Story courtesy of LINDA BOUVET, LSSU Sports Information Director
From the Fall of 1978 through the spring of 1993, at least one member of the Shaheen family played volleyball or softball at Lake Superior State University. The Shaheens were part of the Flint-Holy Rosary and Flint-Kearsley High School recruiting pipeline that led to great success for former Laker coach Deb McPherson.
Teresa, Colleen, Maureen and Barb Shaheen, who also have four brothers, were inspired by parents and a high school coach who fought for the opportunities afforded by Title IX. Their children reap the rewards of the trail they helped blaze.
Katie Fitzpatrick, who is a junior setter/back-row specialist on the current LSSU volleyball team, is the second generation of the Shaheen family to play for the Lakers. She is the daughter of Maureen ’89. Katie was three-sport athlete at Sault Area High School, as his her sister, Kylee, a high school senior.
“It’s awesome that I get to do what my mom and aunts did,” Fitzpatrick said. “All of my aunts played here. Whenever I can, if it comes up, I tell people I’m proud to play where they played. It’s kind of cool.”
(Above: Katie Fitzpatrick and Maureen Shaheen Fitzpatrick)
Leah Jensen, daughter of Theresa ’82, started playing competitive hockey when she was in the sixth grade and won a state title as a teenager. Her brother, Nick, plays hockey for St. Cloud State University and was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. Colleen Cooper’s son, Kenny, excelled in football, basketball and track and Midland-Dow High School.
Barb Storey ’92, has a 10-year-old son, Jimmy, and an eight-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and she has already noticed the competitive juices continuing through the bloodline.
“I am just starting to get a taste of how my parents felt watching their children play sports,” said Barb, who watched her third-grade daughter place second behind an athletic fifth-grade boy in a field day race and fight to learn how to hit a softball off a pitching machine so she wouldn’t have to hit off the tee. “It is one of the greatest things imaginable, and I know it will get even better because I feel that same joy watching my nieces and nephews play. Because our family is so spread out I never had the opportunity to watch many of my nieces and nephews play on a regular basis, but I have been able to watch Katie and Kylee quite a bit, and it’s so exciting!”
“I wasn’t really taught to be competitive. I just grew up playing games as a kid,” noted Katie, whose mom still holds her own with players half her age. “That’s what we did for fun, wanting to beat my family, even in simple card games, wanting to compete in everything I did.”
“God has certainly given our family an unbelievable journey through life,” Barb continued. “Mom, who just turned 80, still gets from place to place and watches a few games of her grandchildren. You can tell it still excites her. I can’t even imagine how proud and excited our dad would be if he were here to see the way his grandchildren have and are excelling in both academics and athletics.”
Don and Pat Shaheen witnessed first-hand the evolution in girls sports from the time Title IX became law in 1972 until Barb graduated from LSSU in 1993. Thanks to hall of fame high school coach Jo Lake (Spada), whose daughter, Shaun, also played at LSSU, the Shaheen sisters enjoyed a high school experience that was ahead of its time. Lake led Holy Rosary to a Class C-D state championship in 1976 and Kearsley to Class A state titles in 1978 and ‘84.
“Let’s not forget Danielle Teachout '92 (who grew up in the Shaheen home, and Don and Pat became her legal guardian), Tracy Randolph ’92 and (LSSU all-time kills leader) Dee Fisher ’90,” noted McPherson of the many LSSU recruits who came from Lake’s programs. “Besides recruiting in Canada, which had comparable programs to Southern Michigan in the 1970s, Flint had a leader in Jo Lake who was recognized as a tenacious coach who developed and produced players with outstanding skills, technique, a mental connect with volleyball strategy and a drive to win. Jo had many players come through her program who went on to Division I programs. The likes of Teresa Shaheen and Dee Fisher were also recruited at that level. We both recognized which players would be a fit for LSSC/LSSU and those who would not. Jo also recognized and promoted a sense of family.”
(Above: The 1981 LSSU volleyball team that finished 42-9. Top row, from left: Coach Deb McPherson, Teresa Shaheen, Debbie Soule, Helen Vukovich, Jean Carbeno, Betty Davis, Marci Iatarola and manager Rose McWilliams. Kneeling, from left: Jill Pederson, Colleen Shaheen, Chris Woodruff, Carla Stangetta and Jane Tatu.)
Of the Shaheen siblings, McPherson described Teresa as “the natural,” who knew how to win. Colleen was more reserved, but had an intense work ethic and was an outstanding setter for her older sister. Maureen was an “in-your-face” versatile athlete. Maureen and Barb were also setters, but “Moe” dove for softballs on the cement floor during indoor practices in the ice arena as fearlessly as she would on a dirt infield. McPherson said that Barb was “the last of the legacy and had something to prove…a motivator and a leader.”
“The girls took after their dad and were good at sports,” Pat Shaheen said. “It wasn’t hard for them to get on a team. For Jo, it was probably a little harder, getting things going. But for the girls, the opportunity was there.”
