Forsythe Honorees Give All to Educational Athletics

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

April 6, 2021

At one time during his four tenures as a Michigan high school athletic director, Leroy Hackley Jr. hosted MHSAA Finals in tennis and track & field and Districts in baseball, softball and soccer – all on the same day.

Another time, a neighboring athletic director hosting a Regional basketball game called because a dunk had just broken a backboard. An hour after Hackley took the call, the entire game had been moved to his school and play resumed.

Patti Tibaldi moved to Traverse City in 1995 already a high school and college basketball coaching legend and with district-wide administrative duties her next mission after also having served as a college assistant athletic director.

But with West High School set to open for the 1997-98 school year, and the most experienced applicant for the girls basketball varsity job having no more than seventh-grade experience, she stepped in again to build another program and make sure that generation of students received a great experience as well.

For nearly the entirety of their careers, and in multiple roles, Hackley and Tibaldi have been immersed in improving educational athletics. To celebrate their continued dedication and contributions over the years, they have been named honorees for the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Charles E. Forsythe Award for 2021.

The annual award is in its 44th 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.

Tibaldi spent 40 years in educational athletics at Comstock Park, Grand Rapids West Catholic and Traverse City West and also Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, serving as a coach, athletic director and physical education specialist. Hackley has spent the last 22 years of more than 40 in sports as an athletic director at Byron Center, Jenison, Grant and currently Muskegon Orchard View, as well as serving as an MHSAA-registered game official for 37 years. Both are recognized statewide among the best in their various fields.

“Patti Tibaldi has given more to athletics in our state at the small college and high school levels than perhaps anyone over the last 40 years,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “She was a pioneer in small-school college basketball at Aquinas College, and my wife Marcy played against her there, and 30 years ago you could see that passion for women's sports that was unmatched. During her time at Traverse City West, her passion for kids was unchanged, and most of her students had no idea she had been that pioneer. She was a trailblazer for women in leadership positions in coaching and administration.

“Leroy and I were first-year athletic directors together in the same conference in 1999, and it's been a pleasure to watch him grow into one of the most respected voices over the last 22 years,” Uyl said. “At its core, athletics is a people business, and Leroy is all about those relationships. He's a guy who genuinely enjoys going to work every day.

Hackley has served as an athletic director first at Byron Center for five years, then Jenison for seven, Grant for three and Muskegon Orchard View for the last seven. Before those stops he served as director of health, recreation & wellness at Grand Valley State University for 14 years after serving as assistant director of recreation/intramurals for four years at Eastern Michigan University. His first administrative experience came while as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa serving as supervisor of officials for the recreational services department. He’s also served as an adjunct professor in physical education at GVSU, Aquinas College and Muskegon Community College.

As well as hosting numerous postseason events, Hackley has served on eight MHSAA committees over the years and four years on its Representative Council. He’s been a registered MHSAA official in boys and girls basketball, softball, baseball, swimming & diving, volleyball, cross country and track & field over 37 years and has officiated every collegiate level of women’s basketball including Division I in the Mid-American Conference. He has officiated three MHSAA Basketball Finals and NCAA Division III and NAIA national championship games.

Just this week he changed his spring break plans to step in and host a Boys Basketball Quarterfinal and serve as a manager at MHSAA Semifinals on Wednesday and Thursday at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.

“I’ve always wanted to step in because I know what it’s like when you need help. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like to say no. I try to find a way to lend a hand wherever I can,” Hackley said. “I’ve always enjoyed sports; all my free times has been spent watching sports or playing sports, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wife who enjoys watching sports. Pretty much my whole live has been centered around recreation and athletics. Coming from a big family (as one of 13 children), that’s one of the things we always did.”

Tibaldi spent 40 years in education and athletics at the high school and college levels, beginning first at Comstock Park from 1973-75 before spending the next six years at Grand Rapids West Catholic where she led the girls basketball team to the Class B championship in 1979 and the softball team to four league titles.

Simultaneously for the final three years at West Catholic, Tibaldi also served as women’s basketball coach, then also softball coach at Aquinas College, where she also became assistant athletic director in 1981. While at Aquinas she led the Saints to a 340-136 record on the court and the National Catholic Basketball Championship in 1984.

Tibaldi then moved to Traverse City Area Public Schools, first as the district’s K-12 physical education coordinator but eventually in multiple physical education specialist roles. She also was named the first varsity girls basketball coach at the new Traverse City West High School from 1997-2011 and served as West’s athletic director from 2004 until retiring in December 2014. As coach, she led the Titans to multiple league and District championships and the final few hundred wins of more than 800 total on high school and college basketball courts.

She’s also played a prevalent role in helping make MHSAA policy over her decades. She’s served on a variety of MHSAA committees, including the Basketball Committee, and served in multiple roles with the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan including as president. She also served at the collegiate level on the NAIA Executive Committee, the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) Executive Council and as part of NAIA Women in Sports Leadership program and the Michigan Women’s Foundation Tribute to Women Athletes Committee.

