Johnson Served as Storyteller, Guardian

January 5, 2021

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Promoting the value – and values – of school-based sports.

No statement more completely, or succinctly, explains the mission of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Those words were sparked in the mind of John Johnson, and also might best describe his work for the MHSAA over more than three decades – which concluded with his retirement Dec. 18.

Johnson’s official title for most of his tenure was communications director, by which he designed and delivered the message of the MHSAA’s work. A more suitable title might have been “guardian” – Johnson in 1987 joined the then 62-year-old organization and became keeper and protector of all the MHSAA had been and was becoming under its recently-hired executive director, Jack Roberts.

More than 33 years later, “JJ” has stepped away as the pioneer in his field and having impacted multiple generations of Michigan high school and middle school athletes in ways that will continue. Whether as the coiner of memorable slogans, the voice explaining the nation’s first elaborate sportsmanship effort or detailing the MHSAA’s work for its schools during tougher times, or simply as the narrator passing on some of the good stories the bubble up from every season, Johnson daily worked to keep those who follow school sports in the know.

“Being the voice, and having to be the face a lot, is something that came with the territory – somebody had to be the storyteller. And while you can be prideful about that, the important thing is still the story,” Johnson said. “I’ve said it a lot: I was the lucky guy who got the job. Because the story was there to be told, the work was there to be done.”

Thousands upon thousands of times over the years, Johnson did that work with enthusiasm and grace. Most visibly, it came in front of a TV or radio microphone, or as quoted in your local newspaper and media nationwide. He has been the drive behind the MHSAA championship games watched annually on TV and online, and the messenger via various campaigns delivering the good news of why school sports are vital for kids and communities. 

Serving as that storyteller, Johnson has never been one to tell much of his own. But there is no shortage of storytellers who have benefitted from Johnson’s wisdom and tutelage over the years – and we were enable to enlist a few to paint a more vivid picture as we recount at least a glance of what Johnson has meant to the MHSAA and its schools over these many years.

***

“The measure of all of us is what we leave behind. Those with whom we’ve been in contact. Those we’ve lifted up along the way. And by that measure, we are witnessing the end of a spectacular career. I’ll take away from all the exchanges, the ready smile, the encyclopedic knowledge that JJ possessed and the sense of calm within the frenzy. It was invaluable to those who popped into his world only a few times a year. John Johnson has left very large shoes in East Lansing.”

– John Keating, longtime FOX Sports Detroit anchor and host for many MHSAA Football and Basketball Finals

***

First and 1 of a Kind

Jack Roberts became the fourth full-time executive director of the MHSAA during the summer of 1986. He brought an emphasis on communication, and “communications director” became the first position he created in East Lansing.

Johnson in 1987 became that first communications specialist at the MHSAA, beginning a long last stop during a run in sports that Johnson began as a student at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, about an hour’s drive north of Lansing.

Johnson hadn’t played sports at Sacred Heart, but had taken part in just about every other way possible for a student. He was a team manager, statistician, student trainer, and picked up part-time sports writing work at the former Mt. Pleasant Daily Times. He wrote a series while still in high school on the creation of the MHSAA football playoffs, which were set to kick off in 1975, and that series was syndicated among the newspapers in the Daily Times’ chain. As a student, Johnson moved on to Michigan State University where he majored in journalism, and again he was published and syndicated by the Daily Times – this time for a series on how game officials were being trained by state associations, including the MHSAA.

That series foreshadowed the work he would take up a decade later – it closed with a piece on poor spectatorship toward officials. (Coincidentally, the collection of stories had been clipped and saved by the MHSAA executive director at the time, Vern Norris. The file found its way to Roberts, who eventually found out he had just hired the author.)

Also having served as a student assistant in the MSU sports information office, Johnson began his communications career at Albion College in 1978 as an assistant in the college relations office with responsibility for publicity for the college’s 17 athletic teams. (He didn’t graduate from MSU until 1979, but received two days off per week to get back to East Lansing for classes. He also served as a radio voice for Albion High games on the side.) Johnson moved on to brief stints in the news department with WITL Radio in Lansing and as an intern in the Office of Public Affairs at Ferris State University before landing with the Western Michigan University sports information department as an assistant director.

That led to a three-year stint as an assistant sports information director at Indiana University, where his responsibilities included serving as SID for coach Bobby Knight’s men’s basketball program. Johnson also assisted with press operations at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Basketball Trials hosted by IU. Johnson then left Indiana in January 1986 for a promotions position at Michigan Farm Bureau.

Six months later, his eventual journey to the MHSAA accelerated.

Roberts was hired during the summer of 1986, and not long after he asked MSU sports information director Nick Vista who had been his best student assistant of the past decade. The answer: John Johnson.

Johnson and Roberts met multiple times over the next many months, and Roberts made his choice.

“From the first moment I sat down with Jack Roberts, I knew I wanted to be here,” Johnson said. “The way he talked so passionately about high school sports, and the values of high school sports. … I saw the opportunity to take Jack’s vision and run with it.”

The day before the announcement of Johnson’s hire was to be made, Roberts asked Johnson to come with him to Grand Rapids to watch South Christian basketball star Matt Steigenga (later of MSU and the NBA) – but Johnson couldn’t go because his wife Suzie had gone into labor with their first of two children.

But a little more than a month later, Johnson started at the MHSAA on April 1 – and that came with plenty of jokes on its own.

