosyncrasies, such as finding tourney lodging in rather inexpensive motels and using a wad of cash to pay for the team’s rooms. “The kids just yukked it up,” she said with a laugh.

“He always put the kids first. If somebody made a mistake, it was never their fault; it is my (Smith’s) fault, the coaching staff’s fault. If one of us coaches made a mistake, he took that blame. It was always his fault, his responsibility,” said Shepeck.

The players appreciated how he used them in games and practices. “His philosophy was to put the best nine on the field, period,” she said. “He walked on a lot of toes, he had a lot of hurt feelings (of parents), but I think the kids respected that. Nobody ever doubted how they fit in. He was there to win.

“He was a little man (about 5-foot-6) but had a huge heart. He was all about the kids and the coaching staff. It was an honor to learn from him, to be in his presence, to be a mentor to the kids.”

Hughes agreed, noting “he had a way of figuring out what the team needs are and re-arranging the players (duties). He knew the players’ strengths and was always looking out for the entire team.”

Smith’s career record likely could have included more wins if he didn’t use the season’s first month to shuffle personnel while building for the postseason. It paid off when it counted the most as the Braves reached at least the Quarterfinal level each of his 11 seasons.

“He was definitely not afraid to experiment,” said Hughes. “He knew the rules of the game and he was always looking for more (from his players). He was an aggressive coach, and the girls who love the sport really grasped at that. He utilized every player on his roster.

“He didn’t have to say too much, but you always wanted to answer him and make him proud and prove to him that you can come through.”

Houle summed up Smith’s legacy when he said, “He was the person that put Gladstone High School on the map in high school activities. He will be dearly missed by so many. He touched so many lives.”

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Gladstone High School softball manager Gerry Smith holds the Division 3 championship trophy after the Braves won the 2009 title in Battle Creek. Smith, who also led the Braves to the 2004 crown, died Oct. 15. (Middle) Smith talks with catcher Jordan Kowalski at a practice prior to the 2011 Division 3 Semifinals. (Photos courtesy of Escanaba Daily Press.)

2023 WISL Award Honoree Glass Continuing to Create Leaders On Court & Off

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 2, 2023

Hailing from one of Michigan’s smallest communities, Laurie Glass has made an impact that continues to connect all over Michigan.

But her impact on women’s athletics began long before a career that has seen the longtime Leland volleyball coach become one of the winningest in her sport in state history.

As a high school junior in 1976, she recruited seven classmates and a coach to form Leland’s first girls sports team – for basketball – and the same group then played volleyball that winter. She was a senior and major contributor when, during their second season, the Comets won the 1978 Class D volleyball championship.

More than four decades later, Glass is a Michigan legend in that sport – a winner of 1,218 matches with Leland and Traverse City Central and three Finals championships with the Comets. She’s also a nationally-recognized voice in volleyball and women’s athletics as a whole – and this year’s MHSAA Women in Sports Leadership honoree for those many and continuing contributions.

“Because I’m a teacher and coach, that’s my desire to help the youth be the best they could be. And if I can impact a coach or impact another district or program, that means I’m affecting more youth in a positive way,” Glass said. “So for me, it’s just the ripple effect; it gets a lot bigger when I’m starting little drops in other places. So I can affect the hundreds of kids that I’ve seen go through Leland, or I can impact the larger audience by impacting coaches or impacting kids in other places that can then impact other people. It allows me a wider audience for wanting to help young women to be their best young woman self in however way I can make that happen.”

Each year, the Representative Council considers the achievements of women coaches, officials and athletic administrators affiliated with the MHSAA who show exemplary leadership capabilities and positive contributions to athletics.

Leland finished 49-13 this past season and reached the Division 4 Quarterfinals. Glass has a record of 1,218-393-122 over more than three decades as a varsity volleyball coach, having led the Comets for a combined 29 seasons over three tenures, the first beginning with the 1989-90 winter season and later picking up with her most recent return for Fall 2010. She also coached Traverse City Central for four seasons beginning in 1991-92.

Glass passes the championship trophy to her team after the Comets won the 2015 Class D title.Glass led Leland to Class D Finals championships in 2002, 2006 and 2015, and runner-up finishes in Class D in 2014 and Division 4 in 2018 and 2019. She was named to the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA) Hall of Fame in 2006, and selected as national Coach of the Year in volleyball in 2014 by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She’s a three-time MIVCA Coach of the Year and was named Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Coach of the Year for volleyball in 2015. She also was a finalist for National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) national Coach of the Year in 2014. 

Glass has spoken multiple times at the MHSAA Women In Sports Leadership Conference and several times at the MIVCA Coaches Clinic, and among various other engagements was the featured speaker at the Nebraska Athletic Association Coaches Clinic. She will receive the Women In Sports Leadership Award during the MHSAA Division 1 Girls Basketball Final on March 18 at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

“Laurie Glass is recognized most on the statewide level for leading one of the most successful volleyball programs in state history. But she is known among her peers most for the way she teaches not only volleyball but life skills to her athletes,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “Her leadership creates more leaders, be they the athletes who have the opportunity to play for her or the coaches who learn from her and receive her mentorship.”   

