By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor
From the retirement of NFL players in their mid-20s fearing long-term disability, to NASCAR drivers suffering injuries against concrete walls when alternative substances are available, to MLB outfielders running into barriers which place aesthetics and tradition over safety, the focus of highlight shows, apps and old-fashioned sports pages is shifting from action inside the lines to the sidelines.
As the reality of human vulnerability continues to invade our favorite escape from reality – athletics – protecting those in the spotlight needs to be Job 1.
While the quest for risk management protocols and health and safety provisions is a never-ending loop, the MHSAA bolted from the starting blocks with a 4H plan (Health Histories, Heads, Heat and Hearts) in the fall of 2009, a mission that enters the fourth turn for the 2015-16 school year.
And, as pulse quickens for the “Heart” stage in the fall, the MHSAA will continue to step up initiatives involving the other three initiatives during the next lap.Think of it as a continuous relay, where the baton is never dropped and fresh runners continue the race.
While organizations at other levels might be asking, “What to do,” the MHSAA is focusing on “What’s next?”
In this playbook the next plays are critical in allowing student-athletes to continue providing their communities with inexpensive and entertaining breaks from reality.
The Heart of the Matter
The 2015-16 school year brings with it an ambitious but paramount stage in the MHSAA’s mission to protect and promote the well being of student-athletes across the state.
Beginning in the fall, all high school varsity coaches will need to have Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification by established deadlines which correspond to rules meetings.
The requirement is new, and the volume of personnel affected is vast. Yet, plans have been in place during the past few years, and schools in many communities are ahead of the curve.
“We’ve fielded some questions regarding the requirement, but I think that many of our schools already have similar protocols in place,” said MHSAA assistant director Kathy Vruggink Westdorp. “Increasingly, schools have become more prudent with regards to health and safety, and programs which emphasize these initiatives have been well received.”
Pete Ryan, MHSAA Representative Council member and athletic director for Saginaw Township Community Schools, concurs.
“The CPR requirement will not be a change for Heritage, as we have required CPR for eight years,” Ryan said. “We offer certification through our district nurse at no charge to the coaches and train about 20-30 coaches per year.”
The training vehicle might vary from district to district, but so long as the end result is certification, the coaches are free to take course by any means possible, whether online or in person.
“I think we’ll see a blend of online and classroom delivery,” Westdorp said. “And, I don’t think it will be just the coaches. At the MIAAA Conference (in March), school leaders were proactive in terms of certification for athletic directors, too.”
Mike Bakker, President of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and athletic director at Fenton High School, says CPR certification is a must in the risk management plans for all school settings.
“As an educator who has been a CPR and first aid instructor for the American Heart Association for a number of years, I am excited that the MHSAA will require CPR training for varsity coaches,” Bakker said.
“I certainly hope that in the future we will see that all coaches are trained in CPR. There might be a bit of a challenge at first to get our coaches trained, as schools look for the most economical as well as timely way to accomplish this mandate. The biggest hurdle that I can foresee is trying to find qualified trainers in all areas of the state that have multiple training dates available to fit the needs of such diverse coaching staffs.”
Ryan believes there is no substitute for the personal touch.
“We are doing in-person training which I feel is better because the individuals have to perform the procedure on the practice dummy," he said. "It’s simply more hands-on training.”
School nurses and trainers will play a substantial role in the certification process, as will community health organizations in many locales.
“In many of our schools, the health educators are certified to conduct CPR courses,” Westdorp said. “We’ve also had numerous calls from non-school entities alerting us to their availability to provide training, such as fire departments and local medical centers.”
Fenton is one such school with the luxury of on-site personnel to train its staff.
“We are fortunate in Fenton that our athletic trainer and athletic director are certified trainers so we can accomplish our training in-house, but I know that not all schools are as fortunate,” Bakker said.
Which is exactly why it’s necessary for coaches to become certified, and ideally not just the head coaches.
“It should be encouraged that all coaching staff become CPR certified so that they are able to take action, especially for schools which do not have an athletic trainer on staff and if the head coach is unavailable or present, in the unfortunate event that a potential cardiac emergency and/or sudden-death incident occurs,” said certified athletic trainer Gretchen Mohney, the Clinical Coordinator and Instructor for Western Michigan University Undergraduate Athletic Training Program.
Mark Mattson, athletic director at Traverse City Central, indicated that while not previously a requirement, the district has been proactive in prepping the coaches.