“Every sister had ‘a culture of winning,'” McPherson said. “They came to LSSC/LSSU bringing a love of the game, dedication, integrity, extra effort, leadership skills and a will to win…Sometimes a diving save, an ace serve or a kill was approached in such a nonchalant manner as if to say ‘Hey, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what I’m here for.’ They didn’t need accolades or praise for every feat.”
McPherson coached LSSU volleyball from 1976 through 1992. She led the Lakers through four straight winning seasons from 1978-81, including a 42-9 finish in 1981 and a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in 1978.
It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then
To protest the cancelation of a girls’ softball game in order to accommodate a boys’ make-up game, Pat Shaheen parked the family car on the infield, refusing to let anyone play. She had just finished chalking the infield when a school associate informed her of the schedule change.
“At some point I got kind of upset,” Pat recalled with a soft-spoken, but conniving laugh. “I got in the car and drove it out on the field. The boys were not playing. The director kept begging me to move it. They finally called my husband at work. Don said ‘I think you made your point, so why don’t you move the car.’”
“I love that story too…now, but not at the time when I was a middle-schooler ducking in the back seat with my brother and Barbie as we were parked on the pitcher’s mound,” Maureen said. “We felt silly, but it was pretty cool later when Mom made the paper as ‘Madam X.’”
(Above: Maureen Shaheen Fitzpatrick)
Don and Pat were both athletes. Don was considered one of Flint’s best athletes during the 1940s and was asked to try out for the Chicago Bears. They both coached their childrens’ teams.
“Mom was limited because they offered so little, but nonetheless they were athletes,” said Teresa, who along with Jo Lake’s daughter, Shaun, is a LSSU Sports Hall of Fame inductee. On top of that, they were both devoted to their children. Any of us with children who are athletes understand the commitment and sacrifices, and they had eight! As a family we spent a great deal of time competing in our own yard – boys and girls alike – playing baseball, football, volleyball, swimming, etc. It was the neighborhood hangout. It was definitely in our blood…It did help to attend a school with devoted coach and programs for female athletes. That is important, even today.”
As enforcement of Title IX legislation slowly trickled down to colleges and high schools during the 1970s and ‘80s, female athletes battled for equal practice times and facilities, and quality uniforms and equipment. Teresa and Colleen ’83 competed during that era, while higher standards were in place by the time Barb entered the arena.
“I think some of that is still in play today, but definitely not as bad as in the past,” Teresa said. “They (male athletes) still get more money, more media, more fans/attendance, etc. I was fortunate to be coached by Jo Lake, so more opportunities were available to me that may not have existed for other females during that time.”
“Joe Lake and Tom Lake were both the most dedicated coaches I know of, and I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for them,” Colleen said. “They put more time and effort into coaching than most.”
“She was feisty,” Teresa added. “She wouldn’t be defeated. It wasn’t in her nature, both professionally and personally. She fought for what she believed was right and fair for her teams, and I was fortunate to be a part of that. She was very devoted to the cause, being who she was and what she was trying to do. It took a great deal of her time, day and night. I’m sure her family sacrificed at times for the good of all female athletes. And we owe her a great deal.”
“She was a very well-educated, successful woman, and she knew all the legal aspect of ‘the game’ to use if things were not fair,” Maureen added.
“She had a way with her teams,” Barb said. “She did not put up with half-hearted performance. She pushed her girls. She taught her girls and she motivated and encouraged her girls. She helped build their confidence and self-esteem. Her teams were always close with each other. She made the team feel like family. She encouraged dinners, team parties, team movies, etc. These are the things I can remember of her and her teams, looking out of the eyes of a 7 or 8-year-old girl. I knew I wanted to be a part of that someday!”
What the future holds
After graduating from LSSU, Barb went on to coach varsity volleyball at a small high school in Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula. She learned quickly that not all areas of Michigan have the same definition of “equality.” Maureen was coaching in the midst of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s legal battle that led to a change in seasons for volleyball and girls basketball.
“By the time I was in high school in Flint (1985-89), gym/practice time and most other aspects of equality for the girls was already in place,” said Barb, who remains active in sports as a volleyball official in upper Michigan. “The girls programs (basketball, volleyball and softball) were built into solid and excellent programs from the Jo Lake days. Our teams were always at the top of the league or at least to the regionals and sometimes the state tournament. So, honestly, I did not see much of a difference that way while played high school or college sports. However, I do believe that a major change has occurred over the years."
(Above: Barb Shaheen Storey)
Barb notices that technology has helped even the playing field for girls, who are taking advantage of what’s available for training, competing and recruiting on a state-wide and sometimes national scale.
“Girls sports are being taken more seriously,” she said. “More high school programs are not only practicing skills, but providing strength building and training for girls, just as they have always done for the boys. Going back to the smaller communities, I believe girls’ sports are now viewed as more than just a ‘recreational sport.’ The communities are supporting the girls more than they have in the past, but there is still much more support for the boys sports.”
“It’s good for girls to do what they want to do as far as sports are concerned,” said Pat, who is admittedly a bit more relaxed when watching the grandchildren compete compared to her the years when her own children played. “This generation has pretty much got it now, and that’s good.”