By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Gary Hice's first job in education was as a study hall monitor. But he also got a chance to coach that year at Charlevoix, and that made all the difference.
"I don't know why I came to love it," Hice said of a career in high school athletics that didn't come to an end until nearly 40 years later. "That first job I had as study hall supervisor was not much fun. But I enjoyed working with kids ... and that spurred me to get into education. I think that's the most awesome animal on the face of the Earth, the high school student."
Gina Mazzolini, meanwhile, was a former high school and college star who came off the court as an athlete but returned almost immediately as a coach before rising to administrator with influence at the statewide and national levels – and a similar passion for giving back to the high school game.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve worked in this position because I loved doing it,” Mazzolini said. “I enjoyed working with the adult coaches and adult officials, and then the student-athletes."
Both have served Michigan high school student-athletes for more than 30 years in ways that will continue to impact schools and athletes for years to come.
In recognition of their efforts, they have been named the 2016 recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Charles E. Forsythe Award.
The annual award is in its 39th 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 contribution to the interscholastic athletics community. Hice and Mazzolini will receive their honors during the break after the first quarter of the MHSAA Class A Boys Basketball Final on March 26 at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing.
Hice retired in 2014 after 30 years as Petoskey’s athletic director overseeing one of the most successful programs in northern Michigan that regularly produced contenders for championships statewide. Under his leadership, Petoskey added five sports, revamped its facilities and became a founding member of the Big North Conference after Hice contributed to its creation.
Mazzolini has served the MHSAA since 1993 and is the administrator for girls volleyball, swimming and diving, alpine skiing and tennis. She also handles the sanctioning of out-of-state competitions and serves as the MHSAA’s point person on foreign exchange and international student issues. Mazzolini will receive a Citation from the National Federation of State High School Associations this summer and was the 2010 recipient of the MHSAA’s Women in Sports Leadership Award.
“Gary Hice and Gina Mazzolini have contributed to Michigan high school athletics on a variety of levels providing vision, leadership and dedication,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “Gary Hice served as a leader of leaders in northern Michigan and provided an example to be followed statewide, while Gina Mazzolini has shaped rules and policies that have impacted programs not only in our state, but nationally as well. We’re proud to honor Gary Hice and Gina Mazzolini with Forsythe Awards.”
After his year at Charlevoix, Hice taught social studies and physical education and coached for one year at Petoskey before spending five years as director of parks and recreation and harbormaster for the City of Petoskey. He returned to the high school as athletic director in 1984.
During his tenure, Petoskey added girls golf, girls soccer, girls bowling, boys bowling and ice hockey programs. Petoskey teams won MHSAA Finals championships in boys skiing, girls skiing, wrestling, boys soccer and boys tennis, and the girls cross country and track and field teams were among those that earned runner-up finishes. The Petoskey girls ski team won four straight titles from 1991-94, and the boys ski team started a championship streak that last month reached six straight seasons. Hice also led the construction in 2000 of a $6-million gymnasium, weight room, wrestling practice area and indoor track at Petoskey High School, and initiated the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Hice is a member of both the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. He was named state Athletic Director of the Year by the MIAAA in 2011 after receiving its George Lovich Award of Merit in 2008. He also was honored with the MHSAA’s Allen W. Bush Award in 2002 for his often-unseen contributions to high school athletics.
“When you’re in the heat of the battle, you don’t think on those terms,” Hice said of his many contributions and their lasting effects locally and beyond. “But toward the end of my career, I would relish the times when I could help young ADs, new ADs, people who didn’t have a lot of experience. In fact, I miss that today.”
Hice is a longtime member of Kiwanis Clubs, first of Petoskey and currently of Little Traverse Bay, and also has served with the Petoskey Education Foundation, Jeffrey P. Bodzick Memorial Scholarship Foundation and Beyond the Scoreboard initiative that promotes positive character and sportsmanship in northern Michigan’s youth and interscholastic athletics.
After standout basketball and volleyball careers at St. Johns High School and Central Michigan University, Mazzolini taught and coached multiple sports during the 1979-80 school year at Ovid-Elsie High School. She then spent two years teaching and serving as an assistant volleyball coach at Michigan State University, where she also earned her master’s degree in physical education. Mazzolini then left to teach and serve as assistant volleyball coach and interim women’s Sports Information Director at the University of Texas.
In 1982, Mazzolini became an activities director with the University Interscholastic League, the service organization to high school activities in Texas. She became an assistant athletic director at the UIL in 1988, and five years later she returned to Michigan as a member of the MHSAA staff.
"To be recognized by my peers for this award … I’m appreciative and humbled," Mazzolini said. "You do those things because you enjoy them.”
In addition to her work at the MHSAA, Mazzolini has provided a long list of contributions at the national level. She has served as the NFHS representative on the board for the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, which identifies, promotes and supports international youth exchange programs, and has sat on several CSIET committees. She’s currently serving on the NFHS Annual Meeting Planning Committee and also has served on NFHS rules committees for soccer, swimming and diving, and volleyball (chairing that sport’s rules committee from 2004-08), and on NFHS advisory committees for athletic directors and sports medicine.
She recently was inducted into the Michigan High School Ski Coaches Association Hall of Fame and has served as a voter for the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame.
Mazzolini graduated from St. Johns High School in 1974 after an accomplished career that included leading the Redwings to a District title in the first MHSAA Girls Basketball Tournament in 1973. She went on to star in both basketball and volleyball at CMU; she graduated in 1978 as the leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker in CMU history and still ranks among the Chippewas’ leaders in multiple statistical categories. She was inducted into the CMU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.
Hice graduated from Ann Arbor Huron High School in 1970. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Eastern Michigan University in 1974 and his master’s at CMU in 1989, and received Certified Athletic Administrator certification from the NIAAA in 1994.
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
PHOTO: From left, Gina Mazzolini and Gary Hice receive Forsythe Awards on March 26 from Benton Harbor athletic director Fred Smith.
VICKSBURG — Reading, traveling, enjoying time with family and sitting by the pool are all on Rhonda VanderKamp’s retirement list.
But 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.
“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.
“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.
“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 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 email@example.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.)