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.)
Lowell’s Deanne Crowley, Owosso’s Dallas Lintner and Fenton’s Mitch Smelis all have provided more than two decades of service to Michigan educational athletics, Crowley as a highly-regarded coach and administrator, Lintner also as an administrator and educational leader and Smelis as an athletic trainer and prominent voice in the sports medicine community especially in its service to school sports.
To recognize their significant and continued contributions to educational athletics, Crowley, Lintner and Smelis have been named recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Allen W. Bush Award for 2022.
Al Bush served as executive director of the MHSAA for 10 years. The award honors individuals for past and continuing service to school athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. The award was developed to bring recognition to people who are giving and serving without a lot of attention. This is the 31st year of the award, with selections made by the MHSAA's Representative Council.
Crowley began her coaching career at Lake Odessa Lakewood in 1987 with subvarsity basketball, and she took over Lowell’s girls varsity program in 2000 after previously beginning her teaching career there in 1998. She remained the Red Arrows’ coach through 2006, that season leading her team to the Class A Semifinals – and she also was named Class A Coach of Year in 2004 by The Associated Press. Crowley became an assistant principal at Lowell in 2010 and the high school’s athletic director in 2013.
She earned her certified athletic administrator designation from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) in 2018 and was named Region 4 Athletic Director of the Year this past school year by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Previously, she was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Michigan Wrestling Association for the 2018-19 school year and by the West Michigan Officials Association in 2021. Crowley also is a significant contributor to Lowell’s nationally-recognized Pink Arrow Pride program that raises funds annually for cancer awareness, education and support within the Lowell community; she organizes and coordinates the education program, which among other goals provides scholarships for Lowell graduates pursuing careers in medicine. She also was a co-founder in 2000 of the Lady Arrows Varsity Club, which provides leadership training for female student-athletes who have earned a varsity letter.
Crowley graduated from Lakewood High School in 1983 and earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Western Michigan University in 1997 and a master’s in educational administration from Michigan State University in 2002.
“I have known Dee for over 20 years, and she has always been incredibly dedicated to finding opportunities for all students, especially female student-athletes,” Uyl said. “Her years as a coach and administrator have shown a solid record of finding ways for kids to compete.”
Lintner is returning to Owosso High School as principal this fall after finishing the second half of 2021-22 as interim athletic director at Fenton High School. He first joined the staff at Owosso as a teacher in 2001-02, went to Linden as athletic director for two years beginning with fall of 2008, then returned to Owosso as athletic director and assistant principal from 2010 through the 2020-21 school year. He served as principal at Owosso Lincoln High School last school year until leaving for Fenton.
Education has been a focus of Lintner’s work, and he received a doctorate in educational leadership from University of Michigan-Flint in 2017. He has a certified master athletic administrator designation and has served as a leadership training instructor for the NIAAA since 2015. He also has served as a facilitator for the Love and Logic parenting program.
Lintner has been an active participant with the MIAAA as well, serving as its constitution committee chairperson since 2009. He was a member of the executive board from 2015-20, including serving as president during the 2018-19 school year. As athletic director, he was a frequent host of MHSAA postseason events and a contributor to various committees, and he previously was an MHSAA registered official for track & field and coach in multiple sports. Prior to earning his doctorate, Lintner graduated from Vassar High School in 1995, then earned a bachelor's degree in education from Saginaw Valley State University in 2000 and a master’s in athletic administration from Central Michigan University in 2005.
“Dallas has provided years of solid leadership in Owosso,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “This consistent approach has led to numerous improvements, and during his tenure as athletic director his school won its first state championship, with the softball program (in 2021).”
Smelis has served as an athletic trainer for 25 years with Fenton Area Public Schools, for the last decade through NovaCare Rehabilitation. He was named High School Athletic Trainer of the Year by the Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society (MATS) in 2017 and serves as co-chairperson of its Secondary School Committee.
Also a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association (GLATA), Smelis has become a key connection between the training community and MHSAA. He has contributed as a MATS liaison on multiple MHSAA sport committees, and serves on the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and as an instructor for the MHSAA’s Coaches Advancement Program (CAP). He also has presented at the MIAAA’s annual and summer conferences on a variety of physical health and safety and mental health topics.
Smelis graduated from Imlay City High School in 1991 and earned a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine from Central Michigan University in 1997. He is a certified American Heart Association instructor for CPR, first aid and basic life support and has served as lead instructor in CPR and first aid for Fenton’s coaches and staff.
“Mitch has been incredibly dedicated to keeping kids safe while playing all sports,” Uyl said. “He also has been responsible for further strengthening the good relationship between the MHSAA and Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society, and he continues to provide valuable insight as part of our coaches education efforts.”