Get on Your Feet for Our Great Games

January 27, 2017

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

Somewhere along the winding road in the long history of interscholastic athletics, gradual change has brought our product to a crossroads.

We, in this business of developing the minds, character and bodies of student-athletes, still understand the far-reaching benefits of school-based sports, and the mission of our programs. We understand their importance to community, the incomparable entertainment value for spectators, the bonds built between teacher and student that an hour a day in the classroom usually can’t match, and the memories and lessons that last a lifetime.

Somewhere along the way, however, some of the allure seems to have faded in the eyes and minds of others.

• Perhaps it’s the many options available to today’s young people, both in and out of athletics. Where once school sports and a letter jacket were THE thing, now it’s just another thing, with travel programs, virtual reality games, nonstop cable sports coverage and social media competing to fill free time.

• Maybe it’s parents, chasing the misguided dream of athletic scholarships for their children and in the process doting on the promises of untrained coaches intent on building their pocket books and reputations over building fundamentals and teamwork in kids.

• It could be that sensational stories from professional and collegiate levels warning of long-range effects of concussions and other sports injuries are causing fear in many parents who are making athletic participation decisions for their children.

• It’s possible that those once relied upon to spread the good word of our good work – our friends in the media – are far fewer. Administrators and coaches alike were once on a first-name basis with sportswriters in every community across Michigan. When a feel-good story took place, we knew whom to call to trumpet the news, and when the big game took place, they were sure to be there. The collapse and contraction of newspapers and the rise of faceless bloggers has delivered a blow.

• And, what of respect for authority? We are losing the keepers of our games – the contest officials – in bunches each year. People see the assaults, both verbal and physical, on these special men and women who give far more of their time than they are compensated for and figure it can’t be worth it to become an official, or to continue.

Ultimately, how we got here no longer matters. It’s what we do next. The focus for the 2016-17 school year is to define and defend educational athletics. We know that educational athletics is the best option. We are certain specialization is becoming a real health and safety issue, as real as concussions. We emphasize safety and risk management through our rules and regulations. We will utilize current media to tell our story. In doing so, maybe we can increase our pool of officials as well.

The following reveals the plan.

Teaching the Teachers

The 2016-17 school year is featuring a multi-faceted plan to Define and Defend Educational Athletics across Michigan, and one of the most critical strides aims at insuring that all varsity coaches – the educators of our programs – receive the proper instruction to pass along the mission of school-based sports to all involved, from students to parents to administrators.

For the first time each first-time varsity head coach of an MHSAA tournament sport needs to have completed Level 1 or 2 of the MHSAA’s comprehensive Coaches Advancement Program, the acclaimed continuing education program for school coaches.

Arming those most closely involved with student-athletes with proper perspective will go a long way in securing the future of interscholastic athletics.

“The role of a secondary school coach is so much more complex than it first appears, and it reaches beyond the responsibility of teaching skills to athletes,” said MHSAA assistant director Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, who oversees the CAP program. “The coach is first and foremost a teacher – that educational leader in an athletic setting – and it is often this coach’s responsibility to reinforce the connection between sports and academics. This defines the MHSAA brand of athletics.”

The connection between sports and academics cannot be overstated, and those sharing the hallways on a daily basis observe positive effects when students see that coaches show concern for their well-being beyond the playing surfaces.

Dan Hutcheson is in his first year as an assistant director at the MHSAA following a decade as athletic director at Howell High School. Prior to that, he served as the Highlanders’ wrestling coach. He knows first-hand the importance of the coach-student relationship.

“As a coach who’s in the building on staff, I know that I’m going to be in contact with my kids every day in class or in the hallways,” Hutcheson said. “When kids see that you care about them beyond the classrooms and fields or gyms, it can equate to improved academics. That is something other sports organizations don’t have.”

During the last three years alone, more than 1,800 individuals each year have attended CAP courses ranging from Levels 1-8, receiving instruction on topics such as “The Coach as Teacher,” to “Psychology of Coaching,” to “Effectively Working with Parents.”  These are just three of the 18 courses making a difference in coaches statewide, and those attendance numbers will rise with this year’s requirement.

While some might see the word “requirement” as an added helping onto the already full plates of those who dedicate so much free time, such regulations add value and help define school programs.

