Lowell’s Deanne Crowley, Owosso’s Dallas Lintner and Fenton’s Mitch Smelis all have provided more than two decades of service to Michigan educational athletics, Crowley as a highly-regarded coach and administrator, Lintner also as an administrator and educational leader and Smelis as an athletic trainer and prominent voice in the sports medicine community especially in its service to school sports.
To recognize their significant and continued contributions to educational athletics, Crowley, Lintner and Smelis have been named recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Allen W. Bush Award for 2022.
Al Bush served as executive director of the MHSAA for 10 years. The award honors individuals for past and continuing service to school athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. The award was developed to bring recognition to people who are giving and serving without a lot of attention. This is the 31st year of the award, with selections made by the MHSAA's Representative Council.
Crowley began her coaching career at Lake Odessa Lakewood in 1987 with subvarsity basketball, and she took over Lowell’s girls varsity program in 2000 after previously beginning her teaching career there in 1998. She remained the Red Arrows’ coach through 2006, that season leading her team to the Class A Semifinals – and she also was named Class A Coach of Year in 2004 by The Associated Press. Crowley became an assistant principal at Lowell in 2010 and the high school’s athletic director in 2013.
She earned her certified athletic administrator designation from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) in 2018 and was named Region 4 Athletic Director of the Year this past school year by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Previously, she was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Michigan Wrestling Association for the 2018-19 school year and by the West Michigan Officials Association in 2021. Crowley also is a significant contributor to Lowell’s nationally-recognized Pink Arrow Pride program that raises funds annually for cancer awareness, education and support within the Lowell community; she organizes and coordinates the education program, which among other goals provides scholarships for Lowell graduates pursuing careers in medicine. She also was a co-founder in 2000 of the Lady Arrows Varsity Club, which provides leadership training for female student-athletes who have earned a varsity letter.
Crowley graduated from Lakewood High School in 1983 and earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Western Michigan University in 1997 and a master’s in educational administration from Michigan State University in 2002.
“I have known Dee for over 20 years, and she has always been incredibly dedicated to finding opportunities for all students, especially female student-athletes,” Uyl said. “Her years as a coach and administrator have shown a solid record of finding ways for kids to compete.”
Lintner is returning to Owosso High School as principal this fall after finishing the second half of 2021-22 as interim athletic director at Fenton High School. He first joined the staff at Owosso as a teacher in 2001-02, went to Linden as athletic director for two years beginning with fall of 2008, then returned to Owosso as athletic director and assistant principal from 2010 through the 2020-21 school year. He served as principal at Owosso Lincoln High School last school year until leaving for Fenton.
Education has been a focus of Lintner’s work, and he received a doctorate in educational leadership from University of Michigan-Flint in 2017. He has a certified master athletic administrator designation and has served as a leadership training instructor for the NIAAA since 2015. He also has served as a facilitator for the Love and Logic parenting program.
Lintner has been an active participant with the MIAAA as well, serving as its constitution committee chairperson since 2009. He was a member of the executive board from 2015-20, including serving as president during the 2018-19 school year. As athletic director, he was a frequent host of MHSAA postseason events and a contributor to various committees, and he previously was an MHSAA registered official for track & field and coach in multiple sports. Prior to earning his doctorate, Lintner graduated from Vassar High School in 1995, then earned a bachelor's degree in education from Saginaw Valley State University in 2000 and a master’s in athletic administration from Central Michigan University in 2005.
“Dallas has provided years of solid leadership in Owosso,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “This consistent approach has led to numerous improvements, and during his tenure as athletic director his school won its first state championship, with the softball program (in 2021).”
Smelis has served as an athletic trainer for 25 years with Fenton Area Public Schools, for the last decade through NovaCare Rehabilitation. He was named High School Athletic Trainer of the Year by the Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society (MATS) in 2017 and serves as co-chairperson of its Secondary School Committee.
Also a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association (GLATA), Smelis has become a key connection between the training community and MHSAA. He has contributed as a MATS liaison on multiple MHSAA sport committees, and serves on the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and as an instructor for the MHSAA’s Coaches Advancement Program (CAP). He also has presented at the MIAAA’s annual and summer conferences on a variety of physical health and safety and mental health topics.
Smelis graduated from Imlay City High School in 1991 and earned a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine from Central Michigan University in 1997. He is a certified American Heart Association instructor for CPR, first aid and basic life support and has served as lead instructor in CPR and first aid for Fenton’s coaches and staff.
“Mitch has been incredibly dedicated to keeping kids safe while playing all sports,” Uyl said. “He also has been responsible for further strengthening the good relationship between the MHSAA and Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society, and he continues to provide valuable insight as part of our coaches education efforts.”
