AD Hardy Hands Off After Memorable Run

April 11, 2017

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – It all came into focus last Monday morning for Sophia Hardy.

With school about to resume after spring break, the fifth-grader looked at her father and asked, “You’re done with all the night events, right?”

Tom Hardy had a ready response.

“Yep,” he said. “I’m ready for softball in the front yard, or whatever you want to do.”

Life is changing for the 46-year-old Hardy, who stepped down as athletic director/director of transportation at Traverse City St. Francis after the winter sports season.

Hardy, a St. Francis graduate, led one of the state’s most successful athletic programs for 17 years.

“It was a tough decision because of the relationships you build, the sense of family you have here,” he said. “It took a lot of thought, a lot of prayer. Ultimately, it boiled down to me putting my family first.”

Hardy and his wife, Betsy, have five children – Olivia, a junior at Michigan State; Julia, a freshman at Hope College; Thomas, a sophomore at St. Francis; Andrew, a sixth-grader; and Sophia.

“It was time for a change, time for something different that would allow me the flexibility to make sure I’m available for all my kids,” he said.

Hardy is now an information technology job recruiter for Genoa. He has an office near downtown Traverse City, but one of the perks of the job is that he’s able to work almost anywhere – as long as there’s wireless internet and phone service.

So in March, he was able to watch Julia, a softball player at Hope, and her teammates compete in Florida without taking time off and without the worry of preparing for spring sports.

Typically this week, Hardy would be in full throttle trying to cover all his bases for eight varsity teams plus more at lower levels.

“How many games do we have? Are the fields ready? Are they too wet? Do they need to be mowed? Can we even practice outside? If not, what about gym times? Do we have the concessions set up? Do we have ticket takers? It would be all the stress of walking back in and getting the season ready,” he said. “It’s definitely a different day today.”

Hardy was recognized for his efforts at a basketball game near the end of the season.

“The athletic director’s job is a very busy and often thankless one,” Superintendent Mike Buell told the crowd. “Nights and weekends are the norm. Changes are constant. Details are endless.

“For 17 years, Tom juggled a lot of things, big and small, on our behalf – game schedules, practice times, physicals, securing game day officials, transportation and logistics, concessions, athletes’ eligibility, special events, milestone celebrations, awards banquets. It’s a huge job at any school, and during Tom’s tenure, it became even bigger because since 2000 the variety of sports at our school has grown from 13 to 20 to include things like soccer, hockey, equestrian and sailing.

“He was the champion behind new sports even though a lot of people thought that was going to dilute the talent pool,” Buell added.

St. Francis, which has an enrollment of 341, just added lacrosse as a varsity sport this spring.

Despite the expansion, St. Francis continues to excel in nearly all sports. During Hardy’s tenure, the Gladiators won 17 MHSAA team championships and were runners-up 14 times. The success was across the board. The 2015-16 season was one for the ages. St. Francis won MHSAA Finals titles in girls cross country and girls skiing (a co-op); finished second in girls basketball, girls tennis and boys skiing (a co-op); third in boys tennis and girls track; and reached the Semifinals in football and volleyball.

“All the stars aligned – great kids, great parents, great coaches,” Hardy said. “It was awesome to be a part of it.”

The key to the success starts with the participation numbers.

“We’re at a plus 90 percent,” Buell said.

And most play more than one sport.

“I know one of the concerns of the MHSAA is that more and more kids are specializing today,” Hardy said. “I think that’s one of our successes – we’re pushing our kids to be multi-sport athletes. With specialization comes burnout, (an increased) injury rate. To me, it doesn’t make the well-rounded athlete college coaches want.

“Take (senior) Juliana Phillips. She’s going (to St. Louis University) on a volleyball scholarship, but she could easily be going on a basketball scholarship. She’s a great athlete. More importantly, though, she’s a great kid. Her basketball team loses in the District and the next day she’s leading the student section for the boys game.

“Those kind of stories are there – parents and kids who understand what it means to be part of a team instead of (playing as) individuals, and coaches knowing that the athletes are going to be shared. Our coaches revel in the success the kids have in other sports because they know it’s going to help their teams.”

In addition to strong participation numbers, St. Francis has had its share of talented athletes come through the system, too, including Phillips.

One family, the Bulloughs, had four family members that starred for the Gladiators. Hardy said their success was no accident.

