Cohen Champions Treatment, Technology

March 10, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Abby Cohen was looking for a problem to solve.

Two years later, she’s potentially only one more year from helping relieve a medical dilemma faced by 25 million Americans.

And the most impressive part might be that she graduated from high school a mere five years ago and is 23 years old.  

Cohen, a 2009 MHSAA Scholar-Athlete Award winner as a senior at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, certainly could be called proactive, going back to her days as a volleyball, basketball and soccer standout for the Cranes. Less than a year after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., she’s co-founder and co-CEO of Sparo Labs, which seeks to provide asthma sufferers with a proactive way of monitoring their symptoms and improving their treatments.

“Everyone has a different perspective on how to go about doing things,” Cohen said. “For me, growing up trying to improve in sports, I’d write down a list of things to do every day and actually do them, follow through. That aspect of always wanting to get better, and improve, is something that’s carried through to the rest of what we do at Sparo and in general how I approach things.”

On March 22, the MHSAA and Farm Bureau Insurance will recognize a 25th class of Scholar-Athlete Award winners. In advance of the celebration, Second Half has caught up with some of the hundreds who have been recognized (see additional links at the bottom of this page).

Cohen, who also served on the MHSAA Student Advisory Council from 2007-09, chose Washington based on its strong engineering problem and successful women’s basketball program. She studied bio-medical engineering and was a freshman on the Bears team that defeated Hope College for the Division III national championship in 2010.

But that first season was followed by a series of ankle injuries that required reconstructive surgery – and, effectively, ended her collegiate sports career. She still can play pick-up games, but four-hour daily practices and the other commitments of a varsity program would've been too much.

She missed basketball. But the end of her competitive career on the court, as it turned out, allowed more time to dive into a new pursuit – and, in her words, “work with another kind of team.”   

“I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason,” Cohen said. “It was disappointing having to have surgery to make everything feel better, for the long term, not just basketball. For me at that time, I didn't appreciate that with the extra time I could have, I could take the time to try new things, make the world a better place.”

Cohen planned at first to eventually become a physician. She shadowed a number of doctors, but decided that in the long run she could have a greater impact as an engineer designing products physicians could use.

In addition to her classwork, she helped form an extracurricular entrepreneurial group – and set out for an issue in need of repair. She and her now-business partner Andrew Brimer didn't realize how many Americans are affected by asthma, “that respiratory diseases are the only ones getting worse over time rather than getting better. That although technology is improving, why it’s not making a dent.”

They set out find out and make that dent themselves.

Through a series of interviews with patients, doctors, respiratory therapists and others in the field, Cohen and Brimer got an idea what could help – an affordable, easy-to-use device to allow patients to monitor on their own their symptoms so they can better manage them and the treatments to help. Cohen and Brimer designed a device that plugs into a smart phone and allows patients to blow into it like a whistle and register lung function readings – while also collecting data on medications, pollen counts, and other variables that affect lung function. Their device also should dent the health care costs that go with current testing, which generally requires an office visit.

Sparo will work over the next six months to improve its app interface and user experience, and then submit for Food and Drug Administration approval at the end of this year or the beginning of 2015 – with the hope it will then become available to patients later next spring.

Cohen is based in St. Louis, where she and Brimer have been able to work with three large local hospitals and within a nurturing entrepreneurial community. Brimer's brother owns a tech education company in New York which has provided additional support as she and Brimer discussed what was possible. “We were talking to patients and physicians, and it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Cohen said. “If we weren’t going to do this, who was?”

Cohen and Brimer have won 9 of 11 entrepreneurship grant competitions they've entered, netting more than $300,000 to get their lab rolling and allow them to hire two more engineers. Long-term, today’s work could just be the start of what Cohen hopes eventually will reach into developing countries as well.

She remains in touch with a number of teachers at Cranbrook-Kingswood – also, her mother Sheila Cohen teaches sixth-grade math at the school – and she spoke there at the end of 2013 as part of a TEDx event.   

As she continues to build her team, Cohen is reminded of additional lessons she learned on the courts and soccer field – including a major one that will continue to pay as Sparo expands. 

