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.
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
GIRLS CLASS A
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
BOYS CLASS A
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
GIRLS CLASS B
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
BOYS CLASS B
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
GIRLS CLASS C
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
BOYS CLASS C
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
GIRLS CLASS D
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
BOYS CLASS D
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.