First impressions can be significant, as many a saying goes. And Karen Brown unknowingly provided one in 1978 that helped affect the course of athletics in this state over the next 40-plus years.
A Michigan State University student named Karen Leinaar had shown up at the Michigan High School Athletic Association for a meeting about a 5K road race she was planning that was unrelated to the MHSAA except that the building provided a good meeting place – and Brown, just a year out of high school, was the first person to greet her at the old Trowbridge Road headquarters.
Seeing someone her age immediately made Leinaar more comfortable. She ended up returning to that office several times over the years, registering as an MHSAA game official while still an MSU student and then starting a career in 1982 that has included nearly 40 years as a high school athletic director and two decades of shaping policy as part of the MHSAA Representative Council.
That’s the kind of impact that’s emanated from Karen Jackson, formerly Brown, and over the last 45 years as assistant to four of the five executive directors during the MHSAA’s 98-year history. Jackson finished that run with her retirement Friday.
“She was always one that would welcome you, and whether you walked into the office or called on the phone, she always had an answer that would calm you down or provide you with the information you needed,” said Leinaar, who currently is serving as interim athletic director at Frankfort High School in addition to her duties as executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
“I remember initially calling and needing something from Mr. Norris – it was always Mr. Norris – and she could answer the question,” Leinaar added, referring to retired MHSAA executive director Vern Norris, who served in that role from 1978-86. “You didn’t want to talk to scary Mr. Norris – Vern was a wonderful man, but he was like the superintendent or principal. Karen always had the answer. … It was always that smile that made you feel like you were more than welcomed, wanted in the office, and everything is going to be OK.”
Jackson began at the MHSAA in June 1977, two days before her graduation from long ago-closed Harry Hill High School in Lansing.
Her high school sports career amounted to about half a season on the Hill varsity volleyball team as a sophomore before she had to switch gears to begin working for the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce as part of a school co-op program.
Jackson graduated as a co-valedictorian of Hill’s Class of 1977. Despite her academic standing, she hadn’t received much guidance at school on the possibility of college. But she had a job offer from the Chamber – and also had heard from grade-school friend Deborah Norris (Vern’s daughter) about an opening at the MHSAA.
The MHSAA was offering more money, and Jackson was hoping to buy a car – and so at 18, she became the secretary for executive director Allen W. Bush.
The title has changed over the years, from secretary to the executive director, to executive assistant, to senior executive assistant. The MHSAA’s administrative processes obviously have changed, mostly because of technology, from everything done on paper and through the mail to just about everything conducted digitally over the internet.
But many of Jackson’s most important duties at the end of her tenure resembled those she was hired to carry out nearly half a century ago.
Setting Exemplary Expectations
Bush retired a year after Jackson began, and she then assisted Norris for his eight as executive director. She served with Jack Roberts through his 32 years as executive director from 1986-2018 and then for these first 3½ under current director Mark Uyl.
She was considered the “baby” of the MHSAA staff during her first 12 years, until she turned 30 and her support staff teammates declared she wasn’t the baby anymore during a Christmas party serenade. Just about 33 years later, she’s leaving as one of two people left who worked in the old offices before the MHSAA moved to another East Lansing headquarters at Ramblewood Drive in 1996.
School sports happen thanks to a Karen Jackson or two in every community -- people who provide the unseen support that makes these programs possible every day.
For the last 45 years, she’s provided a consistent anchor for service to 1,500 schools and millions of student-athletes across Michigan.
“She’s shaped so much of what we’ve done,” said MHSAA assistant director Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, who joined the staff during the 2003-04 school year after more than two decades working for Grand Rapids-area schools. “Her service to schools was imperative to what she was doing, and it was a valuable part for our membership. Hers was such a dedicated service, such an exemplary service – finding solutions, to do what’s needed.”
There are file cabinets and libraries and hard drives at the MHSAA office, the contents of which are known by only a handful of people on Earth – and Jackson perhaps the most as she did most of the sorting and maintaining of those files over the years.
For a 1996 Lansing State Journal feature on the MHSAA’s support staff, Jackson (then Yonkers) explained “there are always new challenges, new issues and controversies. It never gets boring. In the past 19 years, we’ve slowly shifted from dealing with athletic administrators, principals and superintendents to dealing with legislators, attorneys and courts.”
The last 25 years has seen much of the work swing back to providing service directly to schools. And Jackson’s mind has become part MHSAA library and part card catalog of where to find those few snippets she might not recall immediately from the last half century.
“I guess what I’m proud of is being able to find things, to know where to find things and how to find things that other people don’t,” Jackson said. “Yes, the technology has changed everything. … We used to have more schools – they used to have 40-some Detroit public schools – and there was a whole era of (litigation), but it’s calmed down now.