“Learning how to work on a team, with really different personalities, different people who all play different roles,” Cohen said. “That really came from sports – the ability to work with people and reach one common goal.” 

Click to read the series' first installments: 

PHOTO: Abby Cohen (10) helps her teammates hoist a trophy while a player at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Cranbrook-Kingswood.)

Finalists Announced for 2022-23 MHSAA-Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Awards

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 18, 2023

The 120 finalists for the Michigan High School Athletic Association's Scholar-Athlete Awards for the 2022-23 school year, presented by Farm Bureau Insurance, have been announced.

The program, in its 34th year, has recognized student-athletes since the 1989-90 school year and again this winter will honor 32 individuals from MHSAA member schools who participate in at least one sport in which the Association sponsors a postseason tournament.

Farm Bureau Insurance underwrites the Scholar-Athlete Awards and will present a $2,000 scholarship to each recipient. Since the beginning of the program, 896 scholarships have been awarded.

Scholarships will be presented proportionately by school classification, with 12 scholarships to be awarded to Class A student-athletes, six female and six male; eight scholarships will be awarded to Class B student-athletes, four female and four male; six scholarships will be awarded to Class C student-athletes, three female and three male; and four scholarships will be awarded to Class D student-athletes, two female and two male. In addition, two scholarships will be awarded at-large to minority recipients, regardless of school size.

Every MHSAA member high school could submit as many applications as there are scholarships available in its classification and could have more than one finalist. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood has four finalists and Kalamazoo Loy Norrix and Midland Dow have three finalists this year. Twelve schools have two finalists: Ada Forest Hills Eastern, Cass City, Fenton, Hillsdale Academy, Holland, Holland Christian, Milford, Negaunee, Northville, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary, South Lyon East, and Tecumseh.

Multiple-sport participation remains the norm among applicants. The average sport participation rate of the finalists is 2.88. There are 74 three-plus sport participants in the finalists field, and all but two of the 28 sports in which the MHSAA sponsors postseason tournaments are represented.

Of 421 schools which submitted applicants, 25 submitted the maximum allowed. This year, 1,440 applications were received. All applicants will be presented with certificates commemorating their achievement. Additional Scholar-Athlete information, including a complete list of scholarship nominees, can be found on the Scholar-Athlete page. 

The applications were judged by a 65-member committee of school coaches, counselors, faculty members, administrators and board members from MHSAA member schools. Selection of the 32 scholarship recipients will take place in early February. Class C and D scholarship recipients will be announced Feb. 7, Class B scholarship recipients will be announced Feb. 14 and Class A scholarship recipients will be announced Feb. 21. All announcements will be made on the MHSAA Website.

To be eligible for the award, students must have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.50 (on a 4.0 scale) and previously have won a varsity letter in at least one sport in which the MHSAA sponsors a postseason tournament. Students also were asked to respond to a series of short essay questions, submit two letters of recommendation and a 500-word essay on the importance of sportsmanship in educational athletics.

Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan was founded in 1949 by Michigan farmers who wanted an insurance company that worked as hard as they did. Those values still guide the company today and are a big reason why it is known as Michigan’s Insurance Company, dedicated to protecting the farms, families, and businesses of this great state. Farm Bureau Insurance agents across Michigan provide a full range of insurance services—life, home, auto, farm, business, retirement, Lake Estate®, and more—protecting nearly 500,000 Michigan policyholders.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 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 1.3 million spectators each year. 

2022-23 Scholar-Athlete Award Finalists

Daria Igonin, Belleville
Ella Blank, Birmingham Groves
Ella Thomas, Brownstown Woodhaven
Keira Tolmie, Clarkston
Nora Chamas, Dearborn
Miryam El-Saghir, Dearborn Edsel Ford
Abigail Frushour, DeWitt
Rachel Williamson, East Grand Rapids
Naomi Sowa, East Lansing
Adrienne Staib, Fenton
Abigail Cumings, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central
Ella Eitniear, Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills
Sophia Borowski, Grosse Pointe North
Eva Whiteman, Holland
Ana Dunfee, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix
Wendy Miedema, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix
Colleen Blackwood, Linden
Kathleen Doneth, Mason
Caroline Colt, Milford
Leah Merriam, Milford
Sophia Hekkema, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer
Jane Barnett, Royal Oak
Kate Mazur, South Lyon East
Amyla Eberhart, South Lyon East

