Maribeth Johnston’s description made it easy to imagine the bustling activity that was Janet Gillette’s Comstock Park athletic office for 20 years.
Gillette and her secretary’s desks, piled with shelves of labeled and color-coded binders. A wall-sized white board calendar marked with sports activities for the next two months. Floor to ceiling shelf units, labeled cubbies and a copy machine loaded with paper of various colors. Trophies on shelves awaiting their turn in the school’s display case.
And then there were the two most telling images of Gillette’s legacy during four decades as a part of Comstock Park schools. On other walls were hundreds of pictures of students, athletes, coaches and staff. And in the center of the athletic office were two large work tables, usually occupied by student volunteers stuffing envelopes, organizing and counting uniforms or taking any on other task to help out.
“Her attention to detail, service for others and devotion to make every event ‘special’ is what endears her to the people in our school system,” wrote Johnston, who recently finished her 24th season as the school’s volleyball coach, in a letter of recommendation for the MHSAA’s Women in Sports Leadership Award. “The athletic office is a wonderful place. But the person who makes it all happen is Jan Gillette.”
Gillette attended Comstock Park, came back as a teacher and coach, and retired in 2010 after spending her final 19 school years as athletic director. She is the 25th woman to be recognized with the WISL Award for exemplary leadership capabilities and positive contributions to athletics. The award will be presented during Sunday’s Women In Sports Leadership Conference banquet at the Lexington Lansing Hotel.
“One of my quotes that people always hear is there’s no greater privilege in life than to have an impact on a young person. I got to do that every day,” Gillette said. “And they impacted my life as well."
A 1973 graduate of Comstock Park, Gillette began coaching at the school just a year later. A four-sport athlete in high school, she eventually coached girls tennis, softball, volleyball and middle school basketball while also joining the district’s teaching staff in 1977 after attending Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State (playing two sports at the former). Gillette then served as the high school athletic director beginning in 1990.
Under her leadership, Comstock Park served host to numerous MHSAA postseason tournaments, including 15 Lower Peninsula Track and Field Finals and multiple Girls Competitive Cheer Finals. Gillette also was active with the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, serving as a presenter at numerous conferences and developing a coaches handbook.
“Few administrators have such a long record of hosting MHSAA Finals, evidence again of Janet Gillette’s drive to contribute not only at Comstock Park, but to high school sports on a larger scale,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “Her involvement with female athletics dates back nearly to their inception. Jan’s impact will continue to be felt for years to come, and her contributions set a high standard for administrators in the future. We’re proud to honor her with the Women In Sports Leadership Award.”
Girls sports have evolved the most since Gillette first joined the athletic scene. Back then, seasons were only eight weeks, and volleyball, bowling and softball were not yet sponsored by the MHSAA. “To see what we have now, it’s just awesome,” Gillette said.
She is a member of the Comstock Park Athletic Hall of Fame, and has been recognized as Regional Athletic Director of the Year by the MIAAA, Athletic Director of the Year by the Michigan Competitive Cheer Coaches Association and the West Michigan Basketball-Football Association, and Comstock Park Employee of the Year in 2004. She also received the MHSAA’s Allen W. Bush Award in 2006 for her service to high school athletics.
In the community, Gillette has served as a coach in the Northwest Little League and been active with the Alpine Baptist Church as an AWANA Director and a Sunday School teacher.
“Mrs. G” hardly has disappeared from the school scene. She still manages the school’s volleyball tournaments and cheer invitationals, and the 250-person effort that makes the Division 3 Track and Field Final happen each spring.
She’s the first to credit all of those helpers, as well as the school boards, principals and superintendents who led the district during her career.
“I love Comstock Park. I love the community. I grew up there, and my dream was always to become a coach and a teacher,” Gillette said. “I didn’t want to do anything else because of the impact my teachers and the staff had on me, and the coaches.
“To go back to your own home town, what better could there be?”
