How Jake Michigan State Bar Helps LGBTQ Representation
Tucked inside Jenison Field House in Michigan is the office of Jake Barreau, the Spartans’ assistant volleyball coach. Sometimes, as Barreau sits at his desk managing recruiting matters, he can hear the sounds of spiked volleyballs and squeaky shoes coming from a floor above him, where the club team men’s MSU trains.
It was at these times that Barreau, who was hired in February and works primarily with Spartans liberos, feels his coaching journey has come full circle. Two-time Wisconsin Big Ten Men’s Volleyball Defensive Player of the Year from 2009 to 2013, Barreau’s favorite trips with the Badgers came when they traveled to East Lansing.
His club even won MSU’s annual tournament – the Back to the Hardwood Classic – a few times while Barreau was on the roster. It’s a fact he likes to mention to Spartans men’s club coach Sante Perrelli whenever he can.
But aside from his wins and accolades, Barreau’s coaching career is defined by something more.
Barreau is openly gay. He is believed to be one of the few gay coaches to cross the state of Michigan, which reaffirmed its commitment to its LGBTQ student-athletes, staff and coaches in 2020 by hiring a diversity director. Barreau believes that his identity does not affect his ability to recruit, train or lead others; he just wants other LGBTQ coaches and players to be comfortable with who they are.
Barreau’s beliefs inspired him to write a personal essay for outsports.com, a site where LGBTQ people in sports can share their stories, in 2019, just over a year after he started coaching in Oklahoma. He previously served as an assistant for Missouri State from 2014 to 2017, and with his hiring at OU marking his first job at the Power Five level, he felt he had to go public with his story.
“At the end of my time at Missouri State, I was out of our team,” Barreau said. “I had met my husband now. I had my team in a surprise engagement video. … When I got to Oklahoma, I (thought to myself) ‘Look, I’m very openly gay. My husband and I have a safe place to start a new chapter together is really important to us. … Now is the time for me to do something that I wish I had read or seen when I was 24.
Barreau came out to his family during his freshman year in Wisconsin. Their answer was what he hoped to hear: “Are you happy? It’s all that matters.”
However, Barreau knows those words aren’t heard by everyone who comes out. For some, this time can be difficult. But he thinks coming out is not a moment or an event that happens one day. For him, coming out is a journey.
“For the non-LGBTQ community, coming out is, ‘I’m telling people now that I’m gay,'” Barreau said. “Or that you are queer, lesbian or whatever your letter is. That’s what people think. But you have to remember (people like me grow up) when changing code, where you kind of adapt to the environments you find yourself in. It’s a safety mechanism, because as children we fear bullying or physical harm or not fitting in. So you try to change the way you talk, the way you act, the way you really are.
“You spend your entire childhood, and often part of your adult life, trying to hide pieces of who you are just to be safe. … Yeah, at some point you decide to come out and say, ‘OK, I’m over there, I’m ready to do this.’ But there’s also all that goes with it, it’s picking up the pieces and (asking yourself), what parts of it all am I, and what parts am I pretending to be someone else? »
Barreau said that writing his article gave him immense relief, just as he felt when it came out. Barreau went on to coach the Sooners until the 2020 season. He helped make Oklahoma’s defense one of the best in the Big 12, and his recruiting efforts made the Sooners the No. 10 class in the league. countries for 2021.
Off the court, he won Advocate Magazine’s 2020 Champion of Pride award and also served on the AVCA’s Assistant Coaches Committee, which aims to build communities through volleyball.
As the days passed in Oklahoma, Barreau felt more and more at home. In early 2021, he and his husband bought a house in Oklahoma City to be closer to friends and still be within an hour of the OU campus.
About two days after the couple settled into their new home, Barreau’s phone rang. On the other end was Illinois State volleyball head coach Leah Johnson, a dear friend who had a job open with the Redbirds.
“I’ve always said (Barrister), when I have a recruiting coordinator position open, I’ll call you,” Johnson said. “I’m going to make you say no every time until you say yes to me.” So it was that call.
Barreau met Johnson in her early days at Missouri State when she was the head coach of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Johnson was a former Bears team captain, so when she saw a new face on the Missouri State coaching staff, she reached out and offered her support.
From there, the two quickly developed an inseparable friendship. As their careers progressed, they met regularly to talk volleyball. They even took a working vacation together in 2019 to watch Team USA’s women’s volleyball team practice in California, a trip that Johnson said was riddled with “volley-nerd” debriefs on coaching techniques, philosophies and communication styles.
Those conversations were a perfect summary of Barreau’s character, Johnson said. Deep down, she thinks, he’s a hard worker who seems to love other people even more than he loves his job.
“We both share very similar values in how we try to live our lives and treat people,” Johnson said. “Meeting people where they are, liking them for who they are and giving them the space to be themselves, especially in college coaching, is very important.…I always felt like Jake valued that part of coaching because it’s a business first and foremost.. and i also knew that he was someone i’d like to have my family with, and that’s also how i recruit. if i can see my daughter and my son hanging out with one of my players and not worrying (about it), I know he’s the right kind of person.
A move to Illinois also meant Barreau would be within driving distance to see his family, something he couldn’t do during his previous coaching stops. After talking it over with her husband and others close to her, Barreau decided to return to the Missouri Valley Conference.
In their only season together at Illinois State, Barreau helped Johnson win the Redbirds’ third straight MVC Tournament title and fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Under Barreau, junior Kaity Weimerskirch won MVC Libero of the Year and recorded 611 digs, the fifth-most in a single season in Illinois State program history.
When Johnson decided to take the head coaching job at Michigan State on Feb. 7, 2022, bringing Barreau with her was a no-brainer. She thought the duo’s success with the Redbirds was just the start of something special.
“We are a program that puts people first in everything we do,” Johnson said. “Who (a player is) before they arrive, their background, their history, their identity, we invest in that from the start as recruiters. We want them to be fully involved in this experience, because that’s how you reach your potential. … It’s an important part of our program, that everyone feels valued, included and welcome, and that they’re excited about the investment in turning Michigan State into a championship-level team.
With Barreau on his team, Johnson said his job “never feels like work.” In a profession where success is inevitably defined by wins and losses, she is grateful that Barreau has made her job fun.
Barreau doesn’t think Michigan State’s future could be better under Johnson’s leadership.
“We went into a group of seven players, and they were bought on day one,” Barreau said of the MSU roster, which has added 12 players since its coaching staff arrived. “It’s hard to say what things will look like in terms of results, but that won’t be what we’ll be preaching. That’s never been what we preach, and I love that about (Johnson). It’s really going to be about getting better every week, and I know we will.
“We just started a cycle with the 2024 recruiting class and we had some really great conversations with some really elite athletes. It will be fun, challenging, frustrating and exciting (all at the same time). »
And as Barreau follows Johnson and the Spartans onto the court this fall for the start of a new era of MSU volleyball, those like him will be on his mind.
“My advice to people who have gotten to the point where they’re proud (is) to be that representation that you once needed,” Barreau said. “Remember that (being yourself) is a process, and it’s not easy. Sometimes we need reminders, myself included, that in uncomfortable situations, it’s OK to be you. … I say it all the time, ‘I don’t mind the people that matter, and the people that matter don’t matter.’
Chandler Engelbrecht is a reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press and can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.