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John’s Journal: Inaugural Tennis Champion Is Back At State

Mother Of Rock Ridge Coaches Was Part Of 1974 Doubles Team

Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2022 - 5:22 PM

For a couple years, two young girls at Virginia High School kept pestering the superintendent with a request: Could our school please start a girls tennis team?

This was in the early 1970s, mind you, when sports for girls and women were just gaining a foothold. But Linda Glavich and Sheila Robinson, who played summer tennis, were aching to play on a real high school girls tennis team, just like the boys.

Finally, in the fall of 1974, -- two years after Title IX changed the landscape for women’s sports in America -- Virginia added girls tennis. That season was also the first time an MSHSL girls state tennis tournament was held, and to this day and forevermore, those two kids from Virginia – Linda Glavich and Sheila Robinson – remain at the very top of the list as the very first doubles state champions.

Linda -- she’s been Linda Friedlieb since marrying her husband Gary 40 years ago -- is in attendance at this week’s Class A boys state tennis tournament, where her son Jace is the head coach of the Rock Ridge team and son Evan is an assistant coach. Rock Ridge includes athletes from Virginia, Eveleth and Gilbert.

The Rock Ridge Wolverines finished fourth in the team competition, falling to Rochester Lourdes on Wednesday. In singles and doubles play held Thursday and Friday, Rock Ridge will be represented by Gavin Benz and Jared Delich in singles and the doubles team of Jake Bradach and Owen Buggert.

The first MSHSL boys state tennis tournament, with singles and doubles play, was held in 1929. The team concept was added in 1950.

Linda grew up playing tennis and other sports. She began taking tennis lessons at Southside Park in Virginia when she was 14, and a year later she won the Duluth Tennis Club’s Northern Open 16 and under singles title.

That was about the time when she and Sheila, two years younger, began asking about having a high school team.

“Our superintendent told us that he really didn't want to be the first superintendent on the Range to start girls tennis,” Linda said Wednesday. “So in the spring of my junior year I went out for the boys tennis team, so I could do some hitting.”

She practiced with the boys team but was not allowed to play matches. Instead, she played exhibition matches against boys from other schools … and she never lost.

In the first year of the girls tennis program, there were no uniforms. When Linda and Sheila faced a duo from Edina for the state championship, the Edina kids wore matching uniforms in the school colors while the girls from the Iron Range wore t-shirts and cut-off denim shorts.

“None of us dressed the same,” Linda said. “But I guess we had enough heart.”

Virginia High School has a strong tennis history. The girls won the Class A state team championship in 1989; boys tennis state champions include the doubles teams of Tom Shustarich and Mark Maroste in 1980 and Matt Berg and Jon Schibel in 1989.

Linda had been named a captain of the Virginia volleyball team for the fall season in 1974, but when tennis was approved as a school sport she gave up volleyball.

Gary and Linda's kids -- Giles, Evan and Jace – grew up largely unaware of their mom’s place in Minnesota tennis history.

“I think I really became fully aware of it after I graduated from high school,” Jace said. “I mean, I knew about it but she never made it a big deal."

Linda played tennis at Mesabi Community College and Bemidji State. She was undefeated for two years at Mesabi and won back-to-back Minnesota State Junior College singles championships as well as a berth in the National Junior College Tournament. At Bemidji State she was the No. 1 singles player and also was part of the school’s No. 1 doubles team. She taught elementary school in Mountain Iron for 40 years.

When Roosevelt Elementary School in Virginia (formerly the high school, built in the 1920s) was being prepared for demolition recently, a trophy from the 1974 District 27 tennis tournament was located. Linda was proud to pose for a photo with it.

“We never really talked about (her tennis career) until a few years ago when she was inducted into the Mesabi Hall of Fame,” Jace said. “And that's when we really learned the story of what she did. It's pretty cool.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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