“I believe we have a better sense of the bigger picture.  Sure, our coaches want to win. But compared to travel sports, it is more educationally sound,” said Tim Ritsema, athletic director at Zeeland East High School, who serves as one of the MHSAA’s CAP instructors. “For those coaches who complete CAP, it gives their profession more credibility – it tells athletes, parents and the community that they take this seriously and want to be knowledgeable in the best practices. In travel ball, there are no regulations on coaches, it costs a lot more, and there can be selfish agendas. Our coaches are ‘All In.’ They recognize the long-lasting impact that they have on our student-athletes.”

Fellow CAP instructor Mike Garvey, athletic director at Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep, sees the same enthusiasm during his experiences in front of the diverse groups of coaches.

“I see buy-in. Coaches of all ages, with a tremendous range of experience, have shared that they learned, that they have gained insight into the profession,” Garvey said. “I had a coach contact me about a couple of theories presented and indicated that it helped her team in two categories: they had more fun and they performed better. It also drew praise for her from the parents.”

Proven results from the methods employed are a big factor in gaining repeat attendees and spreading the word to coaches who have yet to attend CAP. Nothing increases credibility like positive results and peer recommendation.

A couple other factors contribute to the success, including willingness to participate and the widespread availability of courses throughout the state.

“The best sessions are when the majority of the coaching staff is actively participating, and it doesn't always need to be positive; that seems to add to the program,” notes CAP instructor Karen Leinaar, athletic director at Bear Lake HS. “Sometimes this is the first time all the coaches have actively talked about their philosophy, and sharing just makes it more ‘real.’ Hearing from others that they are doing it right is a big affirmation. Making the program available within a reasonable distance also assists in participation.”

CAP also plays a pivotal role in indoctrinating those outside the school setting to the purpose of school-based sports. Non-faculty coaches might have different roots than faculty coaches, but receive the same messages to take with them.

“There really is not a big difference between faculty and non-faculty coaches in the appreciation for coaches education,” Westdorp said. “We have seen 40-year veterans and first-year protégés indicate similar impact regarding the message of educational athletics.

“However, the non-faculty coaches are definitely better linked to their school and the culture of their school after taking CAP. Each module contains the Ten Basic Beliefs of Michigan Interscholastic Athletics. The very first module in CAP 1 is entitled ‘Coaches Make the Difference,’ and works toward the development of a coaching philosophy, core beliefs, understanding your personal reasons for coaching, promoting high expectations and creating team culture. It includes exercises in making difficult decisions, why there are rules and creating team culture.”

Some of the residual effect might be that today’s coaches will become tomorrow’s administrators, a movement which some sense has stalled in recent years.

The National Federation of State High School Associations recently enlisted global communications marketing firm, Edelman, to assist in rolling out a national campaign this fall to elevate awareness of the NFHS and educational athletics.

“In many cases, we need to re-educate our own people,” NFHS Executive Director Bob Gardner said. “We don’t see coaches moving to principal and athletic director jobs much as we once did.”

In Michigan, CAP is assisting in that way.

“We have several athletic administrators, principals and superintendents who recognize the value of their coaches within the building,” Westdorp said. “Many of these administrators have been in CAP sessions and are utilizing the materials. They want trained coaches who know how to deal with student-athletes in regards to safety, sportsmanship and skill development.”

Communication is key to CAP’s success, not only from instructors to the coaches in attendance, but in turn from coach back to other coaches, students, parents and administration moving forward. That’s how the mission of school sports persists.

“I stress that communication is one of the most important things coaches need to do,” Ritsema said. “Being a poor communicator allows for many things to go bad.”

Zeeland East and Bear Lake are classes apart in enrollment, but the rule of communication is universal.

“I am lucky being in a small school; we have very few questions to our rules,” Leinaar said. “I know others that have huge issues, but many have caused their own because they lacked the art of communication. Share with everyone. Make Grandma understand. You’ll not necessarily get 100 percent support, but at least there will be a shared understanding and expectation.”

Ultimately, the component of school sports which ranks above all else is the participants.

“We emphasize working with young people and teaching. Working with young people and leading,” Garvey said, “and keeping young people as the reason for the activity.”

Well-Rounded Task

The MHSAA organized a multi-sport participation task force during 2015-16 to identify the main sources of sports specialization and to generate methods to encourage greater participation in a variety of activities.

During the first meeting last April, Dr. Tony Moreno of Eastern Michigan University and Dr. Brooke Lemmen of the Michigan State University Sports Medicine Clinic each cited research which is inconclusive if specialization is the path to the elite level of sports, but is conclusive that specialization is the path to chronic, long-term negative effects.

