Elaine Michaelis has friends who want her to activate a Facebook account. They want to catch up, see how she’s doing, express gratitude for her 44 years in BYU athletics and her success as the coach with an 80 percent winning record out of 886 games, one of the best in volleyball history.
But she has no intention of yielding to their requests. If they want to catch up, they can find her on the front row in the BYU Smith Fieldhouse during a BYU Women’s Volleyball game.
“I have six seats reserved for me on the front row,” Elaine says. “One of the seats right next to me is always empty just so people can sit and talk with me.”
Her decision to stay off social media is just one example of Elaine’s tendency to go against the grain in all the right ways. As a young girl sandwiched between two brothers in Garland, Utah, she learned to play with the boys. She played pickup basketball with her brothers and their friends at her dad’s feedlot, and she was the quarterback in fifth grade recess.
“Much to my mother’s dismay, homemaking didn’t click with me,” Elaine says. “She made all my clothes and was a great homemaker, but I wasn’t inclined to it.”
Elaine played sports through high school and continued in extramural teams when she arrived at BYU, playing softball, track, volleyball and basketball.
“In those first days, faculty members would drive their cars to the competitions,” Elaine says. “There was no money in the budget for uniforms, travel, food or lodging, so the students and faculty would each pay quite a bit.”
That all changed when Elaine graduated from BYU in physical education and was hired as a faculty member in athletics in the early 1960s. She taught classes and ran intramural and extracurricular sports before coaching women’s extramural sports — basketball, field hockey, volleyball, softball, tennis and track. She petitioned for scholarships and funding, and the women’s athletic program began to grow. With Title IX also slowly bringing changes, she transitioned to solely coaching volleyball.
Elaine saw better athletes trying out for volleyball, so she focused on strength training and building a competitive team. Her first major success came with their first national championship.
“We were in California competing against USC with homemade uniforms that a university seamstress made for us,” Elaine says. “They sewed a big Y on the front. We beat USC in a big upset. I was so happy for the kids because they worked hard for it when nobody even knew who they were.”
Win after win, championship after championship, Elaine took her team all over the country and all over the world. After four decades of successful and dedicated work with BYU, she was let go in 2004 during an athletic department transition. Although the community expressed shock and outrage at her firing, she holds no grudges. Her hall-of-fame record speaks for itself, and she can still be found every season, every game in the Smith Fieldhouse cheering on the team she loves in a program she built from the ground up.