Softball Gave Michigan Girls Opportunity
May 3, 2016
By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half
In 1971, Jennifer Bradley, a 17-year-old senior at New Buffalo High School, attempted to play for the school’s varsity baseball team. Her request was rejected by the team’s coach. The story made national news.
Described as a better hitter than many boys, who could also run and field, Bradley was a player who local police chief and amateur baseball coach Dale Siebenmark felt would be an asset to any team.
Siebenmark wrote the Michigan High School Athletic Association on her behalf, asking for clarification on her status. Bradley was told, via letter, by the MHSAA rules committee that “girls cannot engage in sports where part or all the membership of a participating team is composed of boys.”
Because she was a senior, Bradley opted not to push beyond.
“I hope in the future other girls who are interested will pursue the matter of girls trying to get on teams,” said Bradley, inadvertently foreshadowing a change that would arrive. “But, they should start when they are freshmen.”
Into this environment was born an expanding array of MHSAA state tournaments for girls.
Outside regional tournaments in alpine skiing, started during the 1953-54 school year and staged for both boys and girls, gymnastics was the first sport for females to receive a statewide MHSAA-sponsored championship tournament. It began with the 1971-72 school year – the school year prior to the signing of the United States Education Amendments, which included Title IX, in July 1972.
MHSAA golf, tennis, swimming & diving and track & field championships were added for girls during the 1972-73 school year. Basketball arrived the following year. Skiing moved to a statewide championship in February 1975.
That spring also would see the first MHSAA Finals for one of the state's fastest-growing girls sports.
According to press reports, 182 high schools in the Great Lakes State had softball teams during the 1972-73 school year. One year later, the number had jumped to 331. With the announcement of the first MHSAA-sponsored softball tournament in the spring of 1975, the total increased again to 410.
“Some of the finest facilities in the state are being used for the championships,” noted the Detroit Free Press, indicating that this was the fifth anniversary of the MHSAA title games for baseball and the first for softball. “The Class A girls softball playoffs, for instance, are being played at Lansing’s Ranney Park, a fine outstate park for 40 years.”
It was one of four separate sites used for the final rounds of softball. Class B games were hosted at Dickinson Field in Kalamazoo, Class C games were held at Manchester High School and Class D at Plangger Field in Benton Harbor. Semifinal games were scheduled at 10 a.m., noon and 12:30 p.m., with the championship contests scheduled for 3 p.m., 3:30 or 4 p.m. of the same day, depending on the site.
In Class A, all-around athlete Mary Kay Itnyre (who in 2015 was inducted into Michigan State University’s Athletic Hall of Fame for her stellar college basketball career) tossed back-to-back no-hit games for Redford Bishop Borgess in regional play. Itnyre, a 6-foot junior, then added a third consecutive no-hitter as the Spartans topped Bay City Central in the Semifinals, 7-0. (Bay City’s girls wore volleyball uniforms that doubled as their softball uniforms, illustrating the inequality between the boys and girls athletics that existed at the time).
“If the Detroit Tigers ever begin drafting females, pitcher Mary Kay Itnyre may be the first on the list,” wrote a United Press International writer covering that first tournament.
Later in the day, Itnyre allowed only four hits as the Borgess girls downed Portage Central, 15-3, for the title. Itnyre opened the game with three innings of no-hit ball while Borgess pounded out 12 runs, including a home run by Sue Janus in the second inning. Lori Tremonti and Itnyre each added three hits for the victors. Ann Nolan had a two-run homer for the Mustangs in the seventh. Despite the loss, the opportunity to compete for a championship game capped a 24-year physical education career for Portage Central’s Jean Smith. Long an advocate for girls sports, Smith became the school’s first softball coach with the passage of Title IX.
Dearborn Divine Child finished the 1974 season with a 6-3 record, earning the “Best Sportsmanship” trophy from the Sterling Heights Women’s Softball Association. A year later, thanks to the changes in high school athletics, they were Class B state champions.
Catcher Sheryl Tominac notched two home runs and tallied six RBI as Divine Child crushed Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 14-2, in the Semifinal. Divine Child continued the offensive assault with 13 hits in a 14-4 pounding of Tecumseh for the title. Tominac again led the Falconettes with a single in the second inning, another home run in the fourth, and a triple in the fifth inning of the championship game.
The Detroit Catholic League continued its dominance of that first tournament, as Riverview Gabriel Richard pitcher Donna Dallos held Kalamazoo Christian to a single hit, a double by Lois Talsma, in a 5-0 victory in the Class C Final at Manchester. Mary Kay Raubolt went 2 for 4 in the game with a two-run single, while Maureen Dalton went 2 for 3 with a double. Dallos, team Most Valuable Player, finished the year with a 13-2 record and an ERA of 1.50. Gabriel Richard posted a 15-2 record on the season and earned the trip to the title game with a 14-5 win over Lakeview earlier in the day.
Freesoil entered the final weekend of softball competition with a flawless 35-0 record over three years of Western Michigan D League play. Trailing 9-8 in the seventh inning of the Semifinal game with Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, the Pirates rallied for a 10-9 win and a chance at the Class D title. Their victory ensured that the Detroit Catholic League didn’t sweep the tournament.
Flint Holy Rosary entered the final inning of its Semifinal game leading 8-1 when Fowler erupted for five runs. According to Associated Press newspaper coverage, Fowler had the bases loaded with two outs when leftfielder Kelli Gerard “tossed out a runner at the plate following a bases loaded hit to nip a last inning rally,” to advance with an 8-6 victory.
In the championship game, Freesoil jumped out to a 2-1 lead behind junior Helen Shereda’s triple in the bottom of the first inning. Shereda, who pitched both the Semifinal and Final, would later become a three-sport star at Oakland University, where she earned All-America honors in basketball. Flint Holy Rosary quickly bounced back with four runs in the second inning to gain a 5-2 lead, then added three more at the top of the fifth, making it 8-2.
Freesoil bounced back with four runs in the bottom of the fifth, to pull within two, 8-6, but couldn’t grab the lead. Single runs in both the sixth and seventh innings by the Wolverines sealed the win, 10-6, and completed an incredible school year for the female athletes at Holy Rosary. Earlier, the Wolverines had won the MHSAA Class D girls basketball title, then represented Michigan in the U.S.A. Volleyball regional at Ball State University. (The MHSAA did not sponsor a volleyball state tournament until the winter of the 1975-76 school year.) The softball team included a number of athletes from the basketball and/or volleyball teams, including Gerard, Sally Lipp, catcher Patty Bentoski and pitcher Sandy Histed.
For Holy Rosary coach Anita “Jo” Lake – who had arrived as a volunteer in 1964, a year after the school’s opening – the season included yet another victory. After three operations, she had beaten breast cancer.
Since that first softball tourney, a host of other girls championship tournaments have been added by the MHSAA: Cross Country in 1979, Soccer in 1983, Competitive Cheer in 1994, Bowling in 2004 and Lacrosse in 2005.
Today, Michigan ranks 10th nationally in population, yet ranks 7th in girls and boys student participation in high school athletics. The numbers are truly impressive, especially when one considers them from the historical perspective of 45 years ago.
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 email@example.com with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Redford Bishop Borgess was the first MHSAA Class A softball champion, in 1975. (Middle top) New Buffalo's Jennifer Bradley. (Middle below) Dearborn Divine Child won the 1975 Class B softball title. (Below) Riverview Gabriel Richard and Flint Holy Rosary won the Class C and D titles, respectively, in 1975.
Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
January 4, 2023
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.