The mission ahead for the task force is to change the culture in and around their schools.

“There’s a misconception that, ‘I have to only participate in that one sport to get to that next level,’” Hutcheson said. “But, when you hear college coaches talk, they want the kids who are athletes, who participated in more than one thing.

“I’d hear kids say, ‘I just want to lift weights out-of-season.’ Well, what do you do when you’re tired of lifting weights? You put them on the ground and rest. If you want to be a competitor, you need to compete. Playing another sport provides the opportunity to continue competing and growing as a competitor.”

While the committee discussed potential plans for such items as online resources, printed material and social media discussion to generate heightened awareness, those avenues have already been traveled to various lengths. In fact, the mission has changed little over the years.

“The most remarkable thing is that when I reviewed a couple of old videos we produced on the value of multi-sport participation about 10 years ago, our message really hasn't changed,” said MHSAA Communications Director John Johnson. “We now need to emphasize the injury factor – which is now so much more well-documented – and the fact that an increasing number of recognizable faces at higher levels are now endorsing the playing of multiple sports at youth levels.”

The trick is to develop the most effective delivery system and target those who most need exposure to the topic: coaches and parents.

“The task force sees educating parents as a priority, informing them of the dangers of early specialization in terms of burnout and injuries, as well as the financial burden families take on to advance their child towards a possible scholarship,” said long-time Traverse City Area Public Schools administrator and task force member Patti Tibaldi. “Parents need to understand that only one percent of high school athletes will receive athletic scholarships. Educational athletics should address the needs of the other 99 percent, don't you think?”

In many communities around Michigan, multi-sport athletes are not simply an added benefit; they are a must for programs to exist.

“I’m from a small school,” said Bronson athletic director and task force member Jean LaClair. “For our teams to be successful across the board, we need our student-athletes participating in multiple sports. We had a volleyball and softball team both make the state championship games, and seven kids were on both rosters! And, playing in a championship game, with the small-town support, is something you will never emulate in a club sport.”

It takes support from parents and coaches to build successful school sports programs, and administrators play a pivotal role in steering the ship.

“The biggest thing we discuss is the multi-sport athlete in our high school,” Ritsema said. “Luckily, our coaches are on the same page, and we deliver that message unified to our athletes and parents.”

Those involved with the task force understand the importance of the issues. It’s time for the choir to do the preaching, and project the chords beyond their buildings.

“Multi-sport participation within the school-based system teaches students the valuable lessons athletics should provide: how to work with different groups of people, the discipline of practice, how to respond from failure, how to understand and accept different roles within each sport, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each coach and teammate,” said Tibaldi. “School-based sports have a fundamental belief system that, while every sport has its individual differences, all sports need to comply with the philosophy of educational athletics adopted by the school district.”

As Johnson points out, the sooner that message reaches its target, the better.

“We need to literally reach the bottom of the food chain: elementary school kids who play sports, and their parents,” he said.

To that end, the MHSAA is focusing efforts in two ways during 2016-17: increased communication with its junior high/middle school membership, and the formation of regional strike teams.

Going Back to the Future

As the MHSAA moves forward with several initiatives this school year to help in defining and defending educational athletics, some staff members will be working their way backward – in age, that is.

Various findings in recent years through committees, task forces and personal experiences reveal that often times students are reaching secondary schools without positive prior experiences in school sports. That is about to change.

During the 2016-17 school year, the MHSAA is conducting two Junior High/Middle School Committee meetings rather than one, with an emphasis on the MHSAA more closely aligning itself with various JH/MS events through sponsorship efforts.

“The multi-sport task force has been a great discussion tool,” said MHSAA Assistant Director Cody Inglis, who oversees the JH/MS Committee. “You see that no matter the size of the school, everyone has the same problem; it’s become a true health and safety problem. Kids are specializing too soon and too often.”

One of the steps to help combat the trend is to reach children, parents and coaches before they hit the high school hallways.

“The task force recognizes that parents want to do what is best for their children,” Tibaldi said. “Our recommendations include finding ways for schools to offer earlier and better programming, stressing the development of overall physical skills versus the constant competition at an early age which is leading to an exodus from athletics by the age of 13.”

