In the main hallway of Grand Valley’s Fieldhouse Arena, a large photo of women’s athletics pioneer Joan Boand graces one of its walls.
The tribute includes many photographs, showcasing the enormous legacy she established as a coach and athletic administrator.
For Carol VandeBunte ’78, the photo of Boand and the entire tribute is a striking and emotional testimonial to Boand’s influence and place in Grand Valley’s history.
“That first picture of her, it’s like she’s looking at you,” said VandeBunte, who was overcome with emotion. “What a treasure that is. I like to just stand there and see Joan.”
There’s no understating the importance of Boand to Grand Valley and women’s athletics in Michigan.
“She’s the foundation,” said VandeBunte, who played for Boand and later joined her on her coaching staff. “Every female athlete who ever played, playing now or in the future, has Joan to thank. There’s nobody that I respect more than Joan in the world of women’s sports.”
Boand died at her home on January 27. She was 88.
“I often refer to her as the ‘matriarch of women’s athletics,’” said Director of Athletics Keri Becker. “She was responsible for laying the foundation for women’s athletics over her time here.”
Boand arrived on campus in 1966 as an assistant professor in the physical education department and quickly set about to establish women’s athletics at the young university.
She’s credited with establishing nearly every women’s program for the Lakers, coaching volleyball, basketball, softball and track and field. Her teams amassed 745 total wins and 10 GLIAC championships in her coaching career.
For 26 years, Boand was the volleyball coach, leading the club to a 545-322 record and six GLIAC championships, while being named GLIAC Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1986. The Lakers won 42 games in 1986, setting a school record that still stands.
Along with volleyball, Boand coached the basketball team from 1974 to 1978 compiling a 132-48 record and four consecutive GLIAC championships. As a softball coach from 1968 to 1975, her teams went 68-16.
Following her coaching career, Boand moved into the administrative side, becoming associate director for athletics and senior women’s administrator, and serving on GLIAC and NCAA committees.
“Joan was navigating the world of athletics when the fight for equity was constant,” said Becker. “This took a great deal of resolve, perseverance and commitment over years. Further, she worked to provide opportunities for female student athletes across a number of sports and ensured women had a voice administratively through her work at the conference, state and national level.”
After her retirement in 1999, she created the Joan Boand Athletic Scholarship, which helps fifth-year seniors, who have exhausted their four years of athletic eligibility, complete their degree. Her commitment to Grand Valley remained, often helping in the press box at Lubbers Stadium or at basketball and volleyball games.
“The things that she was doing and the battles she took on for women and girls who just wanted opportunities, all those things laid the path for me to be able to have the career that I had and to do what I loved,” said former volleyball coach Deanne Scanlon.
The groundwork set by Boand in the ’60s and ’70s translated into tremendous success for the women’s programs in the 21st century. Of Grand Valley’s 27 NCAA national championships, 20 have been won by women’s teams, Becker said.
The volleyball team brought home the first NCAA title for women’s athletics in 2005 and the women’s basketball team followed with its first NCAA championship in 2006. Most recently, the women’s soccer team won its seventh national championship in December and the women’s track and field team won its third national title in March 2021.
“When I think about the number of national championships and annual success we enjoy, I think of Joan as well,” said Becker. “Her work from the past will always be connected to the success in the future.”