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.
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.”