More than 700 junior high/middle schools across Michigan were members of the MHSAA in 2015-16. But just how many participants and parents – or even coaches at that level – are aware of the benefits afforded by that membership? The answer is likely a stark minority. It is the MHSAA’s charge to be more visible in the coming years.

“We’ll discuss becoming a presenting sponsor at some pre-existing league meets at the junior high/middle school level, whether it be track, basketball, cross country or any sport,” Inglis said. “We want to get into those existing leagues and conferences to have a presence.

“We could help financially, to offset the cost of officials and medals, for instance. And, we can brand those events from an educational athletic standpoint, versus the youth sport model which most kids that age have experienced. The goal is to give them a perspective they’ve yet to have in school-based sports. We want to make sure putting on a school uniform is a positive experience.”

Of course, biggest proponents of school sports are those who have dedicated hours, years and careers to the product. Those people, the ones the MHSAA leans on and appreciates the most, will be called upon again to deliver a huge assist at youth levels via forthcoming “Regional Strike Teams.”

“These local teams could be veteran or retired ADs in various areas who understand educational athletics and are familiar with junior high/middle schools in their communities,” Inglis said. “They can emphasize sportsmanship and multi-sport involvement so we can get in on the ground floor.”

The formation of these liaisons between the MHSAA and its youngest members will be discussed at length during the 2016-17 school year.

The junior high/middle school gyms and fields are not only stocked with future high school students, but they also offer a valuable forum for officials recruitment, training and retention, another critical piece to the welfare of school sports.

“With our Regional Strike Teams of people connected to schools and local officials associations, we can increase the connections made at the local, personal level to attract more people into officiating,” said MHSAA Assistant Director Mark Uyl, who oversees the MHSAA’s services to registered officials. “The members of the Strike Teams will know what events are going in an area of the state which could be conducive to officials recruitment events. The best way to recruit is at the local level between people with shared interests, and the Regional Strike folks can make these local connections.”

Retired Official Gives Alpena AD New Life with Donated Kidney - 'Something I Had to Do'

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 3, 2024

TAWAS CITY – Jon Studley woke up Feb. 20 with a lot of fond memories on his mind, which turned into a collection of 47 photos posted to Facebook showing how he’d lived a fuller life over the past year with Dan Godwin’s kidney helping power his body.

There was Studley at the beach, taking a sunset shot with wife Shannon and their 5-year-old daughter Maizy. In others Dad and daughter are at the ice rink, making breakfast and hitting pitches in the yard. Studley made it to Ford Field to cheer on the Lions, supported his Alpena High athletes at MHSAA Finals and traveled to Orlando for a national athletic directors conference.

Their faces are beaming, a far cry from much of 2021 and 2022 and the first few months of 2023 as the Studleys and Godwins built up to a weekend in Cleveland that recharged Jon’s body and at least extended his life, if not saved it altogether.

“People that saw me before transplant, they thought I was dying,” Studley recalled Feb. 21 as he and Godwin met to retell their story over a long lunch in Tawas. “That’s how bad I looked.

“(I’m) thankful that Dan was willing to do this. Because if he didn’t, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”

By his own admission, Studley will never be able to thank Godwin enough for making all of this possible. But more on that later.

Studley and Godwin – a retired probation officer and high school sports official – hope their transplant journey together over the last 23 months inspires someone to consider becoming a donor as well.

For Studley, the motivation is obvious. Amid two years of nightly 10-hour dialysis cycles, and the final six months with his quality of life dipping significantly, Studley knew a kidney transplant would be the only way he’d be able to reclaim an active lifestyle. And it’s worked, perhaps better than either he or Godwin imagined was possible.

For Godwin, the reasons are a little different – and admittedly a bit unanticipated. He’d known Studley mostly from refereeing basketball games where Studley had served as an athletic director. He’d always appreciated how Studley took care of him and his crew when they worked at his school. But while that was pretty much the extent of their previous relationship, some details of Studley’s story and similarities to his own really struck Godwin – and led him to make their lifelong connection.

“It’s been rewarding for me. I have told Jon, and I’ve said this to anyone who would listen, that I’m grateful and feel lucky that I’ve been part of this process,” Godwin said. “I don’t feel burdened. I don’t feel anything except a sense of appreciation to Jon that he took me on this journey. I didn’t expect that, but that’s how I feel.”   

Making a connection

As of March, there were 103,223 people nationwide on the national organ transplant waiting list, with 89,101 – or more than 86 percent – hoping for a kidney, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). More than 46,000 transplants were performed in 2023, including the sharing of more than 27,000 kidneys.

