A recent graduate from Ovid-Elsie High School named Chris Fowler started classes this fall at Michigan State University, his days representing the Marauders on the basketball court, football field and golf course now memories as he starts the next chapter of his young adult life.
But his story also will remain a reminder as his high school’s athletic department prepares each year to keep its athletes as safe as possible.
Three years ago next month, Fowler collapsed on the football practice field in cardiac arrest. The then-sophomore was brought back to life by two of his coaches, who revived him with CPR and an AED machine.
There’s no need for athletic director Soni Latz to recount the events of that day when explaining the importance of being ready to respond to a medical crisis – her coaches are well aware of why Fowler survived and understand completely why they too must be prepared.
“Everyone is very aware of what happened and the importance of being trained and knowing what to do, and actually feeling comfortable to step in and administer CPR when needed,” Latz said. “You can feel it’s never going to happen to you, but once it has, it makes you more aware and conscientious to be prepared.”
But Fowler’s story is worth noting on a larger level as varsity coaches at all MHSAA member schools are required this year for the first time to become certified in CPR, and as the largest classes in Coaches Advancement Program history begin course work that includes up to four modules designed to make them aware of health and safety situations that may arise at their schools as well.
The CPR requirement is the most recent addition to an MHSAA thrust toward raising expectations for coaches’ preparedness. The first action of this effort required all assistant and subvarsity coaches at the high school level to complete the same rules and risk minimization meeting requirement as high school varsity head coaches beginning with the 2014-15 school year.
The next action, following the CPR mandate, will require all persons hired as a high school varsity head coach for the first time at an MHSAA member school after July 31, 2016, to have completed the MHSAA’s Coaches Advancement Program Level 1 or Level 2.
In addition, MHSAA member schools this summer received the “Anyone can Save a Life” program, an emergency action plan curriculum designed by the Minnesota State High School League to help teams – guided by their coaches – create procedures for working together during medical emergencies.
“Coaches get asked to do a lot, and even if a school has an athletic trainer or some other health care professional, that person can’t be everywhere all the time. Coaches often are called upon to be prepared for (medical) situations,” said Gayle Thompson, an adjunct assistant professor at Albion College who formerly directed the athletic training program at Western Michigan University and continues to teach CAP sports medicine modules.
“The more (coaches) can learn to handle the situations that can inevitably arise, the better off they’re going to feel in those situations and the better care they’ll be able to offer their athletes. It’s proven that the faster athletes are able to get care, the quicker they’re able to come back to play.”
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep – which has sent a number of coaches through the CAP program – began a focus on heart safety about five years ago after a student-athlete was diagnosed with a heart issue that allowed her to continue to play volleyball and softball, but not basketball. Athletic director Betty Wroubel said that prior to the student’s diagnosis, the school did provide training in CPR, AED use and artificial respiration; however, that situation put coaches and administrators further on the alert.
Her school offers CPR training also to subvarsity and middle school coaches, using a combination of video instruction from the American Red Cross and in-person guidance by members of the school community who are certified to teach those skills. Students at the school also have received training – and it paid off a few years ago when one of them gave CPR to a baby who had stopped breathing at a local shopping mall.
Portage Central scheduled two sessions this fall for its coaches to receive not only CPR certification, but AED training as well. Central was fortunate to have an American Red Cross first-aid trainer in house, teacher Rachel Flachs, who also is close to the athletic side as the girls swimming and diving coach at Mattawan High School.
Central athletic director Joe Wallace said the training was offered not just to varsity head coaches, but every head coach on every level of the program so that “at least we know that at every given practice, every game, we’d have someone recently trained,” he said.
And he was proud of how his coaches immersed themselves in the subject matter.
“They were putting themselves in scenarios to see how it related to their own sports and asking really great questions,” Wallace said. “It was thought provoking.”
The CAP sports medicine modules are designed to do the same as coaches consider the medical situations they could face. They aren’t designed as “medical training,” said Tony Moreno, a professor of kinesiology at Eastern Michigan University and teacher of all four CAP sports medicine modules. Rather, attendees receive an awareness and basic education on common injuries, injury mechanisms and prevention, and how to create an action plan in the event of an injury incident.
The CAP program touches on a variety of safety topics in several of the available seven levels of coach education.
CAP 1 – which is part of the mandate for new coaches beginning next school year – includes “Sports Medicine and First Aid.” Cap 4 has modules titled “Understanding Athlete Development” and “Strength and Conditioning: Designing Your Program.” CAP 5 includes the session, “Peak Health and Performance.” Attendees also have the option of receiving CPR and AED training as an addition to some courses.
With a quick Internet search, coaches have no trouble finding a variety of resources on sports medicine, performance enhancement, nutrition and healthy living regarding young athletes. “However, some of these sources are more credible and scientifically-based in comparison to others,” Moreno said. “CAP strives on an annual basis to continue to update and improve the quality and credibility of this information and in a face-to-face manner where coaches have the opportunity to ask questions about their experiences and specific programs.”
“Having the CAP requirement will only make them better informed. Many have had this kind of information before, but there’s always something new coming,” Thompson added. “I think we do a good job, not of trying to tell them they were wrong, but maybe taking what they’ve known a step further and making them better prepared – empowering them to do their best.”
Wroubel may understand more than most athletic directors the growing list of tasks coaches are asked to accomplish; she’s also one of the winningest volleyball and softball coaches in MHSAA history and continues to guide both Fighting Irish programs.
But she and Wallace both said the CPR mandate isn’t considered another box to check on a to-do list; there’s enthusiasm because of its importance and the opportunity to carry those skills into other areas of community life as well.
Wroubel has served as a coach since 1975 and said this renewed emphasis on coaches having knowledge of sports medicine actually is a return to how things were when she started. Back then, coaches were responsible for being that first line of medical know-how, from taping ankles to providing ice and evaluating when their athletes should make a trip to the doctor’s office.
“When I first started coaching, we didn’t have sports medicine people, trainers, or team doctors other than for football. You did everything yourself,” Wroubel said. “I think everybody got away from that, but I think it’s coming back because a trainer can’t be everywhere.
“It’s healthy and it’s good for kids. … The more of us with emergency skills, the better we’re able to serve our community.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Portage Central coaches receive CPR training earlier this fall. (Middle) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep coaches practice during AED training. (Photos courtesy of school athletic departments.)
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.)