Battle Creek St. Philip’s Vicky Groat and Midland High’s Eric Albright both have devoted themselves to Michigan school sports for multiple decades – and both continue to lead as highly-successful coaches while also serving in multiple administrative roles within their schools and as important voices in statewide leadership as well.
To recognize their dedication and far-reaching contributions to educational athletics, Groat and Albright have been named recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Allen W. Bush Award for 2023.
Al Bush served as executive director of the MHSAA for 10 years. The award honors individuals for past and continuing service to school athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. The award was developed to bring recognition to people who are giving and serving without a lot of attention. This is the 32nd year of the award.
Groat will enter this fall’s girls volleyball season with a career coaching record of 1,240-304-95, ranking seventh on the MHSAA coaching wins list for her sport. She took over for her mother, equally-legendary Sheila Guerra, for the 1997-98 winter season, stepped away briefly after her second year, and returned to lead the program again in 2000-01. Groat has guided the Tigers to 14 MHSAA Finals championships, including a record nine straight in Class D from Winter 2006-07 through Fall 2014 (volleyball moved to the fall with the 2007-08 school year), and most recently guided St. Philip to back-to-back Division 4 championships to cap the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
A 1985 graduate of the school, Groat is entering her 17th year as the athletic director and also took over as principal on an interim basis in December 2014 and then permanently to begin the 2016-17 school year. She previously had served as the school’s student services director and as an assistant principal. She also served on the MHSAA Representative Council from 2016-20 and is a longtime leader as part of the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA).
Groat is a member of the Battle Creek St. Philip Athletic and MIVCA Halls of Fame. She was named Michigan High School Coaches Association volleyball Coach of the Year in 2009, and the national Coach of the Year for her sport by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association in 2021. She earned her bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University in 1989 and master’s from Fort Hays State University (Kan.) in 2019.
“Vicky Groat has established herself as one of the most accomplished volleyball coaches in the state and also wears multiple difficult hats so well as the athletic director and principal,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “Her passion for St. Philip school and its students is evident at every turn, and her desire to help all students excel has been a great benefit to her school and throughout Michigan.”
Albright came to Michigan from Minnesota, graduating from Royalton High School in 1992 and then Hamline University with his bachelor’s degree in 1996. He began at Midland High as a teacher in 1997 and continued in the classroom through 2013-14, adding the varsity baseball coaching job in 2003 and building a 520-199 record over the last two decades while also leading the Chemics to seven league and four District titles and a Division 1 Semifinals appearance in 2018. He became the school’s athletic director in 2010 and serves as an assistant principal as well.
Midland has hosted various MHSAA postseason events under Albright’s direction, including Finals tennis, Semifinals in soccer and football and Quarterfinals for basketball, softball and volleyball. Albright has served on seven committees or task forces for the Association and as part of the Representative Council since 2019.
Albright also is beginning his tenure as president of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) and is a Leadership Training Course instructor for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA). He received a master’s degree from Central Michigan University in 2000 and earned a certified athletic administrator designation from the NIAAA in 2013. Albright also has been an MHSAA registered official in basketball and baseball over the last two decades, most recently in both sports since 2018-19. He worked as a professional baseball umpire in the Gulf Coast League during the 1997 season before beginning his tenure at Midland.
“Eric Albright is a leader in school-based athletics across Michigan with his work with the MIAAA and MHSAA, and he’s become a go-to person for other athletic directors statewide,” Uyl said. “He has worked tirelessly to provide a wealth of guidance and vision, continuously demonstrating his passion for educational athletics.”
PHOTOS Battle Creek St. Philip volleyball coach Vicky Groat steps on the court to receive her team's Division 4 championship trophy in 2021, and Midland's Eric Albright (far right) confers with his pitcher during the 2018 Division 1 Baseball Semifinals.
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.)