UP Schools Big & Small Find Multi-Sport Success

January 10, 2020

By Dennis Grall
For the Second Half

ESCANABA – It should not come as a surprise that the Class A school with the highest percentage of multi-sport athletes has an athletic director who lived that life.

Alex Tiseo, athletic director at Marquette High School, received 15 varsity letters while he was a student at the school, including as a three-sport participant for two years in the fall alone. Tiseo played soccer for four years while running cross country for three years and playing football for two. He also played basketball and ran track.

He is not taking any credit for the excess of multi-sport athletes at his alma mater. "It is the foundation of the thing, the culture of the coaches," Tiseo said of all the school's coaches supporting and encouraging all-around athletic participation.

"It is the benefit and mentality of getting away from (athletic) specialization," Tiseo said, noting an athlete may be "a leader in one sport and just a role player" in another.

He also pointed out athletes are not penalized when they have to miss practices or events because of their heavy extracurricular participation.

According to the most recent multi-sport participation survey conducted by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, Marquette had the highest percentage of multi-sport athletes among all Class A schools in 2018-19 with a whopping 85.9 percent. Grand Rapids Northview, at 83.1 percent, was the only other large school above 80 percent.

Four Class B schools and six Class C schools topped the 80-percent mark while 14 Class D schools surpassed 80 percent, including three topping 90 percent, led by Gaylord St. Mary (93.2).

Marquette, unlike many larger schools, does allow students to participate in more than one sport in the same season. Many small schools, simply because of the lower enrollment, also allow students to compete in more than one sport during the same season.

"It is near and dear to my heart," Tiseo said of seeing multi-sport participation. Students must pick a priority sport if practices or games would conflict on the same date. "For me, it was cross country," Tiseo said, noting his soccer and football coaches knew he was getting plenty of running in that primary sport. In football, he was a place-kicker, which made it easier if he had to miss a practice. 

He would often kick with his dad, he said, agreeing that a primary position player may have found it harder to miss a practice or game.

He also pointed out that in fall sports, "one-third of the season comes before school starts" and fall sports ended in mid to late October, reducing the number of potential conflicts.

Tiseo said multi-sport athletes work closely with their coaches to arrange practice schedules: "If coaches have difficulty with the kids in putting the schedule together, there is a caveat there where I can help." To date he has not needed to assist.

Students and coaches alike "reinforce the importance of academics," Tiseo said. "Multi-sport athletes are definitely among our highest academic achievers."

Athletes realize, he said, the importance of staying academically eligible so they can compete in their athletic endeavors.

Tiseo also has noticed student-athletes in general maintain better attitudes, which permeates the hallways and classrooms and benefits the general student body.

Success in athletics can generally bolster improved spirit and attitude in school. He said there is a general attitude of wanting to participate in something "when you see your peers having fun." The long Upper Peninsula winters also help encourage students to participate in athletics to help the time speed along. "It also correlates with the success of the teams," he said.

Two other Upper Peninsula schools have also found outstanding multi-sport participation, with Class B Gladstone at 86.7 percent and Class D Watersmeet with 90.3 percent during 2018-19.

First-year Gladstone athletic director Dave Lindbeck said "I strongly promote for kids to go to the next level. When I hire a new coach, I ask them how they feel about (multi-sport participation)."

Like Tiseo, Lindbeck also encourages athletes to get involved in programs for lifting weights and nutritional growth. Tiseo said proper conditioning and nutrition "help lessen the risk of injury" and playing multiple sports allows students to use different sets of muscles in those various activities. "You don't see over-use injuries" he said.

Lindbeck said "a good strength and conditioning program involves everything, including in-season and off-season workouts and help them maintain strength. We're not asking kids to bulk up. There is a lot of strength and flexibility (training), working (various) muscle groups, strengthen(ing) ligaments."

Lindbeck said the Braves' coaches are encouraged to attend games in the wide selection of activities, which shows students they care.

He also said it is easy to see how students grow in athletics and socially as they raise their participation levels. "You see how they communicate, you see it in the hallways," he said.

He also noted it has a big impact on their classroom work. "Those who don't participate don't do as well," he said, noting B-C students tend to improve their grade-point averages as they increase their involvement. "Kids seldom have issues with their grades.

"It is so crucial to be involved with sports," Lindbeck added. "The ones who do it really value it. We use it as a carrot, a motivator. It also keeps the structure and holds each other accountable."

Watersmeet has only 44 students this school year – up from 36 last year – but the Nimrods definitely are a school and community-oriented program.

Pizza parties, camping trips and cook-outs are among projects to encourage students to participate in sports, and fund-raisers are used to buy warm-ups for players in grades 6-12. "We dress them up so they look special," said long-time administrator-coach George Peterson.

"We work hard to get them to enjoy all the sports."

The board of education uses the Nimrod Fund to help students "dress up and be a part of it," said Peterson, who indicated much of that financial opportunity comes from the memorable 2003-04 season when ESPN coined the "Nimrod Nation" program.

That spring the boys basketball team appeared on The Tonight Show, and the Sundance Channel did a series on the school/town in 2006.

Peterson said the school realized $500,000 in gross revenue as a result of that national exposure and still averages $10-13,000 a year in profits. "I still pinch myself. I still can't believe it happened," Peterson said of that exposure and financial benefit.

Watersmeet has girls volleyball and offers cross country country, basketball, track and golf for boys and girls. "They are proud to be out there," said Peterson. "They have to conduct themselves in a respectful manner.”

The MHSAA study revealed nearly 43 percent of state prep athletes participated in two or more sports in 2018-19. It also indicated "early and intense sport specialization has become one of the most serious issues related to health and safety at all levels of youth sports, with overuse injuries and burnout among athletes tied to chronic injuries and health-related problems later in life."

The survey found 45.1 percent of boys and 40.4 percent of girls participated in more than one sport.

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012 and currently is in a second stint as the interim in that position. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at sportsdenesky@gmail.com with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette's Maria Millado (40) works to get a pass past a Traverse City West defender last season; Millado also runs track for the Redettes. (Middle) Gladstone's Luke Van Brocklin crosses the finish line to finish second in the 400 meters at last spring's Upper Peninsula Division 1 Track & Field Finals; he played football this fall. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

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.