He hasn’t met a sport he can’t coach. And, he probably hasn’t turned down a team he’s met – yet.
Many of the coaching jobs he’s taken were actually offered to him by him.
Whenever he’s started a new sport, he’s sought mentors in the form of successful veteran coaches. But make no mistake, if they made a movie in Northern Michigan called “The Mentor” – this Hall of Fame coach would be the star of the show.
He’s technically retired today. The teams he coaches don’t get TV cameras and other media present. He’s a middle school track and volleyball coach for Fife Lake Forest Area Community Schools.
He’s perhaps most well-known as the past volleyball coach at Forest Area. Don’t be surprised if you hear of graduated athletes – and current student-athletes – from Glen Lake, Manton, Kingsley and even McBain Northern Michigan Christian happily call him “Coach.”
Name the coach? Ron Stremlow. He’s a retired physical education teacher, athletic director and coach. He came out of retirement to return as the part-time athletic director for Forest Area, a district he served 32 years as a teacher.
He’s also coaching a couple of middle school sports, just like he did when he was working full-time. Athletic directors often need to put themselves in tough-to-fill coaching slots.
“Ron Stremlow has been a tremendous ambassador of high school sports in Northern Michigan,” said Dave Jackson, athletic director of Frankfort-Alberta Schools. “The number of coaches, parents and athletes Ron has encouraged during his years of service are too many to count.
“He is an athletic administrator that has always been about service and what (he) can do to help.”
Help is exactly what he did once upon a time for then-new volleyball coach at McBain Northern Michigan Christian, Diane Eisenga. The call for help came from Eisenga’s players.
Today, Eisenga is an athletic assistant for the Comets and mother of five boys, her youngest still attending NMC. Like Stremlow, she has built a very successful program. Back then, she was just getting started, pregnant and a mother of two children, and unable to coach her team during a Ferris State University tournament that Stremlow had planned to scout with longtime friend and Kingsley 1,000-win volleyball coach Dave Hall.
Stremlow actually was planning to watch NMC at the tournament, anticipating the Comets would be a potential roadblock to a District title that upcoming season. (He was right: Forest Area would end up losing to NMC in a District Final as the Comets reached the Class D Quarterfinals.)
What Stremlow did not anticipate was being asked by the Comets players to step in and coach them at the Ferris tourney. Stremlow was told Eisenga was not feeling well enough to guide the team at that moment.
Stremlow did not hesitate to help. He had previously leant his wisdom to the former Dordt University (Iowa) athlete with tryouts, cutting decisions and NMC’s summer camp.
“I had played in high school and college, but I was green,” Eisenga acknowledged. “He was a good mentor.”
She recalls her players asking for Stremlow’s help.
“I got real light-headed and wasn’t feeling well,” she said. “Because the girls had known him, he took over for me that day.”
It wasn’t a surprise for Eisenga to witness Stremlow’s contribution to her team’s success that year.
“I always saw him as more of a mentor and more of a friend (than an opposing coach),” Eisenga said. “He was happy with anyone’s success.
“He was always happy for any team that played well,” she continued. “Of course, he always wanted his own to win. … He was always respectful, and you never saw him cross the line.”
Stremlow, who jokes about maybe not having the most wins among hall of fame volleyball coaches while claiming the most losses amongst the elite group (he still ranks 17th in MHSAA history with 944 volleyball wins despite retiring from the Forest Area varsity after the 2018 season), spends his days taking care of Forest Area boys and girls basketball, completive cheer and the Warriors co-ed wresting teams. Many a night he does whatever it takes to run an event, including running the scoreboard for basketball.
In the fall, Forest Area offers 8-player football, cross country and volleyball. He’s in the midst of finalizing spring softball, track and baseball.
Basketball is perhaps his favorite sport, but he loves the change of seasons.
“Once that season’s up, I am ready to rock and roll and get into another,” Stremlow noted.
Giving back is what keeps the 62-year-old Stremlow going. He sees at least three years of involvement ahead.
“A lot of kids do not get good role models or good coaches. And I thought if I can help kids out, I am going to,” Stremlow said.
Today Stremlow wears many school colors, especially the Warriors’ forest green. You also often can find him in Kingsley orange, or perhaps it is actually the Manton orange.
You will definitely find him in his favorite, maize and blue. His forest green should never be confused with the Michigan State green. The Wolverines became the favorite of the Central Michigan grad when he got into the Big House as a high school student with a $2 ticket to watch Michigan take on Navy.
“I have green, but it is not the Michigan State green,” Stremlow said he often jokes with fans of the Spartans and Warriors.
Stremlow uses all his team colors as he follows another passion, photography. He got a camera for college graduation, and student-athletes all over Northern Michigan have benefited.
“There are thousands of former players from Forest Area and Kingsley that can point to pictures in their homes that Ron has taken of them playing sports,” Jackson said. “These pictures are not just cute shots, but pictures that were used to teach form and techniques.”
Stremlow takes satisfaction from capturing sports on film, rather digitally, as he does today.
“I take a lot of pictures – I‘ve always liked it,” he said. “That’s the best gift you can give any kid and parents – just getting pictures.
