By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
KINGSFORD – A wide variety of animals exist as high school mascots in Michigan, ranging from Bison to Gators, to Eagles and Hawks and to Tigers and Panthers.
You can also watch a variety of fighters prowl the sidelines, from Patriots to Warriors, Titans to Swordsmen, to Nimrods and Roughriders, Crusaders and Fighting Irish, and Knights and Trojans and Gladiators.
There are also unusual mascots like Dux and Chix, Wykons and Hematites, Pharaohs and Technicians, Navigators and Gryphons, Achievers and Dreadnaughts, Saddlelites and Railsplitters, Battling Bathers and Flying Gs, Griffons and Shorians.
But Kingsford is among the few schools with a genuine vehicle for a mascot, which maybe could be used to transport any of these others to the playing field.
The Flivvers are the mascot of the Upper Peninsula school on the northern border of Wisconsin, just blocks from the neighboring Mountaineers of Iron Mountain. Two downstate schools – Boyne City and Perry – have Ramblers as their mascot in honor of the old Nash car.
"This was one of the best days I've had at Kingsford," Flivvers' athletic director Al Unger said of having a restored 1923 Ford Model T brought into the middle school building by the main entrance in September 2017.
The idea began to chug along two years ago when a handful of people were chatting about a school mascot. Unger said the group thought "how cool it would be to have a real-deal mascot" for the school.
The Berlinski/Hosking family happened to have an old Model T and were willing to donate it to the school. Unger's uncle, Clyde Unger of nearby Spread Eagle, Wis., was asked to use his restoration and rebuilding skills to renovate the car. He spent about 1,200 hours tearing it down and putting everything back together.
"The car really came back together," said Al Unger.
The Flivvers have been Kingsford's nickname since the early 1930s, coming from the old Ford Motor Co. plant in the area. The plant, which opened in 1925 and once employed 7,000 people, built cars and later used leftover wood to make Kingsford charcoal barbecue briquettes.
Al Unger said an Iron Mountain Daily News sportswriter during that time began using Fords as the school nickname, and it soon adjusted to Flivvers, or Flivs – a nickname for the old Model T vehicles.
Developing school spirit was one of the goals the group talked about when it discussed finding an old vehicle, Unger said.
The car's renovation included a new paint job, breaking from the standard Henry Ford refrain of all black to a spiffy blue to match the maize and royal blue school colors. "There have been a lot of positive reviews," said the Kingsford athletic director.
The car was unveiled to the students and some community members at the adjoining football field/track, perhaps the first time all of the students in the three buildings were released for a specific event, Unger said.
It was then shown to the public when the Flivvers hosted the Escanaba Eskymos for the regular-season finale football game in October. "It was awesome," Unger said of the night that included coverage from the Upper Peninsula's three television stations.
The vehicle now is displayed in a three-sided glass enclosure with a gate. Unger said plans are in the works to place the vehicle in the community’s July 4 parade "and we will consider rolling it out for special occasions.
"You can't help but walk by and stare at it and feel a sense of pride," he said.
Unger said 95 percent of the project was donated. "We spent a few dollars on the enclosure," adding everyone "has been ecstatic" about the unique mascot.
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTOS: (Top) The Flivver, on display at the Kingsford middle school building. (Middle) Kingsford’s restored Model T, a 1923 “Flivver.” (Photos courtesy of the Kingsford athletic department.)
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.)