When Elaine Michaelis began coaching at BYU 32 years ago, being a woman and being an athlete were two separate things entirely. There was nothing in "The Feminine Mystique" about an overhand smash or a diving save.
So if you were an athletic woman, you did things a certain way. You let your boyfriend beat you in tennis. You called your coach "Miss," not "Coach." You called it "physical education," not "athletics."And you definitely didn't pat your teammate on the rear end or yell, "Six pack!" when you spiked the volleyball in someone's face.
Things have changed considerably in three decades. Women's athletics are slowly but surely gaining equity and respect. BYU's volleyball team is rated No. 9 in the nation. And sometime in late October or early November, Michaelis will reach a milestone 700 career coaching wins, a mark that puts her among the top five women's volleyball coaches of all time.
Fittingly, Michaelis will reach the milestone the same year BYU football coach LaVell Edwards reaches his 200th coaching victory. The two are kindred spirits of a sort, coaches who came to BYU when their programs were not something anyone took seriously. Edwards joined the Cougar football staff as an assistant the same year Michaelis began coaching at BYU (1962).
Now both are now among the most respected coaches in the nation. "I never saw myself as a John Wooden or anything like that," she says modestly.
While Edwards, who became the Cougars' head football coach in 1972, had a fully funded NCAA sport to work with, Michaelis was simply trying to get enough money to buy uniforms. Her teams were only a step away intramurals. They wore P.E. uniforms or picked them at bargain basement prices at Deseret Industries.
"You had to be careful not to be an athlete," Michaelis says. "People would think I was the homemaker type. It was important to be perceived as a woman. It was not cool to be an athlete. Yet, we loved sports the same as the guys."
Travel in the early years was nearly non-existent for the women. The BYU team would sometimes split travel costs with the University of Utah, renting a bus and driving to Colorado for a tournament. Meals and lodging were often paid for by the players.
"They were so appreciative of all they got," says Michaelis. "Yet they had so little. It was kind of wonderful. They played because they loved it."
If anyone ever took a job for the love of a sport, it was Michaelis. When she dropped plans to become an elementary school teacher in favor of physical education, her mother gave her a strange look.
"You sure you really want to be a physical educator?" she said.
Says Michaelis, "Mother has had no such concerns since."
Not that Michaelis didn't field her share of comments about belonging in the kitchen. But most of them she merely shrugged off. She didn't have time to get angry.
Michaelis served as national chairperson for ethics and eligibility in women's sports. She earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from BYU. She conducted national-level clinics. She worked steadily and tirelessly for gender equity.
"I guess I was a pioneer in terms of structuring and organizing. But I wasn't at the forefront of the battle," she says. "Others of my colleagues had louder voices and took extreme positions. I couldn't see myself being that assertive."
But serving on committees and working for improved conditions were only part of her success. While Edwards was turning the BYU football program into a nationally known entity, Michaelis was winning 685 matches, 17 conference championships and last year led the Cougars to an NCAA Final Four appearance. Her teams have finished in the top five nine times and in the top ten 17 times. Last year she won the Dale Rex Memorial Award, given to the person who contributed the most to amateur athletics in Utah in 1993-94.
Friday night in Provo, Michaelis - a pioneer in women's athletics - will probably take home win No. 686, and on Saturday, Edwards - a pioneer of the all-out passing game - has a chance to get his 200th football win. Michaelis sees the symmetry in their stories.
"We have a lot of the same perceptions," she says. "It's a compliment to be mentioned in the same breath with LaVell."
And so in the same season two longtime BYU coaches will each reach a milestone, three decades after they began. Which is only fitting. If you're going to be a pioneer, it doesn't hurt to have company. Especially the kind that knows exactly how far you've come.