Godwin giving one to Studley was among them.

Studley, 43, has served in school athletics for most of the last two decades since graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University. After previously serving as an assistant at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, he became the school’s athletic director at 2009. He moved to Caro in 2012, then to his alma mater Tawas in 2015 for a year before going to Ogemaw Heights. He then took over the Alpena athletic department at the start of the 2020-21 school year, during perhaps the most complicated time in Michigan school sports history as just months earlier the MHSAA was forced to cancel the 2020 spring season because of COVID-19.

He's respected and appreciated both locally and statewide, and was named his region’s Athletic Director of the Year for 2019-20 by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. Concurrently with serving at Sacred Heart and earning his master’s at CMU, Studley served as athletic director of Mid Michigan College as that school brought back athletics in 2010 for the first time in three decades. He also served four years on the Tawas City Council during his time at Tawas High and Ogemaw Heights.

Studley cheers on Alpena athletes during last season’s MHSAA Track & Field Finals at Rockford High School.Toward the end of his senior year of high school in 2001, Studley was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. For the next two decades, he managed his diabetes primarily with insulin and other medication. But during that first year at Alpena, his health began to take a turn. Studley had been diagnosed with a heart condition – non-compaction cardiomyopathy – which led him to Cleveland Clinic for testing. A urine test in Cleveland indicated his kidneys might not be working like they should – which led to a trip to a specialist and eventually the diagnosis of kidney failure and the start of dialysis, with a kidney transplant inevitable.

Dialysis long has been a standard treatment for people with kidney issues. But it can take a toll. In Studley’s case, that meant being tired all the time – to the point of falling asleep at his desk or having to pull over while driving. He wasn’t receiving enough nutrients and was unable to lift things because of the port for the dialysis tube. Extra fluid building up that his body wouldn’t flush made him constantly uncomfortable.

The next step was transplant, and in July 2021 he was approved to receive a kidney.

The Studleys thought they had a prospect early on, as an aunt on Shannon’s side was a candidate for a paired match – her blood and tissue types weren’t a match for Studley, but matched another person on the waiting list whose donor would be a candidate to give Studley a kidney. But that didn’t work out.

Others showed interest and asked about the process, especially after Studley’s 20-year class reunion in 2021, but nothing concrete came about. Amid the early disappointment, Studley took some time to consider his next move – and then put out a plea over Facebook that fall to his close to 1,000 connections hoping that someone, anyone, might consider.

“I took a week to really think about it – this is what I’m asking for someone to do. I had to get over it in my mind that it was OK to ask,” Studley said. “I’m going to ask someone to make a sacrifice for me, and that’s not me. I always want to help everybody else.”

Godwin is that way too. And immediately after reading Studley’s post, he knew he needed to consider making a call.

Strong match

Godwin had moved to Tawas City from Midland in 2014, and after a few years off from officiating decided to get back on the court that following winter.

He thinks he and Studley may have crossed paths at some point during Studley’s tenures at Sacred Heart and Caro, but it was at Tawas where they got to know each other. Although Studley stayed at Tawas just one school year, Godwin continued officiating for him at Ogemaw Heights – and in fact, Godwin’s final game in 2018 was there, during the District basketball tournament. That night, during the first quarter, Godwin tore the plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He didn’t know if he’d be able to finish the game – the officials from the first game that night stuck around to step in just in case – but thanks in part to Studley connecting Godwin with the Alpena trainer during halftime, he was able to get through the final two quarters and finish his officiating career on his feet.

They’d become Facebook “friends” at some point, so Godwin had seen Studley’s posts over the years with Shannon and Maizy. And when he saw Studley ask for help, something hit him – “immediately.”

Godwin and Studley meet for the first time after the transplant, and again six months later. “I have a 5-year-old granddaughter, almost exactly the same age as Jon’s, and I’m the dad of one child, a daughter, so there were those connections,” Godwin said. “It almost didn’t feel like there was a choice. It felt like it was something I had to do.”

Godwin is 66 and always has been in good health. He’s also always been an organ donor on his driver's license and given blood, things like that. But he had never considered sharing an organ as a living donor until reading Studley’s post.

