Junior Hitter's Spirit, Skill Give Lawton Lift

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

September 25, 2019

LAWTON — Olivia Cramer wears her friends proudly — on her leg.

When she is not wearing a blade to play volleyball or basketball, the Lawton High School junior wears a prosthetic, but it’s not just any leg.

“I’ve had pictures of my friends on it for a couple years, and there’s the homecoming court my freshman year, softball game, at work,” she said.

While the decoration of the prosthetic leg is a novelty, the need for the limb certainly isn’t.

Cramer was born with non-genetic proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), a condition that has resulted in her right leg measuring inches shorter than her left.

It is an uncommon condition that affects about 1 in every 200,000 children, according to statistics from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The prosthetic leg assists with everyday life. But when it comes to athletics, she wears a blade, similar to those worn by runners.

“We call it my running blade,” Cramer said. “Mine is designed a little differently than an amputee because I still have my leg bones and foot.”

The custom-made blade, officially called the Freedom Innovations Catapult, is made of carbon fiber and has a rubber tread on the bottom so it will not damage the court.

“It’s about a two-week process and it was a little bit of a challenge to make,” said Tim Darling, a certified prosthetist at Hanger Clinic in Kalamazoo who fashioned the leg and blade.

He also was instrumental in adding the photos. “She provided the photos printed on a T-shirt and we used materials to reinforce it and then used an acrylic lamination,” Darling added.

Instead of Velcro straps to keep the leg attached, Cramer has two dials that tighten the leg.

“It has string made of Kevlar and you can tighten them so I don’t have to have straps covering my leg anymore,” she said. “Before, it was just Velcro and came loose a lot.”

Darling said it is a relatively new process for a prosthetic.

100 Percent

“Working with her is humbling,” Lawton volleyball coach Megan McCorry said. “When you see someone with a physical disability like that and you see that same person is also the most positive and most encouraging, it really makes you do a gut check.

“It gives you some perspective in life that what you have going on may not really be that bad, and you need to work harder at putting your best foot forward.”

Cramer was pulled up from junior varsity during the District last year and practiced but did not play.

This season, she sees court time and, “She’s honestly one of those kids that you can’t not have on your team,” McCorry said.

“I mean she is always 100-percent positive. She is going to be the loudest one on the court, loudest one on the bench. She’s always supporting her team, and she’s just so determined to get better individually and make her teammates better.”

Since she jumps off her stronger left leg, the blade does not give Cramer any advantage, but at least once caused a gaffe.

“During a match, my friend Madison Lawson and I were going for a block on the outside and we fought for the block and we came back down,” Cramer said. “Madison landed on my blade and snapped it.

“We didn’t know what happened at first because there was this huge (sound) right in the middle of the match and I was like, ‘What just happened?’ We even stopped playing because of it. I went to step and my leg didn’t spring like it usually does.”

The junior said her teammates are very supportive.

“She holds herself accountable for everything she does,” senior Gabi Martinez said. “Everything she does basically makes us realize she can do everything we can do. It doesn’t stop her from anything.

“We do watch out for her leg to make sure she doesn’t hurt it, but usually even if she falls down, she gets right back up and she’s usually the one picking everybody else up.”

Cramer’s mother, Megan Cramer, said when she was pregnant, her first ultrasound showed an abnormality in the leg, so she was prepared when Olivia was born.

When learning to walk, Olivia would walk on her short leg and balance on the knee of her good leg, her mother said.

As Olivia grew older, doctors gave her mother two choices: amputation or rotationplasty (fusing the knee on her shorter leg and rotating her foot around to where her knee joint would be). That new joint is where her prosthetic would have connected.

Her mother chose neither.

“I was a young mother, and I was scared to death and I was, ‘You’re not cutting her foot off,’” she said.

They visited several hospitals and finally went to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago.

“That was the first place we went where they said let her be,” Megan said.

That is what her mother did.

“I am glad that they never had it amputated, and I never had rotationplasty,” Olivia Cramer said. “My condition is pretty rare, and because I didn’t do any of the amputation that makes me even more special than it already was, so I really appreciate it.”

She goes to the Shriners Hospital every six months for checkups and gets a new leg and blade when she outgrows the old ones.

Driving and Striving

Golf is Cramer’s true love, and she hopes to pursue it in college.

When playing, she wears her regular prosthetic, not the blade, and, last year, was captain of the school’s boys team (Lawton has no girls team).

She also played the Lakeshore Junior Golf Association tour during the summer, carrying a 12 handicap and winning the 16-18 girls division.

“Those accomplishments are all special, of course,” Lawton golf coach Barry Shanley said. “But what makes her truly remarkable is her spirit. If you didn't see her prosthetic, you would never know she even has one. 

“For now it's actually an advantage for her college goal to play on a high school boys team. The boys play from the men's tees, which is the typical length for collegiate women, so college coaches know her scores now already match what length their own players are using.”

Shanley said the only way her prosthetic affects her swing is that her hip alignment can be a little unbalanced. 

“Once she stops growing and her prosthetic is matched to her other leg permanently, there won't be any issue at all,” he said.

“Because it's difficult to keep them matched, which now can cause her some pain if she walks the typical 5.6 miles in 18 holes or the 2.8 miles for 9 holes, we wrote and received permission from the MHSAA to let her take a golf cart during matches.”

Right now, though, Cramer is focused on volleyball, with her team’s record 13-9 midway through the season. The Blue Devils will host an MHSAA Division 3 District beginning Nov. 4.

Other players on the volleyball team are senior Jessica Grear, juniors are Mackenzie Nickrent, Kiana Auton, Caitlen Romo, Josie Buchkowski, Wendy Guerra and Dezare’ Smith; and sophomores Sarah Dekoning and Lily Grear.

No matter the sport, Cramer said she follows her grandfather’s advice.

“My grandpa always has said, ‘Don’t ever say “can’t” in this household. That’s a word that’s not in our dictionary.’

“I guess that’s shaped me into who I am today, being able to persevere through all the difficulties, even though I like to think I have it just as fair as everybody else does, that we’re on an equal playing level.”

Cramer has one hope:

“I hope that if anybody sees this and is down in the dumps for any kind of condition they have, just persevere through it and prove to other people that you are better than they can ever think that you can be.”

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lawton’s Olivia Cramer loads for a kill attempt during a match this fall. (Middle top) Cramer’s prosthetic leg, front and back, and the blade she wears for sports. (Middle) From top left: Olivia Cramer, mother Megan Cramer, teammate Gabi Martinez and volleyball coach Megan McCorry. (Below) Cramer awaits the opponent’s serve. (Action photos by Gary Shook; prosthetic photos and head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.