Title IX at 50: Rockford Girls Set Pace, Hundreds After Have Continued to Chase

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 19, 2021

Michigan’s high school cross country teams have entered the home stretch of the 2021 season, with the championship races in both peninsulas to be run over the next three weekends.

For more than two decades, the best girls teams of the Lower Peninsula’s biggest schools have been chasing the 2000 Rockford Rams.

That season was the first of the MHSAA classifying its championship groupings using four equal divisions, and Rockford set a standard that few have approached as we near the completion of the first quarter of the 21st century.

Rockford won the Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship Nov. 4, 2000, at Michigan International Speedway with 35 points – 77 fewer than runner-up Milford and 197 fewer than third-place Troy. Five Rams finished among the top 15 individuals – senior Lindsey Blaisdell third, senior Kalin Toedebusch fourth, sophomore Nicole Bohnsack fifth, sophomore Kelsey Toedebusch ninth and senior Aimee Keenan 15th, which was actually 14th among runners involved in team scoring.

The next lowest Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals score was achieved two seasons later, again by Rockford, with a 57. Four more Lower Peninsula teams have scored in the 30s since the dawn of the divisions era – East Grand Rapids won Division 2 in 2019 with 36 points, while Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart broke Rockford’s LP record winning Division 4 with 34 points in 2016 before coming back to win again with 39 in 2017.

Rockford’s 2000 championship was its third of five straight, which remains the longest Finals title streak in Lower Peninsula history. Bohnsack went on to win the LPD1 individual championships as well in 2001 and 2002 and run collegiately at Penn State. Kalin Toedebusch ran at Colorado, Blaisdell ran at Wisconsin and Keenan ran at Michigan State. The first four of those five straight championship teams were coached by Brad Prins. 

Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.

Previous Title IX at 50 Spotlights

Oct. 12: Bedford Volleyball Pioneer Continues Blazing Record-Setting Trail - Read
Oct. 5: 
Warner Paved Way to Legend Status with Record Rounds - Read
Sept. 28: Taylor Kennedy Gymnasts Earn Fame as 1st Champions - Read
Sept. 21: 
Portage Northern Star Byington Becomes Play-by-Play Pioneer - Read
Sept. 14: 
Guerra/Groat Legacy Continues to Serve St. Philip Well - Read
Sept. 7: 
Best-Ever Conversation Must Include Leland's Glass - Read
Aug. 31: We Will Celebrate Many Who Paved the Way - Read

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 11, 2023

Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.

Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.

Jill EversJill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.

“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”

Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).

The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.