Past Women In Sports Leadership Award recipients
1990 – Carol Seavoy, L’Anse
1991 – Diane Laffey, Harper Woods
1992 – Patricia Ashby, Scotts
1993 – Jo Lake, Grosse Pointe
1994 – Brenda Gatlin, Detroit
1995 – Jane Bennett, Ann Arbor
1996 – Cheryl Amos-Helmicki, Huntington Woods
1997 – Delores L. Elswick, Detroit
1998 – Karen S. Leinaar, Delton
1999 – Kathy McGee, Flint
2000 – Pat Richardson, Grass Lake
2001 – Suzanne Martin, East Lansing
2002 – Susan Barthold, Kentwood
2003 – Nancy Clark, Flint
2004 – Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, Grand Rapids
2005 – Barbara Redding, Capac
2006 – Melanie Miller, Lansing
2007 – Jan Sander, Warren Woods
2008 – Jane Bos, Grand Rapids
2009 – Gail Ganakas, Flint; Deb VanKuiken, Holly
2010 – Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2011 – Ellen Pugh, West Branch; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
PHOTOS courtesy of Comstock Park High School.
Michigan continued to rank 10th nationally in high school-aged population during the 2022-23 school year and continued to best that ranking in participation in high school sports, according to the annual national participation study conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Michigan ranked ninth for overall participation nationally, based on a total of 268,070 participants who competed in sports for which the MHSAA conducts postseason tournaments. The total counts students once for each sport played, meaning students who are multiple-sport athletes are counted more than once.
Michigan also ranked ninth nationally for both girls (111,569) and boys (156,501) participation separately, while ranking ninth for high-school aged boys population and 10th for girls according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Michigan’s national rankings in seven sports improved from 2021-22, while nine sports saw lower national rankings than the previous year. The biggest jumps came in girls volleyball and boys soccer, which both moved up two spots – volleyball to fourth-highest participation nationally, and boys soccer to eighth. Girls golf (fourth), softball (seventh), girls track & field (seventh), girls swimming & diving and boys swimming & diving (both eighth) also moved up on their respective national lists.
Participation in several more MHSAA sports also continued to outpace the state’s rankings for high school-aged population.
For girls, participation in bowling (fourth), tennis (fourth), cross country (sixth), basketball (seventh), competitive cheer (ninth) and soccer (ninth) all ranked higher than their population listing of 10th nationally. Among boys sports, bowling (second), ice hockey (fourth), tennis (fifth), golf (fifth), basketball (sixth), track & field (sixth), cross country (seventh), football – all formats combined (seventh) and baseball (eighth) exceeded that ninth ranking for population.
Only 11 states sponsor alpine skiing, but Michigan ranked third on both the girls and boys lists for that sport. Wrestling, with boys and girls totals counted together, ranked eighth.
Participation nationally rose more than three percent from 2021-22 to 7,857,969 participants, the first upward movement in participation data since the all-time record of 7,980,886 in 2017-18, which was followed by the first decline in 30 years in 2018-19 and the two-year halt in data collection by the NFHS related to the pandemic. (The MHSAA continued to collect and report its data during this time.) The national total includes 4,529,789 boys and 3,328,180 girls, according to figures obtained from the 51 NFHS member state associations, which include the District of Columbia.
Eleven-player football remained the most popular boys sport, and most popular participation sport overall, with the total climbing back over one million participants. The total of 1,028,761 participants marked an increase of 54,969 and 5.6 percent from the previous year. This year’s increase was the first in the sport since 2013 and only the second increase since the all-time high of 1,112,303 in 2008-09. There also was a slight gain (34,935 to 35,301) in the number of boys in 6-, 8- and 9-player football.
Next on the boys list were outdoor track & field, basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross country, tennis, golf, and swimming & diving, respectively.
On the girls side, outdoor track and field (up 6.5 percent) and volleyball (3.6) remained in the top two spots, while basketball reclaimed the third position. Cross country ranked fourth, followed by softball, soccer, golf, tennis, swimming & diving and competitive spirit, respectively.
Texas remained atop the list of state participation with 827,446, but California closed the gap in second adding 25,000 participants to climb to 787,697. New York is third with 356,803, followed by Illinois (335,801), Ohio (323,117), Pennsylvania (316,587), Florida (297,389), New Jersey (272,159), Michigan (268,070) and Minnesota (219,094), which climbed into the top 10 past Massachusetts.
The participation survey has been compiled in its current form by the NFHS since 1971.