Rally Champs 'Survive' Fun-Filled Forest

August 19, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

As one of Michigan’s top high school swimming sprinters, Fenton senior Gabbi Haaraoja no doubt was in strong shape to start this summer.

But she and her Tigers teammates made sure to prepare for this month’s preseason “survival trip” with plenty of miles running and yards swimming a local lake.

All that training paid off during three days and two nights at Pigeon River Country State Forest near Vanderbilt as the team prepared for last week’s first day of practice and a run at a 10th-consecutive league championship.  

And the Tigers have kicked off the title effort by being named winners of the MHSAA’s inaugural Prep Rally, a contest that was part of the MHSAA’s PLAY (Preparation Lasts All Year) initiative to encourage athletes to remain active during the offseason so they are prepared physically and acclimated to warm weather when practice begins in the fall.

“Being out in nature, it’s really pretty there. You appreciate it more,” Haaraoja said, then adding some tongue-in-cheek. “It definitely was fun. But it was a lot more work than what we were used to. I think I’m actually glad I’m a senior.”

Athletes from Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and Beal City also were finalists. Participating athletes from Fenton’s girls swimming and diving team will receive tickets to an MHSAA Final of their choice, where they will be recognized for their achievement.  

Fenton has taken similar training trips heading into all 14 seasons under coach Brad Jones. Others have included activities like canoeing and dune climbing, The last four years, the team journeyed to El Cortez Beach Resort in Oscoda for some time on Lake Huron together before practice began.

This season’s seniors asked to do something new. And it was a new experience for many in more ways than one.

The team left Aug. 11 and returned home two days later in time for the first day of practice. Jones took north 24 athletes, and some had never camped or slept outside. Six seniors made their fourth preseason trip with the team – but for 12 freshmen, this was their first experience as high schoolers.

That team demographic made this summer’s trip especially important for bonding. But it also had a desired effect physically – both heading into this fall and in setting preparation expectations for the future.

Pigeon River Country has 67 miles of trails, and the team hiked four or more miles between camp sites each day – making this the most physically taxing of the trips any of the Tigers had been on to start swimming and diving season.

“We were very up front that in August we’re taking this trip, and you need to be able to go 6-7 miles walking. We put that out there early on,” Jones said. “We have pretty good girls doing what they’re needing to do outside of (swimming) training. (But) we were pretty up front that you don’t put your backpack on and your hiking shoes on for the first time in August.”

Haaraoja said the hikes made it obvious quickly who had prepped during the summer and who needed to catch up. Seniors rotated throughout the line of teammates, so those who began a hike leading the group finished at the back with those working harder to keep in step.

Once in the woods, Jones split his athletes into four teams for a series of challenges that included building their own fires, cooking their own meals (they didn’t receive food until the fire was started) and breaking camp the next day. One trail ran past a small lake, and the athletes swam across it in a relay to earn more points. Another relay-type event involved filling buckets with water.

The challenge champions received ice cream.

“By the time we get home, everybody knows everybody else,” Jones said. “Once we get into training, the top girls are in one lane and the beginners are in another. So there’s not a lot of interaction. But this gives the whole team a chance to get to know each other.”

That’s the part Haaraoja said she’ll remember most fondly, while also appreciating the edge the added physical activity of the summer prep and trip should give the team this fall and in years to come.

“For the underclassmen, they realized where they should be at the beginning of the season next year so they don’t come into it completely out of shape,” Haaraoja said. “It helped our underclassmen learn what our goals were. They know what they’re working for.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Fenton's girls swimming and diving athletes take a moment for a photo during their three-day "survival trip." (Middle) The Tigers take a quick lunch break during a hike at Pigeon River Country State Forest. (Below) The Fenton athletes pose for one more photo wearing their "survivor" T-shirts. (Photos courtesy of Fenton coach Brad Jones.)

2023 Forsythe Award Celebrates Leinaar's 40 Years Dedicated to School Sports

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 8, 2023

Few people in Michigan have had a longer-lasting influence on the rules and policies of educational athletics than Frankfort’s Karen Leinaar, who has served in several roles locally, statewide and nationally over more than 40 years contributing to the school sports community.

Thank you, Bill Baker.

The longtime teacher, coach, principal and superintendent during a career that stretched across multiple schools – including Leinaar’s growing up, Delton Kellogg – made an impression on the standout multi-sport athlete before she graduated from high school in 1977. Baker’s philosophy and work led Leinaar to study education at Michigan State University and then brought her back as Delton’s athletic director to begin four decades of making the same impact on children in her hometown and eventually in hometowns all over Michigan and beyond.

