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From Ireland to Grosse Pointe Woods on the journey of a lifetime

By Romilly Stackpoole
ULS Girls’ MS Athletic Director, Coach and PE Teacher, 1968-2000

I joined the Liggett School in 1968 as the Girl’s Athletic Director and P.E. teacher. Frank Sladen was head of the school at that time. The school had just moved to Briarcliff in Grosse Pointe Woods a few years before from Indian Village in Detroit. At that time Liggett was an all girl’s school.

When I first arrived in the States I was teaching at Dominican High School in Detroit and through the private school Basketball League I met Muriel Brock. Muriel Brock at that time was at Grosse Pointe University School (GPUS). She told me about the vacancy for Athletic Director and P.E. teacher at Liggett. I interviewed and was hired for the job.

I came from an athletic background in Ireland. My parents were great golfers, and I played many sports in high school. Our school was especially dominant at Netball. I played field hockey in college, and also lacrosse and many other sports. At Liggett, I did units of volleyball, basketball, gymnastics and tennis. I think it’s great to be intellectually challenged, but I also think one needs to have exercise. My P.E. college, Ling Physical Training College in Dublin, taught that it was important to develop character through your academic and physical side.

I had only been at Liggett a short time when the merger between Liggett and GPUS occurred. It became co-ed. One thing I thought was good was there was a head for each grade. This person helped to guide the students coming to the middle school to l find their way. I was in the gym! All the students had the opportunity to participate in Physical Education class and to be part of an interscholastic sport if they so desired. For instance, when I taught gymnastics, there were no rules — just working on movement, stretching and flexibility and working at your own pace, not worrying about whether or not you had to be competitive. Liggett got me all the gymnastics equipment: uneven bars, beams, ropes and exercise mats. Our maintenance man Larry Kennedy set up and dismantled the equipment each day. Thank you, Larry!

At Liggett we did not have a large student population, so the students had the opportunity and motivation to play on teams, and that’s what made the athletic program at Liggett so successful .
I always admired Muriel Brock and she is still a dear friend. She was a great mentor to me. She appreciated me teaching the basics of field hockey and other sports at the Middle School level and then at the High School, she’d put the finishing touches in regard to skill and teamwork. Consequently, Muriel had many winning seasons. She had a lot of connections to the eastern schools, and we took some trips out east to play against the east coast teams. We flew the field hockey and lacrosse teams. It was a special time for our teams to play the more established Eastern teams. We competed efficiently and it was such a good learning experience for all concerned.

Ray Robbins became headmaster when the schools merged. He was a great head, very uniting. In fact because I was college educated in Ireland, I needed to obtain a USA teaching certificate, and Ray was very supportive of the idea. I attended Wayne State University and received my permanent teaching certificate.

I remember returning from maternity leave with my third child in 1974, and after having been gone for eight weeks, I felt a distance from my colleagues. It was close to St. Patrick’s Day, and I suggested to the Middle School faculty that we throw a party. So we had a St. Patrick’s Day party at the residence next to the school that year, and for years to come we’d throw that same party! It brought the faculty together, and was a celebration of our appreciation for each other’s different backgrounds and love of teaching at ULS.

“You’re a round peg in a round hole,” my mom used to say that to me. She knew how much I loved my teaching. In my 32 years working at Liggett, there was never a day I drove into work where I didn’t look forward to it. So many people were kind and supportive and flexible. It was a unique situation and I was so grateful to be part of it!