“From the moment the requirement was announced, we've been out in front of it,” Mattson said. “What’s great is, even though it hasn’t been a requirement for Traverse City Area Public Schools, many coaches are indeed already certified. The district also offers training sessions once a month and those dates are passed on to our coaches. Jason Carmien (AD at Traverse City West) and I have also had conversations about providing training at our preseason coaches meeting for those still in need prior to the start of the fall season.”
Coaches can also count on a familiar training source to come through for certification: the MHSAA Coaches Advancement Program. Westdorp, who heads up the expansive continuing education program for the state’s coaches, envisions coursework at select sites which will build CPR training into the session, giving attendees more added incentive and training opportunities.
CAP has also served as a siren to inform and remind the MHSAA’s constituents about the upcoming regulation.
“In all CAP courses this school year, we’ve been educating the coaches about the CPR requirement,” Westdorp said. “We also can format the courses to include a two-hour block for CPR certification within the CAP training. We could even do it with a league and conference group where we set up rotations, and the CPR aspect would be one of the rotations.”
Westdorp added that many athletic directors currently schedule coaches meetings and additional coursework around CAP training. It’s a perfect fit to deliver pertinent messages while all parties are in one location.
Such gatherings could also provide the opportunity for athletic leaders to share emergency action plans.
Along with the CPR component of the MHSAA’s health mission for the coming school year, schools will be asked to have in place and rehearse emergency action plans involving cardiac and other health-related emergencies.
To assist, schools will receive this summer the “Anyone Can Save a Life” program developed by the Minnesota State High School League and endorsed and delivered nationally by the National Federation of State High School Associations (check back for more on this program later this week).
“The ‘Anyone Can Save A Life’ initiative promotes the need to have and to practice planning for different kinds of emergencies; it involves students as well as adults; and it invites schools to include their previously existing plans,” said MHSAA Executive Director Jack Roberts.
“The result can be a fresh, comprehensive emphasis on preparing for emergencies well before they occur and then responding with more confidence when those emergencies inevitably happen. It is the perfect link between the last two years when we focused on heat illness and the next two years when we focus on sudden cardiac arrest,” Roberts added.
It will also be of primary concern to place automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in all schools and provide training for use of the devices.
The reasoning behind such a full-court press can be backed by simple facts.
- At any one time, an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population congregates on school grounds, increasing the likelihood of school-based cardiac emergencies.
- Victims of SCA can be brought back to life by providing chest compressions and early defibrillation with an AED.
- Every second counts. When SCA occurs, chest compressions and the use of an AED need to start immediately.
- The AED can only help and will only deliver a shock if it is needed.
- The AED is very easy to use. Just turn it on and follow the voice prompts.
The best way to combat such situations is to create an atmosphere of preparedness; making sure all people in close proximity to potential victims can respond with quickness, confidence and precision to help reduce fatalities.
“In order for best practices to be achieved, it will require coordinated efforts to establish a quality emergency action plan among the entire athletic department staff, which should be practiced annually. This should be viewed as the first line of preparedness and defense in sports safety,” said James Lioy, an adjunct professor in athletic training at WMU who was named Michigan High School Athletic Trainer of the year in 2000-01.
That’s the goal of action plans such as those included in MHSAA CAP Levels and the Anyone Can Save A Life program.
“We've taken the ‘know-how’ out of it. You don't have to know how to perform the medical procedures to be trained and prepared as part of an effective emergency response team,” said Jody Redman, associate director of the Minnesota State High School League and one of the authors of the Anyone Can Save a Life program.
A common refrain in athletics to assign perspective on sport in society is, “It’s just a game; it’s not life or death.”
However, in the most dire of circumstances, participants indeed can be faced with life or death. Knowing how to respond can make all the difference.
Denny White brought quite a bit to the Marysville and St. Clair communities.
In 1961, as a junior in high school, White was part of the first team to bring a football state title to Marysville.
Fifty years later, as an assistant coach, he played a vital role in bringing St. Clair its first MHSAA Finals title in baseball.
During the years in between, and decade after, White brought his knowledge of and passion for those sports to hundreds of student athletes.
But most recently, he brought the two communities together.
This past Friday night, the rival schools played for the Denny White Trophy, an award created to honor the late coach and connect the two communities where he was most revered.