Baker died in 2009, but not before continuing to mentor Leinaar through many good times and tough ones.

“The man had two daughters that I grew up with, his wife was a teacher, and he demonstrated to all of us – he never missed an event – that we were important to him. That even though we weren’t his kids, we were his kids and athletics was a way to help kids become better people – and for some kids it was the only thing that they had positive in their life,” Leinaar said. “And he made it known just to that individual kid how important their participation was and their involvement, and how that helped them become the person that they were.

“That to me was such an example of how to help people be good people, that I just took that role on.”

It’s a role in which she continues to serve. Leinaar began her career as an athletic administrator in 1982, and as the interim athletic director currently at Frankfort High School is serving her fifth district in that position. Since June 2019, she also has served as executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA), the professional organization for school sports administrators in the state with a membership of nearly 700.

Leinaar accepts the MHSAA's Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998. To recognize that longtime and continuing impact, Leinaar has been named the 2023 honoree for the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Charles E. Forsythe Award.

The annual award is in its 46th 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.

Leinaar also served 22 years on the MHSAA’s Representative Council and a four-year term from 2009-13 on the Board of Directors for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and just last week was named to the 2023 class of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Hall of Fame.

“It is impossible even to estimate the number of students, coaches, administrators and others who have been affected by the work Karen Leinaar has done to make school sports the best they can be – not only in her communities, but across Michigan and throughout the country,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are few who have equaled her dedication and her support and promotion of the ideals of school-based sports. She has always placed an emphasis on being in the room, on the field or at the arena, actively participating in her leadership roles, and our programs are better for it.”

Leinaar first served as athletic director at Delton Kellogg for nearly 17 years, from March 1982 through October 1998. She spent three years at Gaylord, then 8½ at Benzie Central before taking over at Bear Lake in November 2010 and spending the next decade organizing athletic programs for students in grades 5-12 before retiring in January 2021. She came out of retirement to return to the athletic director’s chair this past fall as interim AD at Frankfort. She has completed nearly four years as MIAAA executive director, moving into that position after previously serving nine years as an assistant to the executive.

Leinaar began her service on the Representative Council in Fall 1999 and completed her last term as a statewide at-large representative at the Fall 2021 meeting.

She has been honored several times for her contributions. She received the MHSAA’s Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998, a Citation from the NFHS in 2000, and she was named MIAAA Athletic Director of the Year in 2001. She received an MHSAA’s Allen W. Bush Award in 2014 – recognition given for work done generally behind the scenes and with little attention.

“This is the top of the mountain, per se. This one does mean so much,” Leinaar said of the Forsythe Award. “The names that are associated with this over the years, I never thought I’d be put in that group.”

Leinaar remains a continuous source of support at a multitude of MHSAA championship events, and during her time on Council was one of the most frequent representatives handing out trophies and medals to champions and runners-up at Finals events. She began while athletic director at Delton Kellogg hosting the MHSAA Volleyball Finals in Class B and Class C and continues to assist with those championships now played at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

She also hosted Competitive Cheer Finals at Delton Kellogg in 1996 and 1997, Ski Finals while at Gaylord, and many more championship events across the Lower Peninsula. She continues to assist at the MHSAA’s Lower Peninsula Cross Country and Track & Field Finals.

After attending Delton Kellogg High School, Leinaar earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education, health and recreation, with a minor in driver education, from MSU in 1982. She completed a master’s in athletic administration from Western Michigan University in 1994.

Leinaar has been a member for 40 years of both the MIAAA and NIAAA, and has served as chairperson of the MIAAA Annual Conference and awards chairperson for both the state and national bodies. She’s also served as chairperson of the MIAAA’s Exemplary Athletic Program.

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
2018 - Gary Ellis, Allegan
2019 - Jim Derocher, Negaunee; Fredrick J. Smith, Stevensville
2020 - Michael Garvey, Lawton
2021 - Leroy Hackley Jr., Byron Center; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
2022 - Bruce Horsch, Houghton

PHOTOS (Top) Karen Leinaar, left, awards the 2022 Division 4 volleyball finalist trophy to Indian River Inland Lakes coach Nicole Moore. (Middle) Leinaar accepts the MHSAA's Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998.