“It really helps, plus I like doing it.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Fife Lake Forest Area athletic director Ron Stremlow talks with official Chuck Bott (right) before a basketball game against Indian River Inland Lakes this season. (Middle) Stremlow shows support for his favorite college team while prepping before a game against Johannesburg-Lewiston. (Top photo by Tom Spencer; middle photo by Andrew Fish/Gaylord Herald-Times.)
There is a basketball court 5,000 miles from Sterling Heights with “MHL” painted on the center court.
It’s not the name of a local basketball league in the village where it is located – Siricino, Macedonia. Instead, it stands for Madison, Haleigh and Lola, the three daughters of longtime Michigan basketball coach, referee and athletic director Loren Ristovski.
“My dad loved going back (to Macedonia),” said Madison Ristovski. “He’s probably gone every summer since about 2017. His whole family still lives there. He loved going and visiting and seeing everyone.
“It was always a goal of his to give back to where he came from. He and Mom donated to the village to build a soccer field and basketball court with lights and everything. It was a pretty big deal. It’s something he wanted to do for them back home. We were very proud he did that.”
Loren Ristovski, athletic director for Taylor schools, died earlier this month while on leave to have surgery on his foot. It was a shock to his family, friends, and the Taylor community.
“It was a heavy blow,” said Matt Joseph, girls basketball coach at Utica Ford and a longtime friend of the Ristovski family. “It was like getting kicked in the gut. Basketball was his passion. Next to his family, basketball was definitely No. 1. He loved the game and all the intricacies of it. He loved seeing kids excel.”
Ristovski emigrated from Macedonia to Michigan when he was 9. He went to high school at Hamtramck St. Florian, where he excelled at basketball. He went to Wayne State University to get a degree in criminal justice and had plans to become a lawyer.
Before he could take the Law School Admission Test, however, basketball came calling.
“He started coaching at Henry Ford High School and Fuhrmann Middle School,” Madison said. “Once he realized how much he enjoyed coaching, he decided to go into education. He stayed the entire time. He never went to law school.”
Loren Ristovski became the head coach at Harper Woods but gave that up when his daughters were ready to start playing in high school.
“He gave up coaching varsity at Harper Woods so he could be at every one of my games,” Madison said.
He also coached them as youngsters, often teaming with Joseph to coach an AAU team.
“I met him when Madison was 5,” Joseph said. “He and I decided to put our daughters in the same parks and recreation team, and next thing you know we were coaching AAU.”
With Ristovski’s tutoring, Madison, Haleigh, and Lola all excelled at the game, each playing Division I college basketball after standout careers at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. In 2012, Liggett reached the Class C Final with all three starting. They combined for 55 of Liggett’s 57 points in the championship game, with Madison scoring 42 after earlier that week receiving the Miss Basketball Award.
Lola and Haleigh played at the University of Detroit Mercy, and Madison played at the University of Michigan. Today, Haleigh lives on the west side of the state and plays recreational basketball. Lola is a referee in the Catholic High School League as well as for the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and also works area Division III college games.
Madison is a teacher and the varsity girls basketball coach at Sterling Heights Stevenson.
“He taught us the game when we were very, very young,” Madison said. “We grew up in the gym with him and watched him coach his team. He coached me my whole life. He was very instrumental – he taught us all those things you need to become an athlete, and more importantly the things you need to do to succeed in life.”
Her dad is the reason she became a coach.
“Watching my dad coach and seeing the impact he had on his high school athletes and even the kids in our church community – it inspired me to want to coach as well and give back like he did,” she said. “I watched him with my teammates and the impact he had on them. I thought it would be so cool if I could do the same for others.”
Loren Ristovski left a legacy at Taylor, too. School officials recounted several stories of how he balanced athletic budgets with the needs of student-athletes. He would lead fundraising efforts, created the Bitty Ball program for youth basketball players and cheerleaders and helped students become certified officials – and then would hire them to officiate games.
“He didn’t say no,” said Taylor boys basketball coach Chris Simons. “We made it work. We didn’t go out and ask people for a bunch of money. We would just do it. We all pulled together and made it work. Loren did everything he could to make things as pretty and presentable as he could with the budget we had.”
Ristovski also put on summer camps at both Taylor and at the Joe Dumars Fieldhouse in Sterling Heights, where he lived. He commuted about an hour to Taylor every day.
“He loved Taylor,” Madison said. “He loved who he worked with and the students. He included us, too. My mom would run the ticket table or do the scoreboard clock. I don’t know how many times I sold tickets for volleyball tournaments with him. He loved his people and loved having us there with him.”
Loren Ristovski, who played professional basketball in Europe during the late 1980s, ran well over 20 marathons in his life, including the Boston Marathon. He was a registered MHSAA official for 16 years, and in the weeks before his passing he refereed a varsity game in Rochester with his daughter, Lola.
“He looked at basketball, I think, differently than other people do,” Madison said. “He saw it as a way to have relationships with other people, to help people achieve their goals and to find meaningful relationships with others. It was more than just a game to him.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Loren Ristovski, far left, and wife Svetlana support their lineup of Division I basketball-playing daughters – from left: Madison, Haleigh and Lola. (Middle) Loren Ristovski heads an all-family officiating crew with Lola and his brother Dean Ristovski. (Below) The daughters’ initials “MHL” glow on the court the family funded in Macedonia. (Photos courtesy of Madison Ristovski.)