Adrian Madison's Isom Leads at All Levels
February 21, 2019
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Over more than three decades, Adrian Madison athletic director Kris Isom has taken on responsibilities not only in her league and regionally, but statewide as a member of the MHSAA Representative Council – in addition to her athletic department responsibilities at the high school and junior high.
And yet, she still teaches multiple classes and coaches at least one of the district’s teams every year, serving and building relationships at the most local level of her wide influence on educational athletics.
She’s made those relationships a priority, also serving as class advisor to Madison students through last year when her daughter Rachel graduated. One year during the 1990s, in fact, the graduating class even dedicated its yearbook to her.
“I like being in the classroom and coaching because I still have a connection with kids, know who they are,” Isom said. “Being at a smaller school, you’re able to know who kids are, but at the middle school especially I don’t know a lot. Getting involved in coaching has helped me put a name with a face so I will know them coming up.”
She continues to impact students at Madison and beyond, and will be recognized for her many contributions with the 32nd Women In Sports Leadership Award during halftime of the Division 3 Girls Basketball Final on March 23 at Calvin College’s Van Noord Arena.
Each year, the Representative Council considers the achievements of women coaches, officials and athletic administrators affiliated with the MHSAA who show exemplary leadership capabilities and positive contributions to athletics.
Isom is in her 33rd year as athletic director at Adrian Madison, taking over athletics for the high school and junior high after serving as a teacher and coach for a year at Clinton. She has served as part of the MHSAA Representative Council since 2008, representing Class C and D schools from the state’s southeastern section.
“I’m very honored by this award, not only because it’s for women in leadership. I’ve been doing this 33 years and I’ve seen more and more women in this profession … that for all things considered is a man’s profession,” Isom said. “Having a daughter, who while she’s not following my footsteps, but getting her in the business world eventually, it’s a good feeling.”
Isom’s contributions to high school sports and its participants are many and at all levels. Within her district, she has coached basketball, volleyball, sideline cheer, track & field and softball – at least one sport every year, including as the eighth grade girls basketball coach this season.
At the league level, Isom has served as president of the Tri-County Conference since 2002 after previously serving as vice president and secretary/treasurer. Serving more of her neighboring districts, Isom has hosted numerous District, Regional and Quarterfinal competitions and MHSAA Coaches Advancement Program (CAP) sessions.
At the statewide level, Isom has provided her expertise as a member of the Representative Council and as a 33-year member of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. She also assists MHSAA staff annually in selecting members of the 16-student Student Advisory Council.
She was named the MIAAA’s Region 6 “Athletic Director of the Year” in 2000 and received the MHSAA’s Allen W. Bush Award in 2016 to recognize her many behind-the-scenes contributions.
“Kris Isom continues to provide a steadying presence on our Representative Council. She researches issues and really brings a voice of reason to the discussion – not only to the full Council, but to the Executive Committee as well,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “She does a great job representing the southeastern corner of the state, bringing a small-school perspective to the table time after time. We’re thankful for her leadership and glad to present her with the Women In Sports Leadership Award.”
Part of leadership is being an example, and Isom has served as one for many. Of course that growing group included her daughter who this year left home to study in the dental hygiene program at Jackson College but has frequently been by Mom’s side for the many activities.
“Hopefully, (she learned) to be assertive, that she needs to be a good listener, and obviously you have to be a mediator,” Kris Isom said. “Hopefully seeing all those aspects, and dealing with situations and different issues, she’ll be a better problem solver, be more open (to the idea) that there is more than one side of a story.”
A graduate of Clinton High School, Isom received her bachelor’s degree in science and teaching certification in physical education and health in 1984 from Michigan State University. She earned her master’s in elementary education in 1986 from Eastern Michigan University and also has completed graduate courses from Fresno Pacific University.
In addition to the MIAAA and NIAAA, Isom is a member of the Michigan Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (MAHPERD) and the Michigan State University Alumni Association. She’s active with The Clinton United Church of Christ in various service projects, including an annual fundraiser for cancer research, and also participates in local Meals on Wheels, American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity projects.
The first Women In Sports Leadership Award was presented in 1990.
1990 – Carol Seavoy, L’Anse
1991 – Diane Laffey, Harper Woods
1992 – Patricia Ashby, Scotts
1993 – Jo Lake, Grosse Pointe
1994 – Brenda Gatlin, Detroit
1995 – Jane Bennett, Ann Arbor
1996 – Cheryl Amos-Helmicki, Huntington Woods
1997 – Delores L. Elswick, Detroit
1998 – Karen S. Leinaar, Delton
1999 – Kathy McGee, Flint
2000 – Pat Richardson, Grass Lake
2001 – Suzanne Martin, East Lansing
2002 – Susan Barthold, Kentwood
2003 – Nancy Clark, Flint
2004 – Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, Grand Rapids
2005 – Barbara Redding, Capac
2006 – Melanie Miller, Lansing
2007 – Jan Sander, Warren Woods
2008 – Jane Bos, Grand Rapids
2009 – Gail Ganakas, Flint; Deb VanKuiken, Holly
2010 – Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2011 – Ellen Pugh, West Branch; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
2012 – Janet Gillette, Comstock Park
2013 – Barbara Beckett, Traverse City
2014 – Teri Reyburn, DeWitt
2015 – Jean LaClair, Bronson
2016 – Betty Wroubel, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
2017 – Dottie Davis, Ann Arbor Huron
2018 – Meg Seng, Ann Arbor Greenhills
PHOTO: Adrian Madison athletic director Kris Isom, right, presents the Division 8 football championship trophy to Reading coach Rick Bailey in November at Ford Field.
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.
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.