Former Sportswriter Knows a Good Story

July 22, 2013

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

It’s not exactly “Man Bites Dog,” the old newspaper standard by which headline stories were determined.

But the role reversal that Rick Jakacki and Kevin Miller have experienced certainly makes for interesting reading.

And Jakacki, who spent 20 years as a sportswriter/editor with the Port Huron Times Herald, knows a good story.

After Miller, a former radio personality with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, moved to Michigan’s thumb to pursue a career in education, he yearned to keep his hand in athletics – so he began to work as a stringer on Friday nights covering prep football for the Times Herald.

It was a neat “hobby” for Miller. But for Jakacki, whose career was in print journalism, the steady hum of immediate, electronic mediums became increasingly difficult to ignore. Figuratively, the writing was on the wall.

“It’s always been said that you never treat anyone badly because you never know when it’ll bite you, or when someone can help you in the future,” Jakacki said.

“I saw the way the newspaper trend was going, and it was scary going to work. We were cutting back all the time, not covering as many events, not traveling as much, not filling people’s jobs, implementing furloughs. I always wanted to go out on my own terms, not have the paper tell me when to leave.”

Following the 2009-10 school year, the athletic director at one of the schools in the Times Herald coverage area announced he was leaving. John Knuth, the AD at Croswell-Lexington, was headed back to Marysville, where he’d built a prep volleyball power.

By then, Miller had become the superintendent at Cros-Lex, and had been submitting stories to Jakacki for years. Now, it was Miller’s turn to lend his newspaper “boss” a hand, one that Jakacki certainly had never bitten.

And so it was that Jakacki became an employee working for his former part-time employee.

He couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve never heard of a person going from sportswriter to athletic director, but talk about a smooth transition,” Jakacki said. “I’m working with all the same people I used to write about: ADs, students, coaches, officials. And now I’m at a school that plays the same teams I covered.”

The athletic office desk suits him just fine, and he’s easily shifted from story writer to storyteller. Coupled with his administrative duties, he’s become the Pioneers’ No. 1 cheerleader, lauding the exploits of the school’s 700-plus students, nearly 70 percent of whom participate in at least one extracurricular activity.

“We got a new gym and locker rooms in the fall of 2011, and a new training room and weight room this fall” Jakacki said, putting on his tour guide hat prior to a show-and-tell session. The new digs allow for increased MHSAA Tournament opportunities, and thus increased exposure for the school.

“The best atmosphere we’ve enjoyed since I began here was this fall’s MHSAA Volleyball Regional between Marysville and North Branch. It was electric; this place was packed,” he recalled.

It’s more than athletic events drawing people to Croswell-Lexington these days. Jakacki proclaims with equal enthusiasm that the school district recently ranked 20th among 560 in Michigan for academic achievement.

Extracurricular activity, including the Pioneer Activities Leadership Council, plays a vital role in the makeup of the student population.

“There are about 40 or 50 kids who meet with the principal and me on the second Friday of each month during the school year,” Jakacki said of the Council. “It’s after school, and they don’t get credit. But they show up to talk about various leadership ideas.”

If Jakacki sounds like a proud parent while extolling the virtues of his new workplace, well, that’s fine with him. The Pioneers’ student-athletes have become like family, adding to his own children: Liam (18), Cameron (14) and Zoe (10).

“It’s funny. Having three kids of my own, I got to watch them play a lot of sports,” Jakacki said. “After getting to know all these kids, it’s like watching my kids play. People sometimes ask, ‘How can you just go to a random baseball game?’ Well it’s like watching nine of my own kids. That’s something I didn’t expect when I took this job.”

So it is fitting that his office is across from the cafetorium, where traffic flow and student interaction is steady. And, now, so is the work.

“I was looking for job security, and I love dealing with kids and sports,” Jakacki said. “It was a perfect transition for me. Now I deal with them every day.

“What’s the old saying, as you get older don’t get a job, get something you love to do? That’s what I’ve done. If I work 12-hour days, I don’t mind because I love what I do.”

It’s a story the former sportswriter never tires of telling.

PHOTO: Croswell-Lexington athletic director Rick Jakacki stands in his school's gymnasium. He formerly covered the school as a reporter for the Port Huron Times Herald. 

This is the final installment of a series, "Career Paths," focusing on the unsung contributions of athletic directors. See below for earlier installments.

Longtime Taylor AD, Game Official Ristovski Chose Athletics as Way to Give Back

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

February 20, 2024

There is a basketball court 5,000 miles from Sterling Heights with “MHL” painted on the center court.

Greater DetroitIt’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.”

Loren Ristovski heads an all-family officiating crew with Lola and his brother Dean Ristovski.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.

The daughters’ initials “MHL” glow on the court the family funded in Macedonia.“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 DonnellyDoug 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.)