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.
There is a basketball court 5,000 miles from Sterling Heights with “MHL” painted on the center court.
It’s not the name of a local basketball league in the village where it is located – Siricino, Macedonia. Instead, it stands for Madison, Haleigh and Lola, the three daughters of longtime Michigan basketball coach, referee and athletic director Loren Ristovski.
“My dad loved going back (to Macedonia),” said Madison Ristovski. “He’s probably gone every summer since about 2017. His whole family still lives there. He loved going and visiting and seeing everyone.
“It was always a goal of his to give back to where he came from. He and Mom donated to the village to build a soccer field and basketball court with lights and everything. It was a pretty big deal. It’s something he wanted to do for them back home. We were very proud he did that.”
Loren Ristovski, athletic director for Taylor schools, died earlier this month while on leave to have surgery on his foot. It was a shock to his family, friends, and the Taylor community.
“It was a heavy blow,” said Matt Joseph, girls basketball coach at Utica Ford and a longtime friend of the Ristovski family. “It was like getting kicked in the gut. Basketball was his passion. Next to his family, basketball was definitely No. 1. He loved the game and all the intricacies of it. He loved seeing kids excel.”
Ristovski emigrated from Macedonia to Michigan when he was 9. He went to high school at Hamtramck St. Florian, where he excelled at basketball. He went to Wayne State University to get a degree in criminal justice and had plans to become a lawyer.
Before he could take the Law School Admission Test, however, basketball came calling.
“He started coaching at Henry Ford High School and Fuhrmann Middle School,” Madison said. “Once he realized how much he enjoyed coaching, he decided to go into education. He stayed the entire time. He never went to law school.”
Loren Ristovski became the head coach at Harper Woods but gave that up when his daughters were ready to start playing in high school.
“He gave up coaching varsity at Harper Woods so he could be at every one of my games,” Madison said.
He also coached them as youngsters, often teaming with Joseph to coach an AAU team.
“I met him when Madison was 5,” Joseph said. “He and I decided to put our daughters in the same parks and recreation team, and next thing you know we were coaching AAU.”
With Ristovski’s tutoring, Madison, Haleigh, and Lola all excelled at the game, each playing Division I college basketball after standout careers at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. In 2012, Liggett reached the Class C Final with all three starting. They combined for 55 of Liggett’s 57 points in the championship game, with Madison scoring 42 after earlier that week receiving the Miss Basketball Award.
Lola and Haleigh played at the University of Detroit Mercy, and Madison played at the University of Michigan. Today, Haleigh lives on the west side of the state and plays recreational basketball. Lola is a referee in the Catholic High School League as well as for the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and also works area Division III college games.
Madison is a teacher and the varsity girls basketball coach at Sterling Heights Stevenson.
“He taught us the game when we were very, very young,” Madison said. “We grew up in the gym with him and watched him coach his team. He coached me my whole life. He was very instrumental – he taught us all those things you need to become an athlete, and more importantly the things you need to do to succeed in life.”
Her dad is the reason she became a coach.
“Watching my dad coach and seeing the impact he had on his high school athletes and even the kids in our church community – it inspired me to want to coach as well and give back like he did,” she said. “I watched him with my teammates and the impact he had on them. I thought it would be so cool if I could do the same for others.”
Loren Ristovski left a legacy at Taylor, too. School officials recounted several stories of how he balanced athletic budgets with the needs of student-athletes. He would lead fundraising efforts, created the Bitty Ball program for youth basketball players and cheerleaders and helped students become certified officials – and then would hire them to officiate games.
“He didn’t say no,” said Taylor boys basketball coach Chris Simons. “We made it work. We didn’t go out and ask people for a bunch of money. We would just do it. We all pulled together and made it work. Loren did everything he could to make things as pretty and presentable as he could with the budget we had.”
Ristovski also put on summer camps at both Taylor and at the Joe Dumars Fieldhouse in Sterling Heights, where he lived. He commuted about an hour to Taylor every day.
“He loved Taylor,” Madison said. “He loved who he worked with and the students. He included us, too. My mom would run the ticket table or do the scoreboard clock. I don’t know how many times I sold tickets for volleyball tournaments with him. He loved his people and loved having us there with him.”
Loren Ristovski, who played professional basketball in Europe during the late 1980s, ran well over 20 marathons in his life, including the Boston Marathon. He was a registered MHSAA official for 16 years, and in the weeks before his passing he refereed a varsity game in Rochester with his daughter, Lola.
“He looked at basketball, I think, differently than other people do,” Madison said. “He saw it as a way to have relationships with other people, to help people achieve their goals and to find meaningful relationships with others. It was more than just a game to him.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Loren Ristovski, far left, and wife Svetlana support their lineup of Division I basketball-playing daughters – from left: Madison, Haleigh and Lola. (Middle) Loren Ristovski heads an all-family officiating crew with Lola and his brother Dean Ristovski. (Below) The daughters’ initials “MHL” glow on the court the family funded in Macedonia. (Photos courtesy of Madison Ristovski.)