BRONSON, MICH. - Jean LaClair has impacted countless lives in her roles as the Bronson High School volleyball coach, athletic director and assistant principal.
So it comes as no surprise that when in need of support, her community and peers are rallying behind her.
LaClair, who just led Bronson to its third straight Class C state championship, has been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. In response, Bronson varsity girls basketball coach Tony Lasky has set up a GoFundMe page to help relieve some of the financial burdens as she embarks on her second fight against cancer in the last four years.
"I'm kind of a private person, and when I first read about the page that Tony put together, I cried, like more than I had since the diagnosis," LaClair said. "I mean, I was scared, but I was told that we caught it early and it was pretty treatable — but the outreach that I have received from not only those in Bronson, but across the nation — volleyball coaches, past and present athletes, coaches across sports, Big 8 Conference schools, old league rivals, it really does warm the heart."
LaClair is a Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. She ranks sixth in state history for career wins with 1,124, was the recipient of the 2015 MHSAA Women in Sports Leadership Award and was a 2017 finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Volleyball Coach of the Year Award.
According to some of her athletes, LaClair's impact goes far beyond the game of volleyball.
"While tough love is her philosophy and playing for her is not easy, I wouldn't want to play for anyone else," said Bronson junior Ashton Wronikowski. "She expects the best from us, day in and day out, and that instills an expectation in ourselves that sets us up to be successful later on in life. She is someone I look to with admiration, because the knowledge she has about the sport is mind-boggling, and the resilience she has shown in the past years with her health issues is truly a feat."
Added junior Kiera Lasky, "She has taught us to fight for what we want through hard work and perseverance and to believe in ourselves when no one else will. I have truly never met a stronger person in my entire life and I am positive that she will win this battle."
After she wrapped up her 18th season as Bronson's volleyball coach, LaClair said she felt fatigued in a way that wasn't typical following the grind of a championship season.
"It was a long, hard-fought and pressure-filled season — at least the end of it. So Thanksgiving weekend, (my husband) Duane and I stayed home, and I basically slept the whole weekend," she said. "Well, following that weekend, I started to walk in the mornings again, which I typically do every morning, but stopped the last month of the volleyball season, and struggled to catch my breath while walking, even at a snail's pace; and I was getting some bruises at various places over my body, so decided I needed to get it all checked out."
LaClair is currently at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor for what is expected to be 30 days of treatment, followed by 30 days of outpatient treatment.
The GoFundMe page has raised more than $7,300 towards its $25,000 goal as of mid-December. Beyond the financial support, LaClair has received an outpouring of well-wishes from many in the Bronson and coaching communities.
St. Philip Catholic Central volleyball coach and fellow MIVCA Hall of Famer Vicky Groat has competed against LaClair many times over the years, developing something beyond a friendly rivalry.
"MIVCA coaches are tight because we have been through a lot of the same struggles as coaches and we have support for each other," Groat said. "We are friends and enemies but most importantly we are family.... I know she will attack this disease the same way she has attacked her opponents and destroys them. Her very large support system will be alongside her.
"Bronson is a close family town and when one of their own is hurt they step up without hesitation to help out. Jean is not only the volleyball coach, athletic director and assistant principal at Bronson she is a friend to her students and parents."
LaClair said over the years her program has helped raise more than $25,000 to help the fight against cancer through the Dig Pink Side-Out Foundation as well as Teal Attack, which raises funds and awareness for ovarian cancer research.The team also provides $200 gift cards to local families to help lift some financial burden during times of medical hardship.
"The Bronson volleyball family is amazing," LaClair said. "From the moment that we found out, that support has been there. But not just from the volleyball community, from the community of Bronson in general, whether it is the coaching staff, the teaching staff, whoever. I truly have a community in this fight with me, and I can't say enough what that means."
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.
© 2017 Battle Creek Enquirer