Glass was accomplished both on land and in water at Parker

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Brent Engh
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Laura Glass has nothing but fond memories of her years at Janesville Parker High School.

In 1975, Glass' name was etched in the Parker record books when she became the first girl at the school to earn nine athletic letters.

While Glass acknowledges that had been one of her goals, the accomplishment pales in comparison to what she most cherishes about that time of her life.

"I just thought it was fun," she said of the opportunity to compete. "It was so much fun. I couldn't wait until 3:30 to come around every day. I would daydream and couldn't wait to get out and swim and do all of the things I loved to do."

When Glass arrived at Parker—a three-year high school at the time—in the early 1970s, girls sports had just begun to be offered.

Carol Luther was the driving force behind the girls athletic program. She not only started girls sports at Parker, but she coached nearly every sport.

Luther coached Glass in swimming, basketball and track and field in the limited girls sports program then offered at Parker.

"She was very talented across the board," Luther recalls of Glass. "She was very much a natural athlete. She had that natural coordination, was very much adaptable and learned new things very quickly."

Glass went on to compete in track and cross country at UW-La Crosse.

On Saturday, May 15, Glass will be inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame. She will be joined in the 2010 class by Dick Lambrecht, Jenny Gullickson, Ray Martinez and Ben Berlowski.

Glass was a guard in basketball, competed in a variety of events as a swimmer, and was primarily a sprinter in track.

"I was so lucky in high school," she said. "Those memories are priceless. We certainly didn't win a lot, but we worked hard and had a blast."

Luther remembers the challenge of trying to find swimmers who could compete in events other than the freestyle.

Glass was among those who volunteered to swim the butterfly.

"She was coordinated enough, and in a very short period of time to actually do it and compete with it," said Luther.

Glass was named MVP of the swim team all three years she competed, and she set a variety of school records in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events, the 100 butterfly and was part of record-setting 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay teams.

"The butterfly was by far the most challenging," she said.

In basketball, Luther described Glass, a three-year starter, as a solid team player. "She was quick up and down the floor, quick on defense, had good hands."

Glass competed in a variety of track and field events, including the 100-yard dash, the hurdles, the 440 relay and the 440, along with the long jump and the shot put.

Three times she was a member of Parker's 440 relay team which advanced to state, where the Vikings placed fifth in both 1974 and 1975.

As a junior, Glass was joined on the relay by Sue Mowris, Deb Reed and Sheila Kennedy. The following year Glass combined with Kennedy, Yvonne Corriveau and Marcia Lund. Lund was running in place of Reed, who was injured.

Glass credits Luther for being a major influence in her life.

"I kind of look at her as the pioneer of the girls sports program at Parker High School," Glass said. "And she coached every single sport. She was a wonderful, caring coach.

"She has been a tremendous role model. She went out of her way to do some special things."

In 1975, Glass said there was a fire at her family's home and "we pretty much lost everything." She said Luther knew she had lost her letter and all of the medals she had won, and Luther tried to replace as many of those as she could.

"She didn't get them all, but she certainly was able to get quite a few," Glass said. "She brought them over to the house one day, and I just thought that was pretty amazing, very thoughtful. I can't believe the amount of work she had to do just to find those, to get those back."

Luther was happy to see girls like Glass finally get a chance to compete.

"Those kids had no junior high sports. They had no training," Luther said. "There were a lot of kids that were just so eager for that experience and so thankful that they finally had that experience. They could play for their high school, they could play sports and they could compete with other schools."

Growing up in Janesville

One of six children, Glass said Janesville was an ideal place to live.

"It was Camp Grand Avenue," she said. "I grew up on Grand Avenue, which was just the best place to grow up. Our house was located at the end of a street. So our back yard was the Rock River, and our front yard was Lustig Park, which was a huge park.

"So we played football, and we fished, and we built forts and played endless innings of baseball."

Glass said there were no girls her age in her neighborhood, so most of her friends were boys.

"My friends, they were all boys but they never really treated me any differently," she said. "And they always respected me and my athletic ability."

Glass said her father, Peter, also never excluded her from any activities, whether it be playing catch or going fishing or boating.

She recalls spending most of her youth playing outside. During the winter months, she and her brothers, sisters and friends taught themselves how to ski down a nearby sand pit.

"My mother had to beg and plead just to get us in the house," Glass recalls.

Glass said her mother, Shirley, was another great role model who insisted that she and her siblings be very respectful and kind to others, and to always use good manners.

"I remember her always saying, ‘If you're going to do something, you better do it right the first time or don't bother doing it at all.' I heard that over and over. I have to thank her for that."

Glass' dad and her uncle, Tom Glass, were diehard Green Bay Packer fans. "So I grew up watching the Packers," Laura said.

The family also owned a cabin on Lake Koshkonong, where Glass remembers learning from her dad and uncle how to run a ski boat and how to water ski. She said that's where she first acquired her passion for swimming.

One of her life-long friends, Sue Mowris, came up with Glass' nickname "LG" because of her fondness for being in the water.

