Jack Roberts, on Tom Rashid: One More Call

By John E. (Jack) Roberts
MHSAA Executive Director, 1986-2018

December 9, 2021

More than a decade ago, with his knowledge, I placed in my “Will & Instructions Upon Death” that Tom Rashid was to be the one and only person to speak at my funeral or memorial service. A short number of years later, Tom told me that I was to do the same for him. Obviously, we knew that we could not both keep our promise to the other. But I must say, if Tom does not actually show up for my funeral, that will be the first time he has not kept a promise to me.

I understand there will be a time in the future, when the weather warms and COVID wanes, when school administrators across Michigan can gather in force to show their respects to Tom, and when I will provide the eulogy that Tom asked of me. But Tom’s recent death reminds us how uncertain life can be and suggests that I say some things now, before it’s too late.

Tom was the unparalleled master of award presentations; and for more than a dozen years he wrote and delivered polished praise on award recipients at the annual conference of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. My tribute now isn’t an awards presentation or hall-of-fame induction, so I won’t recount the particulars of Tom’s career; but what you will see here is the importance of Tom’s life … the themes that distinguish him from any other person I’ve known.

Tom comes from a large, complicated and compassionate family of parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces who mourn his loss at levels few of us can fathom. Over the years, and for many years, he was the caretaker for several family members; and he was generous with all of them. My hope for each family member now – and for many days, weeks and months to come – is that you are at peace. Tom’s pain is over; and his place in eternity is secure. Tom purchased a reserved seat.

Tom often joked that his only good habit was prayer. That’s not really true, of course. But for as long as I’ve known Tom, he talked to God many times a day; and I’ve always had the feeling that he talked to God the same way he talked to us: bluntly, forcefully, passionately, honestly, loudly, making very plain what he had on his mind.

Tom was a rigorous practitioner of his devout Catholic faith; and, the God whom Tom believed in is a big God … the president, general manager and head coach of a huge, diverse team whose game plan is a large, loving Gospel of limitless parameters and possibilities. I have no doubt that, both in times of need and not, members of the Roberts family – including both my parents, my sister, my wife and our children and grandchildren – have been specific in his petitions to God. I have no doubt that Tom’s daily prayers included many of you, and your loved ones as well.

In addition to Tom’s immediate family is the even larger and even more complicated family Tom developed through a long, illustrious career in Michigan school sports administration: a full 25 years with the Archdiocese of Detroit, until 2003, when I invited him to join me at the MHSAA office in East Lansing.

During my 32 years as the executive director of the MHSAA, I never saw another like Tom … never, anywhere. He talked to anybody, anytime of the day or night, about any question or problem they might have. Usually, Tom didn’t need to give me notes reviewing his telephone conversations. From my adjacent office, and given his forceful voice, I could hear Tom’s every word, very clearly.

Tom had the ability to anticipate what I might need and take care of it without my asking. It is no exaggeration to say that Tom would do anything for me. For example, Tom’s reluctance to travel and his fear of flying are well known to many of you. I believe the one and only time that Tom flew in an airplane was in 2003, when I ordered him to fly to Texas so that he might receive the highest award of the National High School Coaches Association. He had never flown before; he has never flown since.

Most remarkable was not merely Tom’s unselfish, unlimited, legendary availability to athletic administrators at any hour of the day or night, nor his experienced, learned grasp of the subject matter in answering their calls. What was more remarkable was his effort to help school administrators through their hard times. On many occasions these callers had made an error of commission or omission. They had made a mistake or an oversight; and Tom was supremely compassionate in guiding them through the local fallout from disappointed athletes and disgruntled adults. Secure in himself and our mission to be servant-leaders, Tom very often shared or completely shouldered unjustified blame so others would not. He gave cover to countless local school administrators every year of his MHSAA career so that those administrators might survive and even thrive in their careers.

Among my remarkably loyal MHSAA staff, Tom still stands out. And he earned the enduring loyalty of those with whom he worked. I think especially of his successor at the Archdiocese of Detroit, Vic Michaels: I doubt that more than two days ever passed between their almost daily telephone conversations … usually in the morning … for the full 15 years that my office was next to Tom’s at the MHSAA. I have never, ever been witness to anything like that; and I know there is no one in our good work who misses our dear colleague more than Vic.

But most remarkable of all was Tom’s ability to turn an adversary into an ally. He could have a knock-down, drag-out argument with a person one day, and by the next day, and for years to come, that person was Tom’s greatest advocate and admirer.

Well … maybe second-greatest advocate and admirer. Because no one in athletic administration – no one – loved Tom more than I. And no one in our work told him this more than I did.

I have written often about my admiration and affection for Tom. I have spoken both publicly and privately of it, on many occasions. But let me say it one more time, here, as we celebrate his life, and mourn our loss …

Tom and I provide proof that opposites attract, and we tag-teamed MHSAA’s leadership. One of us was very outgoing and vocal, the other more reserved and reticent. One of us was loud, the other more subdued. One of us was more comfortable on the phone, the other with the pen. One of us had no idea what to do with apostrophes, while the other would put them in the correct places. One of us was more spontaneous and extemporaneous, the other a more detailed planner and measurer of consequences. One of us hated to travel, the other sent messages to him from distant oceans and continents every year on Christmas or New Year’s Day to thank him for his life and service. But in our hearts, where one’s core values are harbored, we were almost identical twins.

I doubt that any two people who were side-by-side in the workplace for 15 years expressed their gratitude for each other more than we did, nor any two co-workers who said “I love you” to one another as often as we did. We each felt in deep debt to the other for myriad gifts and gestures that improved our careers and our lives.

Over the years, Tom and I developed the strategy of making one more telephone call before we made a final decision in a difficult matter … making one more call that sometimes made a difference in the controversial decision we had to make or in how that decision was accepted by those it affected. Tom loved to be the one to make those calls. And, sometimes, that “one more call” made all the difference.

Throughout my adult life, whenever I’ve attended a funeral or memorial service, I’ve found myself asking what it is I should learn and try to emulate from the life of the deceased. If you should find your mind and heart doing anything like that now, may I suggest these two answers.

First, Tom’s life and death remind us that we should not delay a single day in telling those with whom we work that we appreciate them and are grateful for what they do. And, if it is true and you are able, say you love them. Tom did this more often than anyone I’ve known.

And the second message is this. Tom’s life stands for faithfulness … faithfulness to his God, faithfulness to his family, faithfulness to his colleagues and friends, and faithfulness to his work and the mission of not just amateur athletics, but particularly school-operated, educational athletics. His was a steadfast faithfulness, never-a-day-off faithfulness, you-come-first faithfulness. 

So Tom, my dear friend, once again I say, “I love you.”

And, “Rest in peace, Tom. God knows, you rarely rested in life.”

I would give anything for just one more call.

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

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.