Henry Jackson, Bloomfield Hills
Connor Anderson, Cadillac
Isaac David Clark, Caledonia
Braylen Himmelein, Davison
Nathan Katic, Fenton
Isaac Postema, Grand Haven
Ryan Lee, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern
Brayden Ryan LaCroix, Grandville
Brendan Downey, Grosse Pointe South
James R. Baer, Holland
Treyton William Carr, Hudsonville
James Rocco, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix
James Patterson Jr., Lake Orion
Shubhan Nagarkar, Midland Dow
Danny Safadi, Midland Dow
Jack Bakus, Midland Dow
Gavyn Stout, Muskegon Mona Shores
Abhinav Attaluri, Northville
David Whitaker, Northville
Samuel Gibson, Plainwell
Harsimmer Sohi, Portage Central
Shane Pitcher, Saline
Ian Robertson, Traverse City West
Trevor Wallar, Zeeland West

Devin Johnston, Almont
Rylie Haist, Big Rapids
Jordan Richie, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
Anna Smith, Clawson
Carney Salo, Escanaba
Ella Wagner, Essexville Garber
Lauren Harrold, Flint Powers Catholic
Tiffany Keller, Frankenmuth
Ainsley VandenBrink, Holland Christian
Claire Filpus, Houghton
Elaina Bortolini, Kingsford
Matelyn Midkiff, Midland Bullock Creek
Rachel Niskanen, Negaunee
Molly McNitt, Paw Paw
Chesney Wilke, Tecumseh
Allison Tate, Whitehall

Sreejay Ramakrishnan, Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Jacob Pallo, Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Aiden Eric Smith, Adrian
Evan Jose Evans, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
John Kersh, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
Nathan Hooker, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
Jacob Fenbert, Dundee
Michael App, Grand Rapids Catholic Central
James Oosterhouse, Holland Christian
Matthew Bowman, Milan
Philip Nelson, Negaunee
Grant H. Harkness, Newaygo
Nicholas Liparoto, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
Isaiah Pelc, Portland
Aldo Barba, Tecumseh
Camden Johnecheck, Williamston

Tailor Onstott, Beal City
Saylar Cuthrell, Cass City
Kylie McGrath, Cass City
Claire Scholten, Charlevoix
Ruby Sierer, Clinton
Quinn Watts, Fowler
Danni Swihart, Hanover-Horton
Aziza Burgoon, Iron Mountain
Abigail Meyer, Marlette
Alaina Andrews, Ottawa Lake Whiteford
Laina Harger, St. Charles
Samantha Dietz, Watervliet

Logan Pflug, Cassopolis
Seth Vanderwest, Kent City
Ethan Green, Kingston
Andrew Mleczko, Madison Heights Bishop Foley
Grant Mason, Manistique
Blake O'Connor, Maple City Glen Lake
Brock Murphy, Menominee
Riley DeSarbo, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central
Ty Kohlmann, New Lothrop
Noah Etnyre, Plymouth Christian Academy
Brennan Cannaday, Royal Oak Shrine Catholic
Dirk Rierson, Unionville-Sebewaing

Kylie Quist, Athens
Kasandra Lynn Waldi, Chesterfield Austin Catholic
Megan Roberts, Hillsdale Academy
Emma Case, Kinde North Huron
Monique Brisson, Munising
Makennah Uotila, Ontonagon
Gabriella Wenzel, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary
Macey Springer, Three Oaks River Valley

Ryan McDonell, Bay City All Saints
Luke Walker, Clarkston Everest Collegiate
Amos Norland, Dollar Bay
Brody Appelgren, Hillman
Caleb Diener, Hillsdale Academy
Matthew Zammit, Marine City Cardinal Mooney
James Blackburn, Martin
Caleb Munson, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary

PHOTO A group including 27 of last season's 32 MHSAA-Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Award winners take a photo together during the banquet at Breslin Center.