Tibaldi has received various honors for her coaching and administrative contributions, including the MHSAA’s Women In Sports Leadership Award in 2011. She was The Associated Press’ Class B Coach of the Year in 1981 and twice earned special mention, and she’s a member of the BCAM Hall of Fame. She also was named state Coach of the Year for basketball by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in 2004, and named Regional Athletic Director of the Year by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) in 2011. She also was named BCAM’s College Coach of the Year in 1988 and is a member of the NAIA’s National Coaches Hall of Fame. She earned multiple NAIA District Coach of the Year awards for both basketball and softball and was the WHAC Coach of the Year four times.

“To me, teaching life lessons is everything,” Tibaldi said. “I had great kids, and it makes me proud to see where they’re at – the things they’re doing are mind-boggling, and it makes me really proud. The thing they all tell me is they learned what hard work was, about teamwork and persistence, and resilience. That to me is what’s valuable.”

Tibaldi also co-authored and was granted a $1 million federal grant as part of the Every Step Counts program to provide the Traverse City community with funds to fight obesity, and wrote and coordinated a USDA-funded Michigan Fitness Foundation grant for promotion of healthy school environments in five high-needs schools. She’s been an active volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club and presented at the annual Girl-Tech Conference to encourage young women to choose non-traditional careers. She continues to do work with the Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Tibaldi is a graduate of the former Redford St. Mary’s High School in Detroit and earned her bachelor’s degrees in English and physical education from Aquinas in 1973. She was named Aquinas’ Outstanding Alumni of the Year in 1995 and is a member of that school’s Hall of Fame as well as Grand Rapids West Catholic’s  and the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame.

Hackley is a graduate of Culpeper County High School, located southwest of Washington, D.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in recreation administration from Bethany College in Kansas and his master’s in recreation education from Iowa.

A member of the West Michigan Officials Association (WMOA) and National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), Hackley was co-founder and has been co-director of the Michigan Intramural and Recreation Sports Association (MIRSA) basketball officials camp and served on six committees as part of the National Intramural and Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA). He also was appointed to the Board of Directors of the West Michigan Sports Commission.

He’s also volunteered with Michigan Special Olympics, Georgetown Little League, National Kidney Foundation and Habitat for Humanity, served three years on the Board of Directors for the Downtown Metro YMCA in Grand Rapids and nine years on the Board of Directors at Bethany College.

Hackley was named WMOA Athletic Director of the Year in 2011 and an MIAAA Regional Athletic Director of the Year in 2018. He also has received MIRSA’s Tom Jones Service Award.

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

PHOTOS: Muskegon Orchard View athletic director Leroy Hackley Jr., left during his time at Jenison High, and retired Traverse City West athletic director and basketball coach Patti Tibaldi are the 2021 Charles E. Forsythe Award honorees. (Hackley photo by Rob Kaminski; Tibaldi photo courtesy of Traverse City Record-Eagle.)

Indispensable Only Begins to Describe Vicksburg Athletics 'MVP' VanderKamp

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

September 20, 2022

VICKSBURG — Reading, traveling, enjoying time with family and sitting by the pool are all on Rhonda VanderKamp’s retirement list.

Southwest CorridorBut before she embarks on that journey in June, she is finishing her 21st year as Vicksburg High School athletic secretary.

One person not looking forward to that June day is Vicksburg athletic director Mike Roy.

“I keep waking up every day coming to work, and maybe she’ll tell me I’m going to do one more (year),” Roy said.

“Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Tom Brady retires, they’re going to dearly miss him. That’s the best analogy I can give; that’s how important she is to the team we have here.”

Roy should know.

The two have worked together all 21 years, forming a work family that’s become an anomaly in the world of high school athletics.

Her own family is the reason VanderKamp landed at Vicksburg.

She left her job at Heco, formerly Hatfield Electric, in Kalamazoo, after 17 years because “I wanted to be on the same schedule as what my kids were,” she said. “This allowed me to have my summers off with them and Christmas and spring breaks. It’s been just fantastic.

VanderKamp has worked all 21 years alongside athletic director Michael Roy.“Both of them were athletes in school. My daughter was in middle school when I started. I think it was good for them to have me here when they were in high school.”

VanderKamp and Roy were hired into the athletic department within a month of each other.

She realizes how unusual their tenure is when she attends conferences.

“They’ll ask you to stand up, introduce yourself and say what school you’re from, how many years you’ve been an athletic secretary and how many athletic directors you’ve been through,” she said.

“It’s always such pride for me to say I’ve been an athletic secretary ‘X’ amount of years and I’ve only had one athletic director. That’s just not heard of these days.”

Roy, always quick with a quip, looked back at their first year working together.

“I told her from Day One: I’m like a new husband. You train me the way you need me to be,” he laughed.

