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.

2023 Forsythe Award Celebrates Leinaar's 40 Years Dedicated to School Sports

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.

Leinaar accepts the MHSAA's Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998. 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.