The MHSAA has been fortunate to follow leadership from a number of impactful women over the last 50 years. Many have been members of the Representative Council, or various sport committees and task forces asked to address specific issues in educational athletics.
But day in, day out, and often behind the scenes where most administration is done, three longtime MHSAA assistant directors have provided leadership and advocacy for females in athletics that continues to be transformative in our state, even after two have retired.
► Suzanne Martin joined the MHSAA staff in 1977 and created a pair of programs that have helped make Michigan a national leader in girls high school athletics. A former teacher, coach and cheerleading advisor at Mt. Morris High School, Martin directed the launch of competitive cheer as an MHSAA-sponsored sport with its first championships awarded during the 1993-94 school year. Over the last decade, an average of 6,800 athletes have participated in that sport annually. Also under Martin’s direction, the MHSAA’s Women In Sports Leadership Conference made its debut in 1989, and with attendance of upwards of 500 students, the every-other-year event remains the largest and longest-running conference promoting the roles of females in interscholastic athletics – not only as athletes, but as future administrators, coaches and officials. Martin administrated a number of other sports for the MHSAA and served on several National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) committees. Martin retired in December 2002.
► Gina Mazzolini came to the MHSAA in 1993 from the University Interscholastic League in Texas, where she served 11 years including five as an assistant director for the service organization to high school activities in that state. Mazzolini spent the majority of her MHSAA career as the administrator for girls volleyball, swimming & diving, alpine skiing and tennis and as the point person for foreign exchange and international student issues while also handling sanctioning of out-of-state competitions that included MHSAA member schools. She had a significant presence on the national level as well, serving on various NFHS rules and advisory committees, including as the chairperson of the volleyball rules committee. Mazzolini received a Citation from the NFHS in 2016, and also that year became the first woman to receive the MHSAA’s Charles E. Forsythe Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the interscholastic athletics community. She retired at the end of that July.
► Kathy Vruggink Westdorp came to the MHSAA as an assistant director during the 2003-04 school year after more than two decades serving as a teacher, coach and administrator in Grand Rapids-area schools. Westdorp received an NFHS Citation in 2021, and was named NFHS Coach Educator of the Year in 2015 for her work directing the MHSAA Coaches Advancement Program, an eight-level education program that has seen more than 16,000 coaches complete the first-level unit alone. Westdorp also guided the addition of girls lacrosse as an MHSAA-sponsored sport in 2005 and remains its administrator – and she has served as the NFHS Education Committee and Girls Lacrosse Rules Committee chairpersons among other national roles. She also serves as the MHSAA’s lead administrator of competitive cheer and gymnastics. Under her leadership, the WISL Conference has continued to thrive welcoming and training high school female student leaders from all over the state, and the Competitive Cheer Finals have ranked among the most highly-attended championship events offered by the MHSAA.
Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.
Previous Title IX at 50 Spotlights
June 14: Girls Lacrosse Finals Officials Set Empowering Example - Read
June 7: From Gymnastics to Wrestling, Girls Opportunities Continue to Grow - Read
May 31: Mumford Sprinter's Magnificent 2006 Final Remains Unmatched - Read
May 24: Scane, Whiteside Alone on 400-Goal, 500-Point Girls Lacrosse Lists - Read
May 17: Over 8 Days in 1988, Pair of Champs Set No. 1 Singles Standard - Read
May 10: Portage Central's Tarpley Scores as State's Superstar, U.S. Soccer Hero - Read
May 3: Prychitko 'Legend In Her Own Time,' Legend for All Time - Read
April 26: Braddock vs. Verdun Still Striding Among All-Time Sprint Matchups - Read
April 19: Holmes' Strikeout Record Rarely Approached, May Be Unbreakable - Read
April 12: Anticipation High as 45,000 Girls Return to Spring Sports - Read
April 5: Regina's Laffey Retiring as Definition of Legendary - Read
March 29: Edison's Whitehorn named 2022 Miss Basketball - Read
March 22: Carney-Nadeau Sets Girls Hoops Standard with 78-Win Streak - Read
March 15: Binder Among Voices Telling Our Story on MHSAA Network - Read
March 8: 29 Years, Thousands of Cheers - Read
March 1: Kearsley Rolls On Among Girls Bowling's Early Successes - Read
Feb. 22: Marquette Ties Record for Swim & Dive Finals Success - Read
Feb. 15: Jaeger's 2004 Winter Run Created Lasting Connection - Read
Feb. 8: Marian's Cicerone to Finish Among All-Time Elite - Read
Feb. 1: WISL Award Honors Builders of State's Girls Sports Tradition - Read
Jan. 25: Decades Later, Edwards' Legend Continues to Grow - Read
Jan. 18: Iron Mountain Completes Championship Climb - Read
Jan. 11: Harrold's Achievement Heralds Growth of Girls Wrestling - Read
Dec. 20: Competitive Cheer Gives Michigan Plenty to Cheer About - Read
Dec. 14: Evelyn's Game Had Plenty of Magic - Read
Dec. 7: Council Term Ends, But Leinaar Leaves Lasting Impact - Read
Nov. 30: Basketball Season Ready to Add to Rich Tradition - Read
Nov. 23: Marysville Builds Winning Streak Yet to be Challenged - Read
Nov. 16: Wroubel Has Championed Girls School Sports from Their Start - Read
Nov. 9: Pioneer's Joyce Legendary in Michigan, National Swim History - Read
Nov. 2: Royal Oak's Finch Leading Way on Football Field - Read
Oct. 26: Coach Clegg Sets Championship Standard at Grand Blanc - Read
Oct. 19: Rockford Girls Set Pace, Hundreds After Have Continued to Chase - Read
Oct. 12: Bedford Volleyball Pioneer Continues Blazing Record-Setting Trail - Read
Oct. 5: Warner Paved Way to Legend Status with Record Rounds - Read
Sept. 28: Taylor Kennedy Gymnasts Earn Fame as 1st Champions - Read
Sept. 21: Portage Northern Star Byington Becomes Play-by-Play Pioneer - Read
Sept. 14: Guerra/Groat Legacy Continues to Serve St. Philip Well - Read
Sept. 7: Best-Ever Conversation Must Include Leland's Glass - Read
Aug. 31: We Will Celebrate Many Who Paved the Way - Read
PHOTO From left, Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, Gina Mazzolini and Suzanne Martin (MHSAA file photos.)
While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.
The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.
“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”
Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”
The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.
“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”
This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.
“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”
Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.
“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”
Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.
“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”
PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)