The Gals Get Their Jackets!
On Saturday November 19, 2016, the Jacket Gals ó the early women letterwinners ó their family and friends tailgated before the Michigan vs. Indiana football game. The excitement of the day ramped up every second the ladies got closer to halftime of the game. For the first time, the ladies were going to be recognized for their contributions to the Michigan Athletics program as varsity athletes. You see, these women played in a time when they received a letter that was half the size of the menís letter, symbolism that did not go unnoticed.
Enter Sheryl Szady. Sheryl had lobbied Jim Hackett in 2015 to give each of the early women letterwinners a jacket just like the men received. The jacket would have leather sleeves and a large block M on the left chest. Jim Hackett was sympathetic to the cause and wanted to help so Sheryl begin building a database with all of the early women letterwinners. She called night and day trying to create a network to reach everyone. She knew that if the athletic department agreed to give women their jackets, sheíd need to use all the contact information at a momentís notice. Utilizing her skills as a database guru she was able to find many people. She would leave messages and not get return calls because the women thought it ìcouldnít be real. A new jacket, the ìrightî jacket?î When Sheryl contacted people the third time the women started to believe.
When Warde Manuel became athletic director, Sheryl hoped to continue the conversation and finalize the plan. Warde assured Sheryl before she even asked, saying he was going to make it ìright.î Thrilled, Sheryl began the journey of getting jackets for everyone that wanted a new one. Over 745 women received new jackets delivered or sent to their homes.
Imagine that the package arrives, your heart is pounding and you are going to be recognized as a varsity student-athlete. Hearts were pounding in households in the United States, Australia, Germany, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Warde was gracious enough to assist Sheryl in putting on her new jacket the first time.
At the tailgate, the Letterwinners M Club helped the women celebrate by bringing everyone together. The ladies got to meet and greet and tell stories of their playing days. Sandy Vong, Dick Kimball, Vic Katch, Joyce Lindeman and a few other former coaches had fun reunions with their athletes.
U-M Regent Kathy White spoke to the women on the importance of this recognition and Warde spoke from the heart, congratulating the women on their accomplishments. Sheryl, on behalf of the Jacket Gals, recognized Warde as an honorary ìJacket Galî and helped him put on a brand new M jacket. So many were extremely appreciative and could not hold back the tears. The 300 gals gathered for a photo at the tailgate before they went off to the football game.
As they began to walk down the tunnel at the Big House, the women began to sing a new version of Sherry Baby (originally done by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons). The words were changed just slightly to incorporate ìSheryl Szadyî! The snow was flying but the jacket gals were warm in their new jackets with smiles all around as the crowd of 110,000 sent lots of love from the stands. The looks on the faces of the women said it all ó pride. Itís great to be a Michigan Wolverine. Go Blue!