The House Gillette Helped Build
February 1, 2012
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.
2023 Forsythe Award Celebrates Leinaar's 40 Years Dedicated to School Sports
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.
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.