Olympic Run Leads to Northern Michigan

July 8, 2013

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

To a generation of sports fans, Lake Placid, NY, will always conjure images of the “Miracle on Ice” orchestrated by the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team and the voice of Al Michaels counting down the seconds and asking, “Do you believe in miracles?”

Maureen Whidden grew up a sports fan in a sports household. She, too, has a memory of Lake Placid, but it’s unlike those of most other people in the world, let alone this country.

“Right from college I went to Lake Placid, NY, and was an intern for the Olympic Training Center, working operations and events,” she said. “I got to go down the bobsled run, which was awesome. We started from about halfway up and I clocked about 45 miles per hour. It was just cool.”

Now beginning her fourth year as athletic director at Houghton Lake High School, Whidden maintains a pace which on most days during the school year must feel like twice her speed down the icy track in Lake Placid.

A self-proclaimed gym rat, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her father, Rick Radulski, was the varsity boys basketball coach at Utica High School. When she was not in the gym, she was, “watching game film with the guys. That’s how I grew up.”

After earning a master’s degree in sport administration from Central Michigan University, it was off to Lake Placid, and on the fast track – literally – to launching her career.

The unexpected bobsled run opened Whidden’s eyes in more ways than the obvious thrill of the moment.

“It was my introduction to non-traditional sports such as luge, skeleton; just awesome sports. Those athletes are so strong. Real power and strength athletes,” Whidden said.

Following her internship, Whidden was hired by USA Taekwondo in Colorado Springs, where she worked for a year and a half while in the process being exposed to yet another sport.

Her path then led to operations with the US Olympic Committee, working at the headquarters for three years. Whidden was involved with National Governing Bodies, coordinating events and processing athletes’ stays at the headquarters from start to finish.

Though vastly different than the sports she followed growing up, she could easily see a common thread in the people who participated.

“All athletes have the same goals and the same values; the same drive,” Whidden said. “Not all of them get the same publicity. Taekwondo, for instance, didn’t get the publicity that basketball or soccer got.”

It was that type of experience that helped in her transition to heading up a high school program of 15 sports, a couple of which were in their infancy for the 2012-13 school year. Whidden called upon her USOC experience as she welcomed bowling and cross country to Houghton Lake.

“Bringing new students into the athletic world, or exposing others to a new sport, really opened my eyes,” Whidden said. “On the bowling team we have 12 kids who may have never played another sport in their lives, and they just went to the Regionals. It’s not just mainstream sports – football, basketball, baseball – that can succeed .”

The two additional sports were a welcome addition to Whidden’s workload, at a school where 23 percent of the student body participates in at least one sport, and only 11.5 percent suit up in two different uniforms.

She wishes the numbers were higher, but several factors are at play for the Class B school of 468 students in one of Michigan’s prime resort towns – with the economy and funding posing the highest hurdles.

“We’re one of the poorest counties in the state of Michigan, based on average income,” Whidden said. “Our student count has dropped in recent years. People come here during peak seasons and support our businesses, and that’s great, but people aren’t moving here.”

Some, in fact, are moving away, which has left Whidden looking for football and boys basketball coaches in each of her three years.

Yet, if there’s one thing clear when meeting Whidden, the challenge is not too daunting. It is worth noting that the recent additions of bowling and cross country came to fruition through old school dedication and heart; the programs are self-funded, and the coaches are not paid.

Whidden knows all about paying dues. This is just her first year as a fulltime staffer at the high school, after starting as a half-time employee and then moving to three-quarters-time.

“Our community support has been the most amazing aspect of this job,” Whidden said. “We don’t have the budget to pay our event workers: ticket takers, announcers, scorebook ... anybody. But, I’m never scrambling to find workers. That’s amazing to me.”

Whidden often brings extra “volunteers” along – twin 5-year-olds, Troy and Blake – to afford them the same opportunities she had as a child and start them down the right track.

PHOTO: Houghton Lake athletic director Maureen Whidden stands in front of the press box at her school's football stadium. This fall, she'll begin her fourth year guiding the athletic programs.

This is the third 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
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.