"She said to me, ‘You know, Laura, you're always in the pool, you're always swimming, you're always wet. That's where algae (LG) grows.'

"I don't remember being called Laura the entire time I was in high school. It was just LG. Friends still call me that."

Glass points to her late aunt, Carol Fitzpatrick, as another positive influence. She said Fitzpatrick taught her and her brothers and sisters how to play golf, how to catch and throw and how to ice skate.

"She would come over to the house and she'd bring us all kinds of sporting equipment, and she'd play with us," Glass said.

Running in college

Glass earned both her Bachelors and Masters degrees at UW-La Crosse.

She majored in Health Education and Coaching Concentration, then went on to earn a Masters degree in Education.

She also competed in track and field and cross country.

On the track, Glass was able to eclipse two longtime goals she had set for herself in two events—completing the 440 yards in under one minute and the 100 in under 12 seconds.

She accomplished both during the 1978 season, running the 440 in 58.9 seconds and the 100 in 11.7 seconds.

"I was really proud of that when I broke that (sub-minute 440) in college because I worked really hard on that," she said.

Glass also conquered a run up Grand Dad's Bluff, a mile-long climb on the road which winds to the top of one of the bluffs overlooking the city and UW-La Crosse campus. Those who made it all the way without walking or stopping were rewarded with a T-shirt.

"It was the Grand Dad's Mile-High Run Club," she said. "I really wanted a T-shirt."

While Glass always had been a sprinter, she and some of her sprinter teammates decided to try out for cross country.

She said the cross country coach, Gary Wilson, was well-liked and respected, and that everyone talked about how much fun it was to be a member of that team.

"I remember Gary Wilson saying, ‘You girls are brave. I never thought I'd see a group of sprinters on the cross country team.'

"We actually ended up having a lot of fun and liking it. We stuck with it."

Practice included a steady dose of 10-mile runs, which Glass never thought she'd be able to endure. After a while, she said those became pretty easy.

"It was really very tough and vigorous training," she said. "I have a lot of respect for distance runners."

A passion for teaching

The 52-year-old Glass, who lives in Madison, is in her second year at Madison Memorial High School, where she teaches ninth-grade health education. She also teaches physical education classes—weight training and conditioning, and dance.

She taught and coached at other schools, including Akira Toki Middle School in Madison, leading to her current job.

While still in college, she was hired as the head cross country and track coach at La Crosse Logan High School and also served as an assistant coach for the UW-La Crosse women's track team for one season.

After Glass graduated, she spent a couple of years in Boston, Mass., working as a personal fitness and exercise instructor for a large company. When that company relocated to New Jersey, Glass opted to return to Wisconsin, where she worked in a variety of sales jobs.

One of those positions was selling cars at a dealership in Madison, which she said she enjoyed.

"I grew up in a car family," she said. "My dad worked for General Motors. He used to test drive cars, so he'd bring home these really great cars, especially the Camaros and the Corvettes and the fun cars."

Eventually, Glass decided to go to work for herself.

"I was working a lot of hours, and I always wanted to start my own business and I loved the outdoors," said Glass. "So I decided I was going to start my own landscape company. It actually ended up being a very successful business."

The only problem was dealing with a lot of down time during the winter months.

A friend of mine said, ‘You know, Laura, you have a teaching degree. Don't you miss teaching?' "

Glass said it had been so long since she had earned her degree that she didn't know if anyone would hire her. But she decided to interview with the Madison School District, and was hired as a substitute teacher.

"And the first job I had I just felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I should be doing.' It was so fun."

She eventually was hired as a full-time teacher and continued to do some landscaping on the side.

"I thought, ‘now I have the best of both worlds,' " she said. "I thought this doesn't feel like a job. I'm getting paid for something that is so much fun. That's how it started out, and I've been teaching ever since."

Other role models

Glass knew at an early age that she wanted to teach.

One of those who inspired her to become a teacher was Wilson Elementary principal Norm Graper.

"He would come out every day and play football with us," Glass remembers. "I was the only girl who wanted to play, and he included me.

"In sixth grade he came to my gym class. He asked me, ‘Hey, Laura, what do you want to do when you grow up? And I said I'm going to be a gym teacher. And I remember he said, ‘I'm sure you will be, Laura.' He just had so much confidence in how he said that to me."

Glass said another role model was her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Ballfans, who often gave her leadership roles in the classroom, told wonderful stories and would play with students on the playground.

In high school, Glass appreciated the encouragement she received from math teacher Dan Madden.

"He always believed in me and told me I had the potential to succeed," she said. "Just the words and the confidence he had in me had a big impact on me going into college."

Luther, for one, wasn't surprised that Glass became a coach.

"This is a young lady that you could tell loved to compete, loved sports," Luther said. "She just loved that competition. It was kind of the right timing for her (to get into coaching)."

Glass said "athletically, I just had fun. I just had so much fun, and I don't think any one thing stands out.

"I would have to say out of all of my accomplishments, I think I'm proudest of my educational accomplishments."

Last updated: 1:24 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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