By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Two championship-winning Michigan high school coaches were honored Monday by the National Federation of State High School Associations Coaches Association.
Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart girls tennis coach Judy Hehs and Wayland softball coach Cheri Ritz were recognized as National Coaches of the Year in their respective sports after both led their teams to MHSAA championships during the 2014-15 school year.
The following brief bios on Michigan’s winners include excerpts from coaching philosophies they were asked to submit after being identified as candidates:
Judy Hehs has coached girls tennis at Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart since fall 1996 and served as co-coach of three MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship teams over the last four seasons, including last spring. She also coached the school's varsity girls basketball team from 1988-95 and two sports at Detroit Country Day – field hockey in fall 1987 and then junior varsity boys tennis (while also serving as the varsity assistant) from spring 1988-2000. Hehs was inducted in 2015 into the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame and her girls tennis teams have a record of 141-16-14. She also serves as Sacred Heart’s associate head of school and director of the upper school.
“Why do I coach? I coach to give back to the profession of coaching and to the sport of tennis. Tennis has been a large part of my life since I was young. I coach because I can make a difference in the lives of the young women whom I coach – I can help build character and teach resilience, I can bear witness to their individual and team success and I can be present during those moments when hard lessons are learned. I coach for selfish reasons – I love spending afternoons and weekends with young people. In my classroom, the tennis court, the challenge isn’t making great tennis players. It is about building great people. … There is no better place than a tennis court to teach real life lessons – lessons about work ethic, teamwork, problem solving, independence and the moment when efforts turn into believing and believing turns into accomplishments.”
Cheri Ritz has coached the Wayland softball team to two MHSAA Division 2 championships, in 2006 and again last spring. She began her varsity softball coaching career at Middleville Thornapple Kellogg from 1991-94 and has led Wayland since 1995. She ranks 12th in MHSAA history for softball coaching victories with a career record of 818-207. Ritz also teaches in the Wayland Union district.
“Patience, passion, dedication, virtue, teamwork and love are present daily. I will open the minds and hearts of my athletes, and they will treat people the right way. I will enhance their soul by having them grow righteous values from within. We will instill that maximum effort is simply a way of life. … Our goal will be to be as competitive as possible every year. We will compete every year with high expectations of our players, on and off the field. We will control what we can control, such as effort, attitude and the way that we treat our teammates. We will pay close attention to details. We will work on the basic fundamentals every day in practice. Everything matters, from the way we treat custodians and bus drivers to the way we clean our opponent's dugout after a game to the way we warm up before the game. We will win with class in everything that we do!
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982. Winners of NFHS awards must be active coaches during the year for which they receive their award.
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.)