Southwest Schools Begin League Shuffle

By Wes Morgan
Special for

December 6, 2016

Just when it seemed that the waters had calmed concerning conference realignment in Southwest Michigan, two area leagues are expected to lose a chunk of their respective memberships with the berth of a new alliance.

It was announced in June that Bronson would be leaving the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League at the end of the 2016-17 school year to join the Big 8 Conference. The BCS began in 2014.

Now, all three St. Joseph County schools — Centreville, Mendon and White Pigeon — along with Cass County seat Cassopolis, are expected to exit the BCS this year as well. Those schools are joining Southwestern Athletic Conference defectors Bangor, Bloomingdale, Eau Claire, Hartford, Decatur and Marcellus to form the Southwest 10 Conference.

Seven of the 10 school districts have already voted in favor of the new league, with the last three unnamed schools expected to vote the same way later this month.

Once again, football was a driving force, though several other factors sparked the initial discussions back in August. It was important for Centreville, Mendon and White Pigeon to stick together after a long run dating back to the St. Joseph Valley League.

Competitive fairness and logistics were two other key concerns.

“(The SAC schools) came into this meeting stating the No. 1 goal is to not have a mega conference,” Mendon co-athletic director Glen Samson said. “They tried to get us to strike while the iron is hot. At the same time they are discussing this with us, the superintendents of the SAC and the BCS wanted us to all get together and form an even larger league, like 35 schools.

“We’ve just not had a whole lot of luck with this large conglomerate. It’s not really a league. You can see people voting on party lines, so to speak.”

A big obstacle in the BCS was football scheduling. The BCS did not make it mandatory that teams play cross-divisional games, which left some schools in the lurch when it came to filling out a nine-game schedule.

For instance, Mendon had to drive to the Upper Peninsula in Week 9 to play Manistique after finding no takers from similar-sized schools and with no desire of its own to compete against the likes of Class B programs up to three times a year.

Current BCS schools like Berrien Springs, Buchanan, Comstock and Parchment — all with about 450 students or more — are twice the size of schools like Mendon (203) and Cassopolis (278).

“This idea came across our table, so we took a look at it,” Samson said. “The schools involved want to keep it to 10 teams. The more we got into it, the more it made sense.

“When Bronson left, it left us with four teams in our division in football. All that guaranteed Mendon, Centreville and Cass were three games. We’re sitting here with three games, and we have to find six and we have to now play two or three Class B schools to fill out a schedule in a league of 18 teams. This is not right.”

A 10-team league solves that issue and makes for easier organization of all other sports. More often than not, Samson and Cassopolis athletic director Matt Brawley agreed, coaches didn’t even know what division their school was in as the groupings changed by sport.  

“Scheduling and getting the bylaws in order,” are at the top of the priority list for Brawley. “Right now, things seem to be running pretty smoothly. We have a great group of athletic directors and superintendents working diligently.”

If all goes according to plan, schedules will take care of themselves in the Southwest 10 since most schools offer the same sports. There are five schools that offer soccer with a sixth considering adding it for next season. A positive byproduct would be less travel time.

“For Cass, logistically, our furthest drive (would be) 37 miles,” Brawley said. “Marcellus and Decatur are our next-door neighbors. It doesn’t make much sense not to play them (as is the case now).

“I’m very excited,” Brawley said of a new league without divisions. “What I’m most excited about is being in a league where you’ve got to (likely) win nine games to win the conference championship or go 17-1 or 16-2 in basketball. It holds a lot more weight. The BCS is a great bunch of people, but this opportunity makes the most sense for us.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Centreville and Marcellus face off in a girls basketball nonleague matchup. (Middle) Mendon and Casspolis will bring their football rivalry to the new Southwest 10 Conference. (Photos courtesy of Wes Morgan.) 

