By John E. “Jack” Roberts
MHSAA Executive Director
During the past year I have had some interesting speaking engagements that took me to some other states and even to a far-away nation; but the two speaking assignments I have every year that I look forward to the most and work on the hardest are here in Michigan – at the large mid-winter conference and smaller mid-summer workshop for athletic directors.
After more than a quarter century of these two-a-year addresses, I wouldn’t be surprised if the audience is tiring of listening to me; but I have not tired of preparing to do my best for them ... which is a function of my great respect for them.
Athletic directors serve school sports where the rubber meets the road; and the road is routinely rough.
Athletic directors operate where policy and people meet – in fact, where they often collide.
Athletic directors are called on to administer rules and apply penalties. They are expected to enforce codes of conduct and the consequences for violations.
Athletic directors are told they must uphold standards – attendance, academic, behavioral. And when they do what they’ve been asked to do, and sometimes have done at great cost personally, athletic directors are subjected to criticism by students and parents and, too frequently, receive less than full backing by their superiors and school boards.
Because I know this, I am humbled to be in their company, much less allowed to address them.
On just such an occasion, March 16, 2008, this is how I described my role, and my great respect for the interscholastic athletic administrators of this state:
“Sometimes after I hear a song over and over, and I begin to really listen to the words, I might write those words down. Especially if it’s a song by Springsteen or John Fogerty or Jackson Browne.
“But after I do this, and I read the words on paper or even recite the words aloud, I’m always disappointed. The words, without the music, lose something. The lyrics are neither as moving nor as powerful without the melody.
“On occasion I have been complimented for my words about educational athletics, but I’ve come to appreciate that without the music, my words don’t work. And I’ve come to appreciate that you folks provide the music.
“Sometimes I may be the words of school sports in Michigan, but all the time you are the music of school sports in Michigan. You make the words meaningful, you make the words memorable, you make the words powerful, you make the words really happen. I don’t, and I get that."
During the summer, Second Half will publish a series of features describing how athletic directors deliver daily all over the state. Among those who will be featured are pictured above, clockwise from top left: Detroit Cass Tech's Edward Tomlin, Cedar Springs' Autumn Mattson, Croswell-Lexington's Rick Jakacki and Houghton Lake's Maureen Whidden.
A first-of-its-kind mentorship program is greeting more than 100 first-time high school athletic directors who are officially beginning their tenures at Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools with the start of the 2023-24 school year.
The “AD Connection Program” has matched those first-year high school athletic directors with one of eight mentors who have recently retired from the field and will now provide assistance as those new administrators transition to this essential role in school sports.
A total of 102 first-year high school athletic directors are beginning at MHSAA schools, meaning a new athletic administrator will be taking over at nearly 14 percent of the 750 member high schools across the state. Athletic director turnover at MHSAA high schools has reached 10 percent or more annually over the last few years, and it’s hoped that this additional mentorship will support athletic directors adjusting to the high pace and responsibilities of the position for the first time.
The AD Connection Program will build on training received at the required in-service program all new athletic directors must attend each fall. There is also a strong connection to programming from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA), the professional development organization for the state’s athletic administrators.
"When you crystalize it, the AD Connection Program is an attempt for us to give a true year-long in-service to new athletic directors with people who have done it,” said MHSAA Assistant Director Brad Bush, who is coordinating the program and joined the MHSAA staff in January after more than two decades as an athletic administrator at Chelsea High School. “This also connects new ADs with a larger professional group, and it will culminate in March at the annual MIAAA conference, where there will be several face-to-face meetings with all ADs.
“These mentors are meant to become that first-year AD’s go-to person.”
Mentors will conduct frequent meetings with their cohorts. They also will meet monthly (or more) with each first-time athletic director individually via zoom, and at least once during the academic year face-to-face at the mentee’s school.
The eight mentors, noting their most recent schools as an athletic director, are Chris Ervin (most recently at St. Johns), Brian Gordon (Royal Oak), Sean Jacques (Calumet), Tim Johnston (East Grand Rapids), Karen Leinaar (Frankfort), Scott Robertson (Grand Haven), Meg Seng (Ann Arbor Greenhills) and Wayne Welton (Chelsea). Leinaar also will serve as the AD Connection Program’s liaison to the MIAAA, which she serves as executive director.
High school practices at MHSAA member schools may begin today, Monday Aug. 7, for the nine fall sports for which the MHSAA sponsors a postseason tournament. The AD Connection Program was approved by the MHSAA Representative Council during its annual Winter Meeting on March 24.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.