Task Force Building Multi-Sport Message

November 11, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Walled Lake Western’s Cody White draws his perspective on high school sports from a background that, while perhaps not unique, has to be close.

The Warriors senior is one of the top college football prospects in Michigan, a Big Ten-caliber player who has committed to continue his career at Michigan State University after he graduates in the spring.

Our state has a handful of athletes like that every year, of course. But White also is the son of former NFL player and Detroit Lions executive Sheldon White – and has followed his father’s Dayton, Ohio, footsteps in playing three sports during his high school career.

White plays football, basketball during the winter and baseball in the spring, in addition to travel basketball and baseball during the summer. He has played these same sports throughout high school. His freshman year he also competed in track & field, along with baseball. As of May – when White and his multi-sport experience were featured on Second Half – he hadn’t ruled out returning to track & field, in addition to baseball, as a senior.

“I couldn’t see myself not competing in those sports,” White said at the time. “I love them so much. I want to finish my senior year playing all three.”

It’s White’s experience, and the benefits enjoyed by so many who have shunned the recent trend toward specialization, that is driving the MHSAA’s Multi-Sport Task Force as it aims to promote the value of a varied sports experience through high school, even for athletes considered “elite” in a sport they’ll go on to play at higher levels.

The Multi-Sport Task Force met for the third time Oct. 27 and includes coaches, administrators and teachers with diverse experiences in athletics at schools large and small; urban, suburban and rural and in both the interscholastic and club settings.

The idea of moving away from specialization and back toward playing multiple sports has gained steam in recent years with pronouncements of how doing so paid off for nationally-recognized stars like professional golfer Jordan Spieth, baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz and a number of members of the U.S. women’s soccer national team who played multiple sports through high school.

The MHSAA’s task force is working to develop that message, package it in the most digestible formats, and deliver it to the key decision-makers to benefit athletes at the age where the message can have the heaviest impact on their sports careers and growth into physically fit adults.

“This is a fundamental topic in school sports,” MHSAA Executive Director Jack Roberts told the task force during its most recent meeting. “This is something we’ll be talking about five and 10 years from now.”

The task force is charged with a series of goals that will be discussed below and are still in development. But there’s no doubt coaches will play a significant part in promoting and carrying out this important mission.

“Growing up was a little different (for me) than the usual kid. Going to Lions games and just being around football all the time. I think I love the game more because I was around it so much. But I think playing three sports helped me, too. The twisting of your hips in baseball, when you swing the bat, you’re using different muscles. And all the jumping you do in basketball. You have to move in tight spaces. With football, you’re with the football guys. By doing all three you meet different people.” – Cody White, “Western’s White Enjoys ‘Special’ Career” – May 4, 2016 

What we’ve learned

The task force’s first meeting in April included discussions with Dr. Tony Moreno of Eastern Michigan University, a frequent Coaches Advancement Program instructor, and Dr. Brooke Lemmon of the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic. Among points from their focus on medical issues that result from specialization:

•  Specialization has chronic, long-term affects; young people who do not learn physical literacy – how to solve movement problems – are less likely to be physically active and, hence, less likely to be physically fit. This is becoming an expensive health issue for society.

•  The loss of physical education from schools is the root of these problems and has led to the creation of “privatized PE” for those who can afford a club sports experience. Physical education in schools, done correctly, can create a relatively noncompetitive environment that increases student interest in becoming physically active.

•  More time spent in one activity will lead to more injuries, especially of the chronic nature. The number of hours per week a child spends on one sport activity shouldn’t exceed that child’s age (8 hours per week for an 8-year-old, for example).

Dr. Dan Gould, the director of the MSU Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, talked to the task force during its second meeting about how children perceive sports – and the need to adjust parents’ expectations for their kids’ success. He explained how kids can lose their identity focusing on just one sport, and also the importance of free play – the games kids make up themselves while playing in a structure-free environment.

Bob Mancini of USA Hockey visited with the task force most recently, explaining how his was the first governing body to tell athletes it wanted them to play their sport – but in order to do so well, play other sports also. USA Hockey’s American Development Model was launched in 2009 to in part promote multi-sport participation – and is growing hockey in the process, with increased participation seen at youth levels over the last three years.  

“It’s just really fun to do different things. We don’t have a lot of the numbers, but we have the people who are willing to put in the hard work, even if it’s not their best sport. Each season is only three to four months at the most. So it keeps things exciting.”— 2016 Bronson graduate Kelsey Robinson, a defensive specialist in volleyball, former cross country runner, guard in basketball and a third baseman and centerfielder in softball, “Multi-Sport Experience ‘Special’ for Bronson” – February 2, 2016

Questions & Answers

The task force will meet again Feb. 8, and in the meantime there are a number of questions – and answers – to be considered.

The group has pinpointed a series of goals:

1. Partner with groups promoting diverse physical activity.

2. Encourage those promoting more and better physical education.

3. Prepare tools for administrators for use in interviewing prospective coaches, conducting meetings with their coaching staffs and encouraging them to “walk the talk” of balanced participation.

4. Assist in the explanation of the multi-sport experience to parents through a variety of media, including a guidebook and video explaining its benefits.

Carrying out these aspirations comes with plenty to discuss.

Who most needs to hear the message of multi-sport participation? It’s most likely junior high and middle school parents, or even those of elementary students just starting to experience organized athletics.

What do these parents and children most need to know? Parents are stakeholders in their children’s athletic ventures. The challenge is convincing them our way is best for their kids’ futures, from a health and development standpoint.  

Who should deliver this message? Celebrities obviously carry clout when they talk about how their multi-sport experiences led them to become successful adults. But there also could be a strong emotional tug from current student-athletes who tell their stories. 

How can coaches and athletic directors help spread the word? The MHSAA, with input from the task force, will develop tools to help. But the options are many: could it come in video form, eye-catching graphics for use at coaches meetings, or live interaction at regional summits?

We are looking for ideas, both for getting out the message and incentivizing taking part in the multi-sport experience. Schools already are doing great things to promote multi-sport participation, and we’d love to hear about what's working.

To that vein, we’ll close with a final success story from this fall about a team that benefited from a lineup of multi-sport athletes:

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett on Oct. 15 ended an eight-year championship run by Ann Arbor Greenhills at Lower Peninsula Division 4 Boys Tennis Finals. Knights coach Matt Sobieralski relied on a roster filled with multi-sport athletes, including No. 1 singles player T.J. Dulac, who also ran cross country this fall.  

Only one player on the Liggett roster plays only tennis, and Sobieralski says his players’ multi-sport participation served them well.

“It makes you tough, mentally tough and strong. And they’re competitive. That’s important. I think tennis, a lot of times, is 80 percent mental and 20 percent ability. You win a lot of matches with guts and just hanging in there. I always say a good player can win even when they’re not playing their best, because they’ll try something different and they keep fighting. That’s the team I’ve got. I’m really proud of their fight.” – Matt Sobieralski, “Liggett Ends Greenhills’ 8-Year Reign” – October 16, 2016

PHOTOS: (Top) Walled Lake Western's Cody White runs ahead of a group of Lowell defenders during last season's Division 2 Semifinals. (Middle) Bronson (right) goes for a kill during last season's Class C Semifinal against Traverse City St. Francis. (Top photo courtesy of Walled Lake Western athletic department.) 

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.