Three educators who have combined for more than a century of service to high school athletics – Adrian Madison’s Kristen Isom, Holly’s Deb VanKuiken and Battle Creek’s Jim Cummins – have been named recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association's Allen W. Bush Award for 2016.
Al Bush served as executive director of the MHSAA for 10 years. The award honors individuals for past and continuing service to prep athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. The award was developed to bring recognition to men and women who are giving and serving without a lot of attention. This is the 25th year of the award, with selections made by the MHSAA's Representative Council.
“This year’s three Bush Award winners are tied by their dedication to working with our student-athletes on a day-to-day basis over the course of decades, providing guidance that in turn has been spread throughout their local and sport communities,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “We are grateful for their service and pleased to honor them with the Bush Award.”
Isom, a member of the MHSAA’s Representative Council since 2008, recently completed her 30th year of service and currently is athletic director at Madison for grades 7-12. She’s also taught health and physical education and coached at least one of a variety of sports every year. She’s served as president of the Tri-County Conference for the last decade after previously serving as secretary and treasurer.
An MHSAA tournament host for many events over the years, Isom was named Region 6 Athletic Director of the Year in 2000 from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. She’s a member of that association, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the Society of Health and Physical Educators of Michigan. The class adviser at Madison for this fall’s juniors, Isom also assists in selection for the MHSAA Student Advisory Council.
A graduate of Clinton High School, Isom earned her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, a master’s from Eastern Michigan University and has completed graduate courses from Fresno Pacific University. She’s active with Adrian’s United Church of Christ in various service projects, including an annual fundraiser for cancer research.
“As her community has grown over the years, and the needs and expectations have evolved for all of our schools, Kris Isom has provided valuable leadership at both the local and statewide levels,” Roberts said. “Her many contributions have been rooted in her belief in the mission of educational athletics. Her work with students at her school and input on selections for our Advisory Council show again her dedication to those learning those lessons by playing our games. She’s a worthy recipient of the Bush Award.”
VanKuiken also just completed her 30th year in education, including her 18th as an athletic administrator. She’s served as athletic director for Holly Area Schools the last 12 years after teaching at Bridgeport from 1984-1996 and then serving as assistant principal and athletic director at that school from 1996-2002. She coached softball, volleyball and both boys and girls tennis at various points during her time at Bridgeport, girls tennis as the varsity head coach from 1985-95. She also served as secretary and then president of the Tri-Valley Conference while at Bridgeport. Holly has added high school boys and girls bowling and middle school softball, baseball, swimming & diving and bowling during her tenure.
The Region 9 Athletic Director of the Year in 2007, VanKuiken was elected to the MIAAA Executive Board in 2005 and served as president during the 2007-08 school year. She helped produce a “Critical Incident Plans” DVD for the association to assist administrators statewide and created the first strategic plan for the MIAAA during her term as president. She received the MIAAA’s George Lovich Service Award in 2011.
VanKuiken also has served on the board of directors for The Academy of Sports Leadership, which plans and organizes camps for future coaches every summer in Ann Arbor, and is a member of the NIAAA, serving on its endowment committee. After a three-sport career at Lansing Sexton, he earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Central Michigan University and played field hockey collegiately, and she’s attained Certified Master Athletic Administrator status from the NIAAA. She received the MHSAA’s Women in Sports Leadership Award in 2009.
“Deb VanKuiken’s work shows she always has the athlete in mind, from the opportunities she’s worked to add through new programs at her school to the programs she’s initiated as a leader of the MIAAA,” Roberts said. “Her vision continues to benefit all groups she serves, not only athletes, but coaches and administrators as well. We’re pleased to recognize her with the Bush Award.”
Like VanKuiken, Cummins also coached a number of sports at the high school level and primarily tennis; he coached that sport for 47 years in addition to baseball, football, basketball for 33 years and volleyball for 11. At Battle Creek Springfield and Battle Creek Central, he coached 67 Regional tennis champions and four flights that won individual Finals titles. His teams finished third at MHSAA Finals four times and won eight straight Kalamazoo Valley Association titles.
He’s perhaps most recognizable statewide for directing more than 40 MHSAA Tennis Finals for either boys or girls at various sites around the Lower Peninsula. He’s also managed an MHSAA Regional every year since 1974 for boys and all but three years since 1983 for girls, and has continued to serve on the MHSAA seeding and rules committees.
Cummins was twice named Class C/D Coach of the Year, once for boys season and once for girls, by the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association, and he was inducted into that association’s Hall of Fame in 1990. He also is a member of the Colon and Battle Creek Public Schools halls of fame and received the MHSTeCA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2014. Cummins graduated from Colon in 1963 and Central Michigan in 1967. He retired from public education after 30 years and currently is employed as an adjunct instructor of mathematics by Kellogg Community College. He was named Outstanding Educator by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1999.
“Jim Cummins’ impact on athletes and coaches over many years have turned into positive effects on hundreds as his lessons have been passed on,” Roberts said. “He has been especially valuable to the MHSAA as a knowledgeable voice in tennis and a tournament host in that sport at our highest level, and he’s also lent his time and expertise to our volleyball and wrestling tournaments over the years. We’re glad to honor Jim Cummins with the Bush Award.”
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,400 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.
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.)