In the mid 1960s, Grand Valley students didn’t have to go far to enjoy winter sports. When the university first opened, a portion of the ravines on the north end of campus was used by students for skiing. The hill overlooked the Grand River making it a beautiful place to visit even outside of the winter months.
As the student population increased, several expansions were added to the ski slope including a tow rope to bring skiers back up to the top of the hill and, for several years, a nearby ice skating rink. In 1967, a few years after students had been using the ski hill, three members of the Board of Control donated $2,500 for the construction of the ski chalet. Construction was completed quickly, and the ski chalet was open for student and club use in March of that year.
Starting in 1966, during the first few weeks of the winter semester Grand Valley hosted the Winter Carnival. This two week celebration of winter made full use of the season with ice carving, skiing, and dog sled competitions. The ski chalet was also used for winter-themed lectures, like President James Zumberge’s talks about his Antarctic expeditions. The ski slope was the central hub of this event bringing the Grand Valley community together.
The ski hill was free for students to use and equipment was available to rent. Occasionally the ski club would section out time for private practice, but for the most part, the hill was a way for students to take a break from classes during the winter months.
After several decades of use, the ski slope was closed and both the ski chalet and tow rope were removed. None of these structures remain today.
When Grand Valley College began, the administration focused on building a successful liberal arts program before implementing any official sports programs. GVSC did offer intramural club sports for students who did wish to join a team. In addition, all students were required to take a physical education course. These physical education classes were mainly just basketball games played inside an old barn on campus property. Nearby fields were used for other physical education activities, while also being used for intramural teams as well, some being football, basketball, softball, track and golf, plus more.
Intercollegiate sports came on the scene for Grand Valley in 1964, with the organization of the first cross country team. It wasn’t until 1968, however, that women’s sports became a part of the Grand Valley legacy. Joan Boand was a faculty member in the physical education department. She first coached the softball team in 1968, and within the next few years she was also coaching teams in basketball and volleyball. She was given the opportunity to award Donna Sass Eaton the first female athletic scholarship in the State of Michigan for softball in 1974.
Grand Valley joined the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) in 1972., Two years later, the women’s tennis team won the 1974 GLIAC tournament. The following year, both men and women’s basketball won their respective championships. Throughout the entirety of the 1970s Grand Valley’s women’s softball remained a powerhouse, winning multiple games and qualifying for a variety of GLIAC tournaments. As for the late 1970s, the women’s rowing team dominated the state, winning three Michigan Rowing Championships consecutively.
The 1980s saw a rise of swimming and basketball for women’s athletics. In 1984, swimming and diving were introduced for men and women for the first time at Grand Valley. Kristen Campbell lead the school being the first person to qualify for the national championship in swim, for both men and women. In 1988, the women’s basketball team qualified and played in the NCAA division II tournament for the first time, although they lost the game.
The 1990s were a time of change for Grand Valley sports. Women’s coach Joan Boand retired, the Meadows Golf course opened, and women’s soccer was added to the available team sports. Joan retired with over 500 wins under her belt coaching the volleyball team to six conference titles. Her legacy was followed by Deanne Scanlon, who continued down the path of success, leading the Lakers volleyball team to a 24-11 record in 1995. To finish up the 1990s, there was an increase in the number of scholarships for women’s golf, along with the first full time coach, Lori Stinson in girl’s golf. In 1999 a new track and cross-country coach was hired, Jerry Baltes. That same year Baltes was hired, the women’s cross-country team placed fifth nationally at the NCAA National Championship.
The 2000s brought only victory and positive change within the women’s sports world at Grand Valley. The volleyball team continued to dominant, advancing to their first NCAA final four tournament in 2001. Although they ended up losing in the semi-final against South Dakota State, the team had made it farther than ever before. Four years later in 2005 the volleyball team qualified again for the national championship, this time held at Kearney, Nebraska, where Grand Valley won its first national title in a women’s sport. In 2006, women’s basketball took home a national championship win as well.
With only about fifty years of women’s sports history, Grand Valley has seen many successful women’s teams. More recently, women’s volleyball won their 17th Crossover tournament in 2015; women’s tennis, cross-country and soccer all won their respective GLIAC tournaments in 2017; and the women’s softball, golf, swim and dive, cross-country and soccer teams all won in GLIAC tournaments in 2019. Not only the teams are celebrating victories, either. Jerry Baltes is also set to receive a 20-year award in 2019 for his time spent working with the athletics program.