Fund Helps Love for Comstock Live On

By Pam Shebest
Special for

August 21, 2018

COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP — Several years ago, Josh Whitfield and his sister, Mandy Hanson, were sitting around a bonfire just chatting when they touched on a subject that fired up the normally easy-going Comstock High School graduate.

Whitfield had started helping coach the girls soccer team and realized that to be involved in sports, Comstock athletes had to “pay to play.”

“It takes a lot to get him riled up, to get him angry or upset,” Hanson said. “He was talking about, ‘Can you believe it? You have to pay to play sports at Comstock.’

“I was like, that’s crazy. He was getting so upset talking about it. Some of these girls paid to play but then couldn’t afford the right equipment.”

Whitfield, a 2000 grad and four-year multi-sport athlete at Comstock, said he wished he had enough money to help out.

That opportunity would come out of the saddest of circumstances. But as his loved ones continue to heal from Whitfield’s untimely death in 2015, they’ve created an opportunity for his memory to impact the Comstock athletic community for years to come.

That May, while playing golf with friends, including Hanson’s husband Mike, Whitfield said he did not feel well and left the group on the second hole.

“Of course, the guys razzed him about it because it wasn’t like Josh to leave in the middle of a round of golf,” his sister said.

When Whitfield’s mother, Becky, called him at home later, he told her he was having trouble breathing. He called 9-1-1 and his dad, Vic, drove to his son’s house just as the EMTs arrived.

Whitfield did not survive, dying from a double lung collapse. He was just 33 years old.

Two of his buddies, Eric Stewart and Chad Howard, wanted to do something to keep Whitfield’s memory alive.

“We were all struggling a lot,” Stewart said. “Josh had an extremely tight-knit group of friends. It was really hard for a lot of us. We were talking about ways to spin positive out of grief.

“We were like, ‘What can we do to honor his memory, to keep his name alive?’

We thought it would mean something to his family. We knew it would mean something to Comstock, because Comstock is in a tough place right now.”

The buddies had the idea for a fundraiser to help a few Comstock athletes pay to play. They were hoping to raise at least $1,500 through an alumni soccer game.

They were stunned to raise $5,000.

‘Spinning positive out of grief’

Over three years, the group – which has gone from the two friends to a committee of 14 – has raised more than $52,000 and so far donated more than $27,000 of it to various athletic causes in Comstock.

“It started with Eric and Chad, who asked how they could help and wanted to set up an alumni soccer game to help offset the pay-to-play fees,” Comstock athletic director Justin Ansel said. “Initially, I wasn’t sure how big this would be or how sustainable this would be.

“Unfortunately, this entire thing was started by a tragedy. It’s a testament how, at Josh’s young age, how people rallied around him for this. It’s just special how the community comes together to remember Josh. We are thankful for what this organization does for our student-athletes.”

The fund has supplied about $5,000 for pay-to-play scholarships, helping more than 350 middle and high school athletes with activity fees and physical exam fees. But those have not been the group’s only focus.

“For example, someone might say I can’t pay the $75 for Rocket Football,” Stewart said. “We will approve that and send the check in to Rocket Football.

“We also do grants to teams and organizations focused on Comstock. We did Eastwood Little League through a $5,000 grant last year. We’re really excited to sponsor the First Day Shoe Fund. We bought all the kids in Comstock shoes. We know that a healthy lifestyle, teamwork, all are bred through athletics.”

This year, the group will have extra money available.

“As it happens, Comstock has a new superintendent this year in Jeff Thoenes,” Ansel said. “One of his first actions as superintendent was to remove our activity fee barrier so we no longer have this fee for the start of the 2018-19 school year. 

“They still plan to fund things like athlete equipment, needs like shoes or shin guards along with a variety of other things.”

Without the pay-to-play expenditures, Stewart said, “Our goal now is to really push toward those youth athletic programs: AYSO, Little League, youth football, youth golf camps, soccer camps. We’re creating feeders to the high school that otherwise don’t really exist at Comstock.”

With Comstock’s entry a few years ago into the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, teams travel more than 40 miles to many games. At first, the school transported athletes to the games, but parents took them home.

“Now the fund pays to bring kids home,” Stewart said. “Parents in poverty can’t drive that far to pick up their kids. That’s not OK, and we wanted to fix that.”

Continuing to grow

Once the original fund hit $5,000, Stewart and Howard did not want the sole responsibility of doling out the money.

“We said we need to vet this through a group of people,” Stewart said.

So they formed the non-profit Josh Whitfield Memorial Athletic Fund.

The board of directors is made up of Josh’s friends and family, and funds are distributed through the Comstock Community Center.

The committee sponsors three fundraisers each year: a golf outing, an alumni soccer game and a holiday party in December. It also accepts donations through its website (

The golf outing in June includes about “a quarter of the field with Whitfields,” Stewart said. “It’s always bittersweet when we get together for that reason, but I think it’s a good avenue to go through some of those things. Oftentimes it’s like a support group.”

The soccer tournament is set for Sept. 21 at the school.

“It started out as an alumni soccer game, and then we had people who weren’t alumni that wanted to play,” Hanson said. “We said of course.

“It’s just getting out there and having fun. Last year, the oldest was mid-40s and the youngest just graduated.”

Said Stewart: “We usually get about 50 who sign up. It’s a hoot. It’s a good time. Everybody’s getting older, but it’s fun to relive the glory days.”

The holiday party last December was held at Kalamazoo’s Tibbs Brewing Company, which donated a portion of the sales to the fund.

Hanson and brother Matt Whitfield are members of the committee, which meets once a month to review applications.

“A couple committee members work in Comstock schools, so they see what’s going on and they see a need,” Hanson said. “The committee generally takes a vote. If the applicant meets what we’ve set forth in the guidelines, then we do grant them the money.”

Applicants also can apply through the website, but must be connected to Comstock athletics.

All committee members are volunteers, with 100 percent of any money raised going into the fund.

Besides Stewart, Howard, Hanson and Matt Whitfield, board members are 

Sara Howard, Alyssa Stewart, Rolly Taylor, Travis and Marie Law, Tyler and Shannon Howard, Loreen Hospodar, Katy Seward and Mason Everett.

“It is amazing,” Hanson said. “It’s truly an honor. I think to myself, my gosh, Josh would be so humbled to know that this is happening because of him.

“I think secretly he’s laughin’ and lovin’ it up there.”

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) Josh Whitfield in 2015, shortly before his death. (Top middle) Friend Eric Stewart, left, and Comstock athletic director Justin Ansel. (Middle) From top, Josh Whitfield playing wiffle ball, Josh and brother Matt Whitfield, and Josh and Stewart. (Below) Mandy Hanson, right, with daughter Madi. (Hanson photo by Pam Shebest; other photos submitted by Eric Stewart or Mandy Hanson.)

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.