He read it again to his wife Laurie. They talked it over. He explained why he felt strongly about donating, even to someone he didn’t know that well. After some expected initial fears, Laurie was in. Their daughter had the same fears – What about the slight chance something could go wrong? – but told Laurie she knew neither of them would be able to change her dad’s mind.

“It took me a while to get on board with it, even though I knew in the vast majority of cases somebody who donates an organ is going to be absolutely fine. It’s still major surgery,” Laurie said. “I guess he was just feeling so much like it was something he wanted to do, and he is a very healthy physically fit person. So I felt the odds were really good that he was going to be fine.

“And really, probably, the deciding factor was Maizy. We have a granddaughter the same age, so we were just thinking she needs a dad.”

After a few more days of contemplation, Dan called Cleveland Clinic to find out how to get started.

Then he texted Studley.

“I was nervous saying yes. At first, I didn’t know what to say – I just kept saying, ‘You don’t have to do this, but I appreciate it,’” Studley said. “I never want to have somebody do something for me unless (the situation is dire) … so I told him thank you and I appreciate it, and no pressure.”

Generally, Studley said, the donor and recipient don’t receive information on how the other person is progressing through the process. Godwin, however, kept Studley in the loop, which was a good thing. “But then you’re wondering if it’s going to happen,” Studley said, “if it’s truly a match.”

The initial blood test showed that Godwin wasn’t just a match, but a “strong” match, meaning they share a blood type – the rarest, in fact – and Godwin also didn’t have the worrisome antibodies that could’ve caused his kidney to refuse becoming part of Studley’s body.

That was amazing news. But just the start. “There was so much more we had to go through just to get to surgery day,” Studley said.

Long road ahead

Studley relates the transplant process to a job interview. After meeting with a potential boss, the candidate must wait for an answer – and it could come the next day, or the next week, or months later.

There were several more tests for both to take to make sure the transplant had not only a strong enough chance of being successful, but also wouldn’t be harmful for either of them.

“Right up until the time of the donation, (things) can happen. Like they did blood work on me the Friday before the kidney transplant on Monday, and if that had showed something they were going to send me home,” Godwin said. “So I just kept thinking, is this going to work? It seemed that there were more things that could go wrong than the possibility that it could go right. And that sets everybody up for disappointment – me, because I was invested in doing it, and of course Jon and his family because it was important to them.”

Godwin made a trip to Cleveland Clinic in November – about three months before the surgery. It wasn’t a great visit. His electrocardiogram showed a concern, and a few suspicious skin lesions were an issue because donors must be cancer-free. Almost worse, he couldn’t get in for a follow-up appointment for six weeks.

The wait felt longer knowing not only that there was a possibility for disappointment for Studley, but also the potential something could be unwell with Godwin. But then came good news – at his follow-up, Godwin aced his stress test, alleviating any heart concerns, and the dermatologist said the lesions were basal cell carcinoma and not considered risky to the transplant.

Over the next three months, both Godwin and Studley continued to do whatever they could to keep the transplant on track. To avoid COVID, Godwin and his wife isolated as much as they could, and Studley began wearing a mask frequently at work. Godwin cut out alcohol and coffee and began walking regularly to keep in tip-top shape.

In January 2023, both got the final OK, and the surgery was scheduled for Feb. 20.

But that wasn’t the end of the anxiety.

Studley also had undergone a series of tests and doctor visits, and two days before the transplant he had to get a tooth removed to avoid a possible infection.

Then, on the way from Alpena to Cleveland, Studley’s vehicle hit a deer.

“How is this going to go now?” he recalled thinking. “This is how it started. What’s going to happen now?”

Both arrived in Cleveland safely, eventually. The families stayed apart all weekend, Studley and Godwin communicating briefly by text to check in. There were a few more stop-and-go moments. Godwin’s Friday blood work showed something unfamiliar that ended up harmless. On the day of the surgery, Studley was wheeled to just outside the operating room – and then taken back to his hospital room for another 15 minutes of suspense. Once Studley made it into the operating room, his doctors had to pause during the surgery to tend to an emergency.

But finally, the transplant was complete. And seemingly meant to be. Godwin’s kidney was producing urine for Studley’s body before the surgeons had finished closing him up.

Back on his feet

Studley said he knew he’d be fine once he could start walking the hallways at the hospital; he started doing so the next morning. Later that same day after transplant, on the way back from one of those walks, he saw Godwin for the first time since they’d both arrived in Cleveland. “It was absolutely emotional,” Godwin said.