Glass’ roots are in one of the most accomplished athletic families in Michigan high school history.

Her father Larry Glass coached Northwestern University’s men’s basketball program from 1963-69, and later took over the Leland girls basketball program and led the Comets to a 388-110 record and three straight Class D Finals championships (1980-82) over two tenures from 1977-91 and 2000-05. Laurie’s sister Rebecca McKee played basketball at Leland and Michigan State University, and her brother Michael Glass played basketball at Lansing Community College before also becoming a high school and college coach.

Laurie also coached and parented arguably the most accomplished volleyball player – and perhaps top female athlete across all sports – in Michigan high school history. Her daughter Alisha Glass-Childress graduated from Leland in 2006 with national records for career kills, aces and blocks, and the first two still top those respective lists. Alisha, also an all-state basketball player, went on to star on the volleyball court at Penn State and as the U.S. Olympic team setter in 2016 in helping that team to the bronze medal.

Larry Glass’ lessons still ring true as Laurie passes them on to another generation. One of her favorite sayings from her father was “you can’t take money out of the bank until you put money in” – in essence, a coach can’t expect athletes to accept criticism or a hard ask if that coach first hasn’t invested in them. Another of her dad’s themes involved making sure players learned fundamentals at young ages and improved on them at all levels, whether they won games or not during those early years. As one of his middle school coaches, that stuck with her, and it remains a basic component of her coaching.

“I’ve always said that we compete with teams that are way more athletic, have all the things on paper that should beat us. And the fact that we know how to be a really good team is what allows us to beat people who on paper should be better than us,” Laurie Glass said. “I’ve always valued the time spent on culture and team because that’s the advantage we hold. We’re never going to be the tallest or most talented – Alisha being the anomaly, of course.”

Laurie Glass has served on the MIVCA Executive Board, including as president, and is a member of the MHSCA and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Locally, her program annually hosts the Forever Dig Abby match in honor of former player Abby Gross, who died after a fight against cancer in 2015. Proceeds most years go to benefit another community member battling the disease, and this past season went to a fund for efforts related to ovarian cancer.  

Glass has served nearly 35 years in education and retired from her duties as a behavior intervention specialist and special education teacher in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District in 2019. She has returned to the school setting, however, and is in her second year as a behavior intervention specialist at Leland.

Glass earned a bachelor’s degree in special education with an endorsement in emotional impairment from Western Michigan University in 1988, and has done master-level coursework in education administration and technology. She also is a certified instructor for the Crisis Prevention Institute. Glass first attended Grand Valley State University and played a season of volleyball before transferring. (NOTE: Glass also coached the Kalamazoo Central varsity for two seasons during the mid-1980s. Those records are unavailable currently but will be added to her overall record when research is complete.)

Past Women In Sports Leadership Award Winners

1990 – Carol Seavoy, L’Anse 
1991 – Diane Laffey, Harper Woods
1992 – Patricia Ashby, Scotts
1993 – Jo Lake, Grosse Pointe
1994 – Brenda Gatlin, Detroit
1995 – Jane Bennett, Ann Arbor
1996 – Cheryl Amos-Helmicki, Huntington Woods
1997 – Delores L. Elswick, Detroit
1998 – Karen S. Leinaar, Delton
1999 – Kathy McGee, Flint 
2000 – Pat Richardson, Grass Lake
2001 – Suzanne Martin, East Lansing
2002 – Susan Barthold, Kentwood
2003 – Nancy Clark, Flint
2004 – Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, Grand Rapids 
2005 – Barbara Redding, Capac
2006 – Melanie Miller, Lansing
2007 – Jan Sander, Warren Woods
2008 – Jane Bos, Grand Rapids
2009 – Gail Ganakas, Flint; Deb VanKuiken, Holly
2010 – Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2011 – Ellen Pugh, West Branch; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
2012 – Janet Gillette, Comstock Park
2013 – Barbara Beckett, Traverse City
2014 – Teri Reyburn, DeWitt
2015 – Jean LaClair, Bronson
2016 – Betty Wroubel, Pontiac
2017 – Dottie Davis, Ann Arbor
2018 – Meg Seng, Ann Arbor
2019 – Kris Isom, Adrian
2020 – Nikki Norris, East Lansing
2021 – Dorene Ingalls, St. Ignace
2022 – Lori Hyman, Livonia

PHOTOS (Top) Leland coach Laurie Glass confers with one of her players during the 2019 Division 4 Final at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Glass passes the championship trophy to her team after the Comets won the 2015 Class D title.