“I remember driving by Thirlby Field three years ago (during the summer) and I see a bunch of people on the field,” he said. “I turned around so I could find out why they were there. I go in and at the 50-yard line there’s Shane Bullough blowing a whistle while Holly, Byron, Riley, Max and Lee Ann (Shane’s wife) are all running 50-yard sprints. Max is in a full sweat suit trying to get ready for the Texas heat (as a member of the NFL Houston Texans). That’s an example of the work ethic and dedication they had to succeed, not only at the high school level but beyond. They have one in the NFL, one hoping to be drafted (later this month), one on the Michigan State football team, and one running cross country and track at Michigan State and doing very well. People don’t see those kind of things, what it takes to be a great athlete. And they were not just one-sport kids. They played other sports, too.”

When Hardy reflects back on the “oh, my!” moments during his tenure, one immediately comes to mind. It was Gabe Callery’s half-court shot at the buzzer that toppled previously-unbeaten East Jordan last January, a shot that made ESPN’s plays of the day segment.

“It was awesome to watch,” Hardy said. “The backstory is that (coach) Keith Haske ends every basketball practice with a game-winner half-court shot. That’s a practiced moment because you know it’s going to happen at some point. And when they make it, they celebrate. So to know that backstory and then to see Gabe nail that shot in a huge moment, in a packed gym, and then for it to make ESPN, that’s every player’s dream, right?”

On a more personal note, there was the day Hardy was able to hand daughters Olivia and Julia Regional medals in softball. It’s a day he will not forget.

“That’s a memory you can’t replace,” he said.

Then there’s Molly Maxbauer.

“She was trying out for the girls basketball team back when the season was in the fall,” Hardy recalled. “She was a junior and wasn’t sure where she fit. The basketball team went out to run a mile for conditioning and I happened to be standing in front of the gym when they were coming back. She was three blocks in front of all the other players. I said, ‘Have you ever thought about running cross country?’ Well, she made that transition. This was a girl who loved to play basketball, grew up playing basketball. She went on to run in college.”

Hardy took a tremendous amount of pride in that type of success, watching kids thrive.

“One of Tom’s strengths has been his enthusiasm for all sports and the lessons that they could teach beyond the classroom,” Buell said. “His sports teams were like his kids. He loved them all and experienced their joys and sorrows right along with them.

“Tom also had a knack for diffusing contentious situations with humor and helping people find common ground in their disagreements.”

Football coach Josh Sellers agreed.

“First and foremost, as an AD you have to have a thick skin,” he said. “It’s a job where you don’t hear a lot of the good; you hear a lot of the bad. Tom had the right temperament for that gig.”

In football, Sellers was always appreciative that Hardy stressed safety.

“When it came to reconditioning helmets or buying safety equipment, he was like, ‘Josh, do what you need to do to keep our kids safe,’” Sellers said. “That’s all any parent or coach wants to hear. Player safety is a big part of his legacy.”

Buell said Hardy also did things behind the scenes to help people.

“Asked to describe Tom Hardy in one word, people say things like efficient, joyful, loyal, tireless, encouraging and crazy,” he said. “But I would add one word, and that is compassionate. When there was a tragedy in the athletics community – the Grayling golf team’s car accident is one example – Tom always found ways for us, as a school system, to provide meaningful support. On a personal level, he often went above and beyond to help our students, volunteers, coaches and teams.”

Hardy leaves in good company. The senior class that will be departing soon will be remembered for a long time, too.

The 84-member class includes four National Merit scholars, two students who posted perfect ACT scores and two who are bound for military academies (Air Force and Navy).

“And all those kids play sports,” Buell said. “That class got it done everywhere. They’re good role models for the classes behind them.”

Aaron Biggar, an elementary school principal and assistant football coach, has succeeded Hardy.

“I graduated with Aaron,” Sellers said. “We played on the offensive line next to one another in high school. The bad news is I lose a position coach. The good news is that he’ll be able to impact more people beyond the football program now. We’re in good hands.”

Biggar will take over an athletic program that’s a major player on the state level, thanks in part to Hardy.

As for the former athletic director, Hardy was looking to fill 10 IT job openings across the country Monday.

“It’s a fun thing,” he said, “to call people each day and say, ‘Hey, are you open to new opportunities?”

It was that type of call that Hardy received a few months ago.

“While we’re sad to see Tom leave,” Buell said, “we wish him the very best because we know he will always be a Gladiator at heart.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at 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) Outgoing St. Francis athletic director Tom Hardy is honored during a halftime ceremony at a boys basketball game this season. (Middle) Gladiators Katelyn Duffing (1650), Holly Bullough (1649) and Emmalyne Tarsa leave the Michigan International Speedway chute together after leading their team to the 2015 Lower Peninsula Division 3 cross country title. (Below) Hardy, left, with wife Betsy and son Thomas. (Top and below photos by Julie English, middle photo by

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

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.