“I liked what I did, and it kept me on my toes – that’s for sure.”
The MHSAA is rooted in its responsibilities as a championship and eligibility rules maker, and Jackson was involved in just about every communication in those areas during her time. Tournament changes are made at Representative Council meetings, and she’s reported the minutes for at least 150 of those, including piles of special sessions as the MHSAA managed sports through the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility waivers are requested at Executive Committee meetings, and she’s prepared somewhere north of 505 sets of minutes for those monthly sessions even as those agendas have grown in content substantially over the years.
Then there’s all of the correspondence from those four executive directors – all with the initials “kb” or “kj” to go with “AWB” or “VLN” or “JER” and “MU.” She also was in charge of MHSAA election ballots for 35 years, served as the lead organizer of cooperative programs, helped with football tickets for a time and briefly was part of the program-selling crew at early Football Finals at the Pontiac Silverdome.
“I think I’m pretty lucky, being on the Council and Executive Committee, that I’ve been able to work with her a lot. And most athletic directors, they may not even know who she is because they may not have contact with her or do anything with her – but she’s obviously been the unsung hero of that office,” said Vic Michaels, who serves as director of physical education & athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit and has served on the Representative Council since 2003.
“She just does so much that you don’t really know about, especially with the Council. Whenever I need anything, Karen’s the one I call. She is the history, really. She’s the keeper of that.”
Unprecedented & 'Never to be Replicated'
A longtime co-worker of Jackson, Shirley Hytinen, retired in 1998 after just a few months more than 43 years. She too had worked for four executive directors, as she began in 1955 during the Charles E. Forsythe era.
Jackson surpassed Hytinen’s tenure a few years into Uyl’s, and can readily recall some of what stood out from all four directors she’s assisted.
Bush was “really stern” – he had served in the U.S. Marines – and she said he didn’t smile much until the day he announced his retirement, when it was “like a switch turned. He was smiling and happy and joking around.”
Norris was “the sweetest guy in the world.” Jackson had bought her first house in her mid-20s and was preparing to move in with only her dad and his motor home to assist, when Norris showed up to help at 7:30 a.m. that morning to provide another set of hands.
Roberts is known by Michigan administrators and national colleagues for his writing, and Jackson said jokingly she still “cringes” when she sees a yellow legal pad. She was an important proofreader and spent the majority of her career serving with her desk just a few paces away from that of the recent National Federation Hall of Fame selection, and she attended his induction this past summer and San Antonio.
Roberts pointed out that during the 1980s, the MHSAA would conduct nine Executive Committee meetings, each averaging fewer than 10 requests for waivers. By the end of his 32 years, there were 11 Executive Committee meetings annually – with approximately 50 waiver requests presented on average. Still, he and Jackson were able to process the meeting minutes and continue to distribute those decisions within 24 hours.
“Over the more than three decades that Karen and I worked together at the MHSAA, the work became increasingly more voluminous and complicated – and Karen kept finding ways to increase our efficiency and maximize our output,” Roberts said.
Like Norris when Bush was executive director, Uyl had been part of the MHSAA staff under Roberts since 2004 before eventually moving into the corner office. After those first 15 years together, Uyl knew what a valuable person he had just a few yards away to assist in his transition, and “he just says to do this” and allows his staff to run with it, which Jackson enjoyed.
Her duties have been shifted confidently, mostly to Jamie VanDerMoere, another longtime administrative assistant who is best-known to Michigan school sports people for her leadership with the annual wrestling championship tournaments.
Jackson recently was married to Jim Jackson, and they have plans as they close in on their first anniversary – they’re hoping to travel to Italy at some point and also The Masters in Augusta, Ga., next spring. “I’m not going to miss coming to work every day, but the people,” Karen Jackson said.
And many in school sports across Michigan, although they may not realize it, will miss the contributions Jackson has made to their community over the decades including the context she’s provided as thousands of decisions have been made.
“Not only her understanding of our regulations and the processes of our regulations, but understanding why we have those things in place – when someone does something 45 years, you get a lot of historical context,” Uyl said. “What’s made her so effective is understanding the why – and that to me is something that’s almost impossible to replace.
“When an organization has been around 98 years with only five directors, it says something to have worked for four out of the five. That will never be replicated again.”
PHOTOS (Top) From top left, Karen Jackson has been a mainstay of the MHSAA for decades – serving membership, working with administrators like Randy Allen and Gina Mazzolini or serving as assistant to executive directors like Jack Roberts (right) and Vern Norris. (Middle) Jackson, sitting fourth from left, was the “baby” of the MHSAA staff after joining when she was 18. (Below) Jackson and husband Jim have plans to travel in retirement. (MHSAA archives.)