Godwin went home four days after the surgery. Studley stayed the next month with appointments and labs twice a week. Shannon remained with him the first week, then friends Mike Baldwin and Josh Renkly and Studley’s father Larry took turns as roommates for a week apiece.

For the first three months, including his first two back in Alpena, Studley couldn’t go anywhere except for the trip to Cleveland every other week – which has now turned into every other month with virtual appointments the months in between. Total he missed about six months of work – and thanked especially assistant athletic director and hockey coach Ben Henry for shouldering the load in his absence.

Studley’s checkups are full of more good news. His body is showing no signs of rejecting the kidney. And as long as he keeps his diabetes under control, that shouldn’t affect his new organ either.

Shannon sees the difference while comparing a pair of family trips. The Studleys went to Disney World while Jon was on dialysis, and she said he made it through but got home just “depleted.” This past spring break, the family went to Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Jon had visibly more energy for hiking and other activities. The last six months of dialysis, Jon was sleeping a lot, but this spring he’s helping coach Maizy’s T-ball team and overall is able to spend more quality time with her.

“Most of (Maizy’s) life she’s only known him as sick Dad,” said Shannon, a counselor at Alpena’s Thunder Bay Junior High. “He wasn’t able to do a lot of things with her, and I’ve seen a lot more of that, and I think she notices.”

Studley, his wife Shannon and daughter Maizy enjoy a moment after Jon had returned to good health.Jon will be taking anti-rejection medicine and a steroid every 12 hours for the rest of his life, but that and some other little life adjustments are more than worth it. All anyone has to do is look at those 47 photos from the Facebook post to understand why.

Godwin said he feels better now than he did even before surgery. He does his checkups with Cleveland Clinic over the phone. He also said that if Studley had been found at some point late in the process to be unable to except the kidney, Godwin still would’ve given it to someone else on the waiting list. “I was so invested at that point,” Godwin remembered. “That kidney was going.”  

The two families got together for a reunion in August in Tawas, where they had lunch and walked the pier and the Godwins met Maizy for the first time. She doesn’t really get what’s transpired, but definitely notices Dad doesn’t have a tube coming out of his body at night anymore.

And it’s clear the two men value the connection they’ve made through this unlikely set of circumstances.

“His attitude has been inspiring,” Godwin said. “Because you’ve been through the mill (and) I’ve never heard a negative thing, ‘poor me’ or anything. And I think maybe that’s what helps keep you going.”

“You talk to people who know Dan, and they said, ‘That’s Dan. That’s what Dan does,’” Studley said, speaking of Godwin’s gift and then addressing him directly. “The hardest part for me, the biggest struggle … is there’s no way I’m going to ever be able to thank you for this.

“It’s like the post I posted yesterday on Facebook. I posted pictures of everything I had done in the last year, and a lot of it was stuff that I hadn’t done in a long time. My way to thank Dan is just living my life the best I can, enjoying my family. … For me, it’s changed my perspective.”

As lunch finished up, Godwin did have one ask in return – not for one of Studley’s organs, but to be part of a special moment that helped drive him to donate 12 months earlier.

“This isn’t the venue, but I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve never asked for anything and I don’t want anything,” Godwin said, “but I would like to go to Maizy’s wedding.”

“Yeah, you … yes. Yes,” Studley replied. “You can go to anything you want to go to with my family.”

“I’d like to be there.”

“You will definitely be there.”

“I was at my daughter’s wedding,” Godwin said, noting again that connection between the men’s families, and the importance he felt in Studley being there for Maizy like he’d been there for his child.

“You say that, but there were times I didn’t know if I’d make it to Maizy’s wedding. I might not make it to see her graduate. So …” Studley trailed off, ready to take the next step in his life rejuvenated.

Studley emphasized the continuing need for kidney donors and refers anyone interested in learning more to the National Kidney Registry.

PHOTOS (Top) Alpena athletic director Jon Studley, left, and retired MHSAA game official Dan Godwin take a photo together on the shore of Lake Huron one year after Godwin donated a kidney to Studley. (2) Studley cheers on Alpena athletes during last season’s MHSAA Track & Field Finals at Rockford High School. (3) Godwin and Studley meet for the first time after the transplant, and again six months later. (4) Studley, his wife Shannon and daughter Maizy enjoy a moment after Jon had returned to good health. (Top photo by Geoff Kimmerly; other photos provided by Jon Studley.)