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EAST LANSING, Mich. – March 8 – A mainstay for four decades locally as a teacher, athletic director and coach, Gary Ellis’ work continues to have a statewide impact on coaches, athletes, administrators and fans all over Michigan. In recognition of his dedication to educational athletics in this state, Ellis has been named the 2018 recipient of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Charles E. Forsythe Award.
The annual award is in its 41st year and named after former MHSAA Executive Director Charles E. Forsythe, the Association's first full-time and longest-serving chief executive. Forsythe Award recipients are selected each year by the MHSAA Representative Council, based on an individual's outstanding contributions to the interscholastic athletics community. Ellis will receive his honor during the break after the first quarter of the MHSAA Class A Boys Basketball Final on March 24 at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing.
Ellis served as Allegan High School’s athletic director from 1983-89 and again from 2004-13, and also taught mathematics, history and government over a career in the building that stretched 39 years. Ellis has coached the boys tennis team since 1975, and coached the girls tennis team from 1981-84 and then 1990-2003, leading the boys and girls teams to a combined 32 top-10 finishes at the MHSAA Finals.
But those are only some of the local highlights. Regionally, Ellis has served as league secretary for the Wolverine Conference and has hosted various MHSAA events at the District, Regional and Quarterfinal levels. Extending his impact across the state, Ellis is a long-serving member of the MHSAA Tennis Seeding Committee and has served on Tennis, Baseball/Softball Site Selection and Scholar-Athlete committees among others. He continues to serve as secretary/treasurer and was president of the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association (MHSTeCA) from 1995-96.
“As a leader in athletics and especially the tennis community, Gary Ellis has influenced and inspired administrators, coaches and students for more than 40 years,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “In addition to serving as a fine athletic director representing his school, he’s long provided key insights on the best ways to conduct tennis programs in this state, from how to seed the top players at our tournament to how to include as many as possible on the local team. We admire his dedication and are glad to honor him with the Charles E. Forsythe Award.”
Ellis has received numerous honors during a career stretching nearly half a century. He was inducted into the MHSTeCA Hall of Fame in 2007 and named its boys Coach of the Year in 1984 and 2005 and girls Coach of the Year in 1994 – and was a nominee for the National Federation Coaches Association national award for boys for 2004-05. As an administrator, he was named his region’s Athletic Director of the Year in 2011 by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA).
Ellis also was named Community Person of the Year in education from the Allegan Area Chamber of Commerce and received the Allegan County Outstanding People for Education Award. In addition to his work in school-affiliated tennis, Ellis has taken a leading role in promoting community tennis in his area, and received the United States Tennis Association’s Midwest Stan Malless Award recognizing that effort.
But one of his most recent honors is one of the best indicators of Ellis’ educational athletic philosophy – he was named to the USTA’s national “No-Cut Coach All-Star Team” in 2016 recognizing middle and high school coaches who welcome all students to participate in the sport. Ellis’ boys teams regularly have as many as 25 players, and his girls teams often approached 30. His largest team had 35 athletes.
Ellis’ boys tennis team won its third straight Wolverine Conference championship in the fall and 29th since the league was formed in 1973, and he led the girls team to 13 league titles during his tenure. He also served as the first girls volleyball coach in Allegan history, leading the program from its inaugural season of 1975-76 through 1978-79. He later volunteered as a coach for middle school and high school volleyball and also coached a season of eighth grade girls basketball.
“I think sports obviously are very good for kids and their development,” Ellis said. “I enjoyed (playing), and I’m trying to give other people the opportunity to enjoy athletics and tennis in particular, like I did.
“In volleyball, we had to make cuts and I absolutely hated it. So it’s nice; we keep everybody who comes out. If a senior comes out who has never played tennis before, he’s welcome to join us.”
In addition, Ellis has served the Western Michigan Tennis Association in various roles. He has been chairperson of the USTA/Midwest Section Junior Team Committee and worked as an official at local USTA events including national tournaments hosted by Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium.
He also served as an MHSAA registered official for 39 years in volleyball through the 2011 season and basketball for 26 years through the 1998-99 boys season.
Ellis graduated from Battle Creek Central High School in 1970 and then attended Kellogg Community College and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Western Michigan University in 1974 and 1980, respectively. He maintains membership in the MIAAA and MHSTeCA and also the Michigan High School Coaches Association. Ellis is a member of the Allegan Lions Club and has served as president, and also is active as part of Christ Community Church and the Allegan Booster Club.
Past recipients of the Charles E. Forsythe Award
1978 - Brick Fowler, Port Huron; Paul Smarks, Warren
1979 - Earl Messner, Reed City; Howard Beatty, Saginaw
1980 - Max Carey, Freesoil
1981 - Steven Sluka, Grand Haven; Samuel Madden, Detroit
1982 - Ernest Buckholz, Mt. Clemens; T. Arthur Treloar, Petoskey
1983 - Leroy Dues, Detroit; Richard Maher, Sturgis
1984 - William Hart, Marquette; Donald Stamats, Caro
1985 - John Cotton, Farmington; Robert James, Warren
1986 - William Robinson, Detroit; Irving Soderland, Norway
1987 - Jack Streidl, Plainwell; Wayne Hellenga, Decatur
1988 - Jack Johnson, Dearborn; Alan Williams, North Adams
1989 - Walter Bazylewicz, Berkley; Dennis Kiley, Jackson
1990 - Webster Morrison, Pickford; Herbert Quade, Benton Harbor
1991 - Clifford Buckmaster, Petoskey; Donald Domke, Northville
1992 - William Maskill, Kalamazoo; Thomas G. McShannock, Muskegon
1993 - Roy A. Allen Jr., Detroit; John Duncan, Cedarville
1994 - Kermit Ambrose, Royal Oak
1995 - Bob Perry, Lowell
1996 - Charles H. Jones, Royal Oak
1997 - Michael A. Foster, Richland; Robert G. Grimes, Battle Creek
1998 - Lofton C. Greene, River Rouge; Joseph J. Todey, Essexville
1999 - Bernie Larson, Battle Creek
2000 - Blake Hagman, Kalamazoo; Jerry Cvengros, Escanaba
2001 - Norm Johnson, Bangor; George Lovich, Canton
2002 - John Fundukian, Novi
2003 - Ken Semelsberger, Port Huron
2004 - Marco Marcet, Frankenmuth
2005 - Jim Feldkamp, Troy
2006 - Dan McShannock, Midland; Dail Prucka, Monroe
2007 - Keith Eldred, Williamston; Tom Hickman, Spring Lake
2008 - Jamie Gent, Haslett; William Newkirk, Sanford-Meridian
2009 - Paul Ellinger, Cheboygan
2010 - Rudy Godefroidt, Hemlock; Mike Boyd, Waterford
2011 - Eric C. Federico, Trenton
2012 - Bill Mick, Midland
2013 - Jim Gilmore, Tecumseh; Dave Hutton, Grandville
2014 - Dan Flynn, Escanaba
2015 - Hugh Matson, Saginaw
2016 - Gary Hice, Petoskey; Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2017 - Chuck Nurek, Rochester Hills
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.