“I’m so happy with all the support that has been around the project,” said Brady Beedon, a family friend who helped to create the trophy and was in the booth calling Friday night’s game for Get Stuck On Sports. “It’s the least we could’ve done for a man who helped so many athletes. His legacy deserves to be preserved.”
In a fitting tribute to White, who died Jan. 22 of this year following a long battle with cancer, the two teams played a hard-fought game at East China Stadium, with White’s alma mater Marysville coming away with a 25-20 victory.
Both teams featured players who had been coached by White at some point in one or both of the sports, as his time on the bench lasted through the fall of 2022.
That season, he coached the JV B football team at Marysville. Most recently before that, he had been the varsity baseball coach at St. Clair from 2015-21.
“Not much can unify rivals, but Coach White’s influence goes beyond that rivalry,” Marysville football coach Derrick Meier said at a press conference unveiling the trophy. “He’s affected thousands of local athletes. … It is awesome that someone had such an influence across the board with all local athletes (in multiple) sports. I contacted him my first year coaching varsity, and he was not willing to leave where he was at. I called him three subsequent years; he graciously declined. The last year he did accept, we added a JV B team, his wisdom and knowledge went well beyond just coaching on the field. We’re all lucky for his influence.
“Heroes get remembered. Coach White will be remembered.”
White was a 1963 graduate of Marysville, who then attended Ferris State and Central Michigan. His coaching journey did not begin in the area where he grew up, however, as he coached baseball and football at Newaygo High School before coming to St. Clair.
He spent 35 years in the Saints athletic program, coaching baseball and multiple levels of football.
Much of his time was spent as the pitching coach for St. Clair for coaches Richie Mallewitz and Bill McElreath. That included the 2011 season, when his pitching staff included current major leaguer Jacob Cronenworth, who now plays second base for the San Diego Padres.
Also on that staff were Joel Seddon, who was drafted twice – once out of high school and again after college – and would go on to be the closer at South Carolina; and Jared Tobey, who pitched at Wayne State and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, playing four years in their minor league system.
While White coached nearly 1,000 baseball games in his career, he was involved with more than just high school sports. He also coached a 13-year-old Little League team to a state title and the semifinals of the Great Lakes Regional in 2015.
No matter the level, White poured all he had into coaching, and that included his final season on the sidelines at Marysville, just months prior to his passing.
“Every single kid that he touched with that team, you could just tell, gravitated toward him immediately,” said Travis Disser, who coached with White that final year at Marysville. “His lessons and his light-hearted humor are just something that you can’t replace, or ever hope to. I was lucky enough to learn pitching from Coach White when I was a younger kid, as well. He was the exact same Denny White as he was all those years ago, as he was last year during his battle with cancer. Coach White was a warrior in every sense of the term. His lessons, both on the field and off the field from him, are something that I’ll never, ever forget.”
The idea to create the trophy honoring White came about not long after his death, as Beedon worked with Meier, former St. Clair athletic director Denny Borse and St. Clair assistant football coach T.J. Schindler to create and design the trophy.
The final product is a two-tiered trophy topped with a pair White’s hats – one from St. Clair, the other from Marysville – that have been bronzed. It includes the years in which he won his state titles at his respective schools, and a passage about his life. There is also room to list the yearly winners, as it is planned to represent the rivalry and shared respect for White in the two communities for years to come.
“Whether it was Little League kids over the last 20 years, or some of the football players and baseball players that he coached over the decades that he coached, all of them when they get together have great stories and fondness for all the memories that (White and his fellow coaches) helped them create,” said Sandy Rutledge, the current St. Clair athletic director and a longtime friend and colleague of White. “I think it’s awesome that now as we play for this trophy every year, it will give our coaches a chance to kind of explain who Coach was. The next generation, maybe they didn’t even know him, will know that he is a legend, and he’ll always be remembered.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) From left: St. Clair’s Larry Wawryzniak, Liam Nesbitt and Peyton Ellis, Denny White’s wife Karen White, and Marysville’s Bryce Smith, Carter Saccucci and Caz Carty stand with the first-year traveling trophy celebrating Denny White’s coaching career. (Middle) White was a mainstay in the area’s sports community for more than six decades. (Below) The trophy celebrates his contributions to both schools and will list the winners of their annual football game. (Trophy photos courtesy of Brady Beedon. Headshot courtesy of the White family.)