No Place Like Home for Cedar Springs' AD

July 16, 2013

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

As half of the Superdome in New Orleans went dark early in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, Autumn Mattson had this thought go through her mind: things can happen even during events of that magnitude.

“I thought, ‘I guess some burnt popcorn setting off the smoke alarm at a basketball game isn’t the worst thing that can happen,’” said the seventh-year athletic director at Cedar Springs High School.

On this day in early February, it’s the OK Conference Competitive Cheer Meet scheduled for that evening which occupies much of her focus, another event in the winter sports season that can make the Red Hawks’ gym feel like her home.

Coordinating events like this one – and attempting to prepare for the unexpected – is one component of her job she previously had not given much thought.

“There were bound to be some oddities of being an athletic director that I never thought about,” said Mattson. “But the amount of work that goes into the actual setup for events is something I didn’t fully realize. From who’s taking tickets, to the cash box, concessions, locker rooms; it’s a lot to prepare for.”

In a position that calls for organizational skills and a high-energy personality, accessibility also helped her become a successful administrator in a short time.

“I’ve learned to become a very good listener. Heading into this job, I didn’t realize how essential it is to listen to people,” Mattson said. “I’ve gained a lot of perspective on the different passions people have and why they do things. And many times it just helps to know their voice will be heard.”

Mattson also can talk, particularly when it comes to her favorite subject: Red Hawks athletics, and the town of Cedar Springs in general. She belongs to the sixth generation of family in Cedar Springs, and says the city and its schools have always had a close-knit relationship.

That much is evident driving through the neighborhood near the high school, where street signs are painted Cedar Springs red. How many other towns across the state have residential street signs painted in school colors (the school long ago adopted the color of its “Red Flannel” heritage)?

“We’ve always been a close-knit community with so many good people looking out for each other, and so many groups pulling for each other here,” Mattson said. “I always dreamed of coming back here; it just happened sooner than I thought. When I got the job, I had to pinch myself.”

A 1997 Cedar Springs grad, Mattson just missed playing in the Red Hawks’ current facilities, as she was part of the last graduating class in the old building, Her prep career led to a basketball scholarship at Lake Superior State University, where she played from 1997-2001. When she returned, she had a new role in a new building, but made herself right at home.

In her initial position as athletic department secretary, Mattson had the good fortune of working for Pete Bush, now principal at Coopersville HS.

“He was a fabulous mentor who showed me the passion and desire it took to be an athletic director,” Mattson said. “He didn’t label me as a secretary, and sought my feedback and advice. Looking back, that was so instrumental; I probably wouldn’t have this job if he hadn’t told the administration to give me a chance.”

Mattson also served as the Red Hawks’ girls basketball coach until four years ago. That role also helped her prepare for administration.

“I sometimes struggled to understand why kids might not have the same passion that I did. I learned that some played for the competition, and some did it just to be part of a team.”

She now gets her fix of student interaction through the school’s Athletic Leadership Council, a group Mattson started in 2010 to unite students, staff and community members. It’s a unique representation of the entire athletic student body, which represents roughly half of the 950 students enrolled when multiple-sport athletes are counted. In many respects, Mattson feels like a coach – or mentor – to all of them.

“These kids all become part of the Red Hawk athletic family, and it’s overwhelming the amount of joy this job brings. I get goose bumps when I see kids have that ‘Aha’ moment when they get that payoff, and I know how much hard work they’ve put in,” she said.

A big factor in the success of any athletic director is having the support of one’s own family. Team Mattson – husband Scott, a former college tennis player and coach, along with sons Drew (9) and Evan (6) – is behind her 100 percent.

“We eat dinner in the office a lot,” said Mattson. “I am truly blessed to have a flexible family. We also try to keep a balance with the boys; we don’t force athletics down their throats. We take them to band concerts, plays and all of the different sports. They’ve grown up around a lot of awesome young adults. The kids are true Red Hawk fans.”

A seventh generation of Mattson’s family appears set for the land of red street signs.

PHOTO: Cedar Springs athletic director Autumn Mattson stands in his school's gymnasium. She returned to her alma mater after a college basketball career at Lake Superior State.

This is the fifth 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.