He then got serious: “She’s the MVP. There’s so much stuff that gets done in this office behind the scenes, and it’s all because of Rhonda VanderKamp.”

Roy is not the only one calling VanderKamp “MVP.”

Seven-year wrestling coach Jeff Mohney echoes that sentiment, noting that his wrestlers call her Mrs. Rhonda or Mrs. V.

“She has never told me ‘no, I don’t have time for that,’” he said. “She handles everything from contracts, referee fees, cancelations, and student-athlete eligibility. She knows every student at Vicksburg and most of their parents.

“What separates her from others is her commitment to the coaching staff and the student-athlete. She is family-driven and lets us be a part of that. She shares stories of her family and asks about ours as well.”

Mohney said one portion of their tenures together stands out in his mind.

“Her commitment to us was not more evident than when masks were required at school,” he said. “We didn’t see her face for over a year. She was trying to keep her families safe to the best of her ability.

The VanderKamp family, from left: son Robert VanderKamp, daughter-in-law Shelby VanderKamp, son-in-law Michael Prior, granddaughter Presley Prior, daughter Andrea Prior, Rhonda VanderKamp, husband Gerrit VanderKamp and father Bob Rainwater. “Now the highlight of my day is seeing Mrs. Rhonda’s smile. Vicksburg wrestling would not be relevant without Mrs. Rhonda’s commitment to us.”

One of VanderKamp’s proudest achievements during her 21 years was the addition of 10 varsity sports: hockey, equestrian plus boys and girls clay target, bowling, lacrosse and skiing.

In addition to her athletic secretary duties, she is also in charge of coordinating attendance and discipline.

“All the sick kids, the late kids, the kids who need to leave early all come through my office,” she said.

“Discipline also comes through my office, although I have help with that now.”

Her typical day begins about 7 a.m., and she is usually greeted by the ringing of phones.

“The kids are coming in with notes they have to get out early, parents are calling for sick children, I’m listening to (phone) messages,” she said.

“Once school starts, it’s constant activity. I always make sure I confirm my refs scheduled for that day, make sure my rosters are ready to go.

“Mike always double checks transportation. It’s a cycle. You just know what needs to be done, and you go with it.”

She said the job has also become a lot busier with the additional sports including “entering every athlete into the athletic software, making sure they’re all getting their awards, keeping on top of coaches when they add athletes, submitting pictures once I receive them onto our website and to boosters so we can print a booklet for each season.”

Time to travel abroad

The travel part of her retirement will include a trip to the Netherlands to visit Suzan Hauwert, who lived with the VanderKamps during the 2001 school year, and to Germany to visit Annika Busch, who lived with the family in 2003. Both were exchange students.

In addition, “My husband spoke Dutch before he spoke English, so his parents came right over on the boat,” the soft-spoken VanderKamp said.

Her husband, Gerrit, was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany, so they also plan to visit some of his old bases.

While VanderKamp has never visited Europe, both exchange “daughters” have been back to Vicksburg several times to visit.

Rhonda VanderKamp has welcomed thousands of students during her time as athletic and attendance secretary. “Both were in my daughter’s wedding five years ago,” she said. “They’ll join us on vacations or come to visit. It’s such an intense bond we share with them.”

She also is looking forward to spending more time with 2-year-old granddaughter Presley, who lives in Portage with parents Andrea (VanderKamp) and Michael Prior.

Son Robert, and his wife, Shelby, live in Kalamazoo.

While she expects to leave her job in June, she said she does not need a lot of praise or attention – but deservingly is receiving it.

One of those praising her is Vicksburg’s 16-year volleyball coach Katrina Miller.

“Rhonda is a miracle worker” Miller said. “I swear she can do it all!

“As far as impacting my sport, it’s always nice for me to know that things are in order with my team and their paperwork and information.

“I have emailed her at odd hours looking for copies of physical forms or eligibility for tryouts and she is always right on it. She is going to be very missed, but we are happy that she will be able to have some time with herself and with her family.”

While her daily job may be over in June, VanderKamp and the Bulldogs will see each other again.

“I love the kids, I love my co-workers,” VanderKamp said. “I plan to sub if they need me in the office, so it’s not really goodbye. It’s ‘See you around.’”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Rhonda VanderKamp sits at her desk as she begins her 21st year in the Vicksburg athletic department. (2) VanderKamp has worked all 21 years alongside athletic director Michael Roy. (3) The VanderKamp family, from left: son Robert VanderKamp, daughter-in-law Shelby VanderKamp, son-in-law Michael Prior, granddaughter Presley Prior, daughter Andrea Prior, Rhonda VanderKamp, husband Gerrit VanderKamp and father Bob Rainwater. (4) Rhonda VanderKamp has welcomed thousands of students during her time as athletic and attendance secretary. (Top two and bottom photos by Pam Shebest; family photo courtesy of Rhonda VanderKamp.)