2023 Forsythe Award Celebrates Leinaar's 40 Years Dedicated to School Sports

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 8, 2023

Few people in Michigan have had a longer-lasting influence on the rules and policies of educational athletics than Frankfort’s Karen Leinaar, who has served in several roles locally, statewide and nationally over more than 40 years contributing to the school sports community.

Thank you, Bill Baker.

The longtime teacher, coach, principal and superintendent during a career that stretched across multiple schools – including Leinaar’s growing up, Delton Kellogg – made an impression on the standout multi-sport athlete before she graduated from high school in 1977. Baker’s philosophy and work led Leinaar to study education at Michigan State University and then brought her back as Delton’s athletic director to begin four decades of making the same impact on children in her hometown and eventually in hometowns all over Michigan and beyond.

Baker died in 2009, but not before continuing to mentor Leinaar through many good times and tough ones.

“The man had two daughters that I grew up with, his wife was a teacher, and he demonstrated to all of us – he never missed an event – that we were important to him. That even though we weren’t his kids, we were his kids and athletics was a way to help kids become better people – and for some kids it was the only thing that they had positive in their life,” Leinaar said. “And he made it known just to that individual kid how important their participation was and their involvement, and how that helped them become the person that they were.

“That to me was such an example of how to help people be good people, that I just took that role on.”

It’s a role in which she continues to serve. Leinaar began her career as an athletic administrator in 1982, and as the interim athletic director currently at Frankfort High School is serving her fifth district in that position. Since June 2019, she also has served as executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA), the professional organization for school sports administrators in the state with a membership of nearly 700.

Leinaar accepts the MHSAA's Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998. To recognize that longtime and continuing impact, Leinaar has been named the 2023 honoree for the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Charles E. Forsythe Award.

The annual award is in its 46th year and named after former MHSAA Executive Director Charles E. Forsythe, the Association's first full-time and longest-serving chief executive. Forsythe Award recipients are selected each year by the MHSAA Representative Council, based on an individual's outstanding contributions to the interscholastic athletics community.

Leinaar also served 22 years on the MHSAA’s Representative Council and a four-year term from 2009-13 on the Board of Directors for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and just last week was named to the 2023 class of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Hall of Fame.

“It is impossible even to estimate the number of students, coaches, administrators and others who have been affected by the work Karen Leinaar has done to make school sports the best they can be – not only in her communities, but across Michigan and throughout the country,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are few who have equaled her dedication and her support and promotion of the ideals of school-based sports. She has always placed an emphasis on being in the room, on the field or at the arena, actively participating in her leadership roles, and our programs are better for it.”

Leinaar first served as athletic director at Delton Kellogg for nearly 17 years, from March 1982 through October 1998. She spent three years at Gaylord, then 8½ at Benzie Central before taking over at Bear Lake in November 2010 and spending the next decade organizing athletic programs for students in grades 5-12 before retiring in January 2021. She came out of retirement to return to the athletic director’s chair this past fall as interim AD at Frankfort. She has completed nearly four years as MIAAA executive director, moving into that position after previously serving nine years as an assistant to the executive.

Leinaar began her service on the Representative Council in Fall 1999 and completed her last term as a statewide at-large representative at the Fall 2021 meeting.

She has been honored several times for her contributions. She received the MHSAA’s Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998, a Citation from the NFHS in 2000, and she was named MIAAA Athletic Director of the Year in 2001. She received an MHSAA’s Allen W. Bush Award in 2014 – recognition given for work done generally behind the scenes and with little attention.

“This is the top of the mountain, per se. This one does mean so much,” Leinaar said of the Forsythe Award. “The names that are associated with this over the years, I never thought I’d be put in that group.”

Leinaar remains a continuous source of support at a multitude of MHSAA championship events, and during her time on Council was one of the most frequent representatives handing out trophies and medals to champions and runners-up at Finals events. She began while athletic director at Delton Kellogg hosting the MHSAA Volleyball Finals in Class B and Class C and continues to assist with those championships now played at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

She also hosted Competitive Cheer Finals at Delton Kellogg in 1996 and 1997, Ski Finals while at Gaylord, and many more championship events across the Lower Peninsula. She continues to assist at the MHSAA’s Lower Peninsula Cross Country and Track & Field Finals.

