Carmen Strazisar and her daughters, Kathryn (left) and Karleigh
When your father is a police officer who leaves for work wearing a uniform and a gun, you tend to mind what he says. But when it came to high school sports, Carmen Strazisar followed her heart and not her father’s wishes.
Strazisar’s father, a retired sergeant from the Grand Rapids Police Department, wanted her to stick with basketball following a successful year as a freshman on Central’s varsity team.
“He didn’t know that the next year I had no intention of playing basketball again,” she said. The politics of starting as a forward on the varsity team while her friends played junior varsity didn’t sit well with Strazisar, who opted to stick with volleyball.
“My dad was mad; he said he never heard of anyone getting a volleyball scholarship,” she said. His mood lightened when Strazisar was offered a scholarship to play volleyball at Grand Valley.
At 5 feet 11 inches, Strazisar still holds the Laker record for most attacks in a season (1,568) and most kills (693). She was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American second team in 1987. Strazisar credits Grand Valley coach Joan Boand for shaping her talents. “She saw raw talent and a great vertical leap and said, ‘I can work with that,’” she said.
After graduating with a degree in criminal justice, Strazisar joined Grand Valley’s police department and worked for 10 years before retiring as a sergeant. She was asked to move into the department’s administration but decided to stay home with her growing family. Several years ago, she began working as a substitute teacher in area schools.
Strazisar also spends a lot of time sitting in one gymnasium or another watching her daughters play volleyball: one plays for Hudsonville High School and a travel team, and another plays for Grand Rapids Community College. To cover games on the same night, she enlists her parents. “We divide and conquer,” she said.
While she hasn’t coached her daughters, Strazisar did coach at Creston High School. She said the West Michigan volleyball crowd is a tight-knit community that includes many of her former Laker teammates.
“We all run into each other a lot. Everyone’s kid also plays volleyball, so we sit and watch our kids together,” she said.