After attending Delton Kellogg High School, Leinaar earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education, health and recreation, with a minor in driver education, from MSU in 1982. She completed a master’s in athletic administration from Western Michigan University in 1994.

Leinaar has been a member for 40 years of both the MIAAA and NIAAA, and has served as chairperson of the MIAAA Annual Conference and awards chairperson for both the state and national bodies. She’s also served as chairperson of the MIAAA’s Exemplary Athletic Program.

Past recipients of the Charles E. Forsythe Award 

1978 - Brick Fowler, Port Huron; Paul Smarks, Warren 
1979 - Earl Messner, Reed City; Howard Beatty, Saginaw 
1980 - Max Carey, Freesoil 
1981 - Steven Sluka, Grand Haven; Samuel Madden, Detroit
1982 - Ernest Buckholz, Mt. Clemens; T. Arthur Treloar, Petoskey
1983 - Leroy Dues, Detroit; Richard Maher, Sturgis 
1984 - William Hart, Marquette; Donald Stamats, Caro
1985 - John Cotton, Farmington; Robert James, Warren 
1986 - William Robinson, Detroit; Irving Soderland, Norway 
1987 - Jack Streidl, Plainwell; Wayne Hellenga, Decatur 
1988 - Jack Johnson, Dearborn; Alan Williams, North Adams
1989 - Walter Bazylewicz, Berkley; Dennis Kiley, Jackson 
1990 - Webster Morrison, Pickford; Herbert Quade, Benton Harbor 
1991 - Clifford Buckmaster, Petoskey; Donald Domke, Northville 
1992 - William Maskill, Kalamazoo; Thomas G. McShannock, Muskegon 
1993 - Roy A. Allen Jr., Detroit; John Duncan, Cedarville 
1994 - Kermit Ambrose, Royal Oak 
1995 - Bob Perry, Lowell 
1996 - Charles H. Jones, Royal Oak 
1997 - Michael A. Foster, Richland; Robert G. Grimes, Battle Creek 
1998 - Lofton C. Greene, River Rouge; Joseph J. Todey, Essexville 
1999 - Bernie Larson, Battle Creek 
2000 - Blake Hagman, Kalamazoo; Jerry Cvengros, Escanaba 
2001 - Norm Johnson, Bangor; George Lovich, Canton 
2002 - John Fundukian, Novi 
2003 - Ken Semelsberger, Port Huron
2004 - Marco Marcet, Frankenmuth
2005 - Jim Feldkamp, Troy
2006 - Dan McShannock, Midland; Dail Prucka, Monroe
2007 - Keith Eldred, Williamston; Tom Hickman, Spring Lake
2008 - Jamie Gent, Haslett; William Newkirk, Sanford Meridian
2009 - Paul Ellinger, Cheboygan
2010 - Rudy Godefroidt, Hemlock; Mike Boyd, Waterford
2011 - Eric C. Federico, Trenton
2012 - Bill Mick, Midland
2013 - Jim Gilmore, Tecumseh; Dave Hutton, Grandville
2014 - Dan Flynn, Escanaba

2015 - Hugh Matson, Saginaw
2016 - Gary Hice, Petoskey; Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2017 - Chuck Nurek, Rochester Hills
2018 - Gary Ellis, Allegan
2019 - Jim Derocher, Negaunee; Fredrick J. Smith, Stevensville
2020 - Michael Garvey, Lawton
2021 - Leroy Hackley Jr., Byron Center; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
2022 - Bruce Horsch, Houghton

PHOTOS (Top) Karen Leinaar, left, awards the 2022 Division 4 volleyball finalist trophy to Indian River Inland Lakes coach Nicole Moore. (Middle) Leinaar accepts the MHSAA's Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998.