Yet while Johnson had to miss that trip to Grand Rapids, he and the executive director would get plenty of car time together – to the benefit of the MHSAA’s member schools. To introduce themselves to statewide media, Roberts and Johnson did a driving tour to visit all of them, touring their offices, talking to them about MHSAA initiatives and asking how Association staff could better assist the media in its work. Those drives also allowed them to dream up together “the kinds of things that were unveiled over time,” Roberts recalled.

“We talked so much those first 15 years, we could intuit each other’s thinking the last 15 years,” added Roberts, who retired from the MHSAA in 2018. “We didn’t spend nearly as much time together, but we didn’t need to.”

***

“John Johnson has positively influenced so many more people than he knows and more than anyone realizes. It starts with the thousands and thousands of people who have been able to watch high school sports on the web throughout Michigan. Live-streaming of games has really come to the forefront due to the pandemic, but he was on top of this innovation nearly a decade ago when it was just in the early idea stage. He has been the person who orchestrated and led the countless schools across the state who started streaming their games in the past several years. 

“JJ has also impacted numerous student journalists who wanted to learn the craft by covering high school games. He has always been SO supportive of these aspiring broadcasters and writers and reporters, affording them the opportunities to cover high school championships on the biggest stages, and treating those students the same as their professional peers. The students got to be on the turf at Ford Field and in the postgame press rooms, even if their school's team wasn't involved in the game! All they had to do was ask for credentials, and he granted them time and time again. 

“JJ's influence also touched those of us who work for the MHSAA in a freelance fashion at various championship events. He has helped so many of us become better communicators, announcers, statisticians, and more. He was always willing to provide feedback & opportunities to learn, and he served as our leader who was always accessible morning, noon, and night. He pushed us to be our best every game, just as the athletes were trying to be their best. It's been my pleasure to work for him as a PA announcer for several years now, and I tried to be perfect every single time because I knew he was listening and because I wanted to do well for him.”

– Roger Smith, advisor for Lake Orion High School’s nationally award-winning School Broadcast Program and public address announcer for MHSAA Finals

***

Telling the Story

In Roberts’ eyes, a few campaigns from his and Johnson’s time together stand out most.

• Promoting the Value – and Values of High School Sports. “I came in with “School Sports – the other half of education” but that wasn’t as good,” Roberts said. … (His words) caught our brand much better.”

• Good Sports are Winners. The MHSAA launched a sportsmanship initiative a few years into their tenures that was “unparalleled” nationally, per Roberts’ description. “Before sportsmanship was an 'in thing' to talk about, John and I were talking about it.” Johnson created all of the print and broadcast materials designed to promote improving sportsmanship, and his work helped make Michigan not just the leader but a voice nationally on the topic.

• Safer Than Ever. The campaign, stretching over much of the last decade, explained that high school football – for a variety of reasons – is safer than it has ever been. Johnson worked with the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association to build the messages and promote them at a time when injury fears were regularly headlining media coverage.

“John made our ideas visible and practical. People would put them together at the league level and school district level,” Roberts said.

“To narrow (his work) down to three is unfair to him because he did a thousand things.”

And in a number of roles. Johnson started as communications director, picking up along the way responsibilities in information technology, marketing, merchandising and more. Everything from daily media questions to maintaining the MHSAA record book (and serving on the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) national record book committee) fell onto Johnson’s desk, and just about any message read at any game by a public address announcer was his work. His final years were as “all things broadcasting” as Johnson served as the MHSAA’s first director of broadcast properties – an all-encompassing title that included all-encompassing responsibilities.

The MHSAA provides video broadcasts of nearly all of its MHSAA Finals – including football and basketball with FOX Sports Detroit – and Johnson has navigated the growth of those opportunities. Same with the MHSAA Network’s audio offerings  during championship events, and his voice has been heard weekly during “This Week in High School Sports” which is aired as part of programming by more than 100 radio stations statewide.

The most significant advance under his guidance over the last two decades has been the School Broadcast Program, begun for MHSAA schools during the 2008-09 school year. The MHSAA relied on that knowledge in playing a leading role last decade in the formation of the NFHS Network – the nationwide digital home for live and on-demand high school events – and it’s not unusual for Michigan SBP schools to broadcast upwards of 500 events per week via the network.

“What people don’t necessarily know is John is the pioneer in this field,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “The way he shaped this job over the last 30 years has been extraordinary – and has become the model for the 49 other states.”

***

“I’m sure that with me, JJ had to do things he never had done with anyone else – I was pregnant three straight schools years. The accommodations for me, even as just a female, it was kinda crazy especially in the 1980s. But when I was pregnant, I couldn’t walk up stairs, and he always would make special concessions for me, (like to) try to find bathrooms for me. There were so many media, and there always had to be exceptions, but he always had to take special care for me, and I’m so thankful for what he did. We laugh about that stuff all the time.

“I remember too, I had a tragedy in my family one year, and I know he was busy at the Finals, but he took me (aside), sat there and cried with me and talked with me. He took time out of his way. He treated me professionally, like everyone else. But as a person, he has such a gift to connect with people.”

Jane Bos, longtime prep sports editor for the Grand Rapids Press and 2008 recipient of MHSAA Women In Sports Leadership Award

***

More than Scratching the Surface

The work Johnson pioneered at the MHSAA goes on. Formerly a staff of one (with help from valuable volunteers including long-time postseason assistant Walter Dell) now includes a team of employees to handle the media relations, publications, broadcasting, marketing and other messaging needs.

While making the rules for school sports remains the top priority for the MHSAA, telling the story of their importance in students’ lives comes in a close second – and Johnson has written at least the first chapters of the book.

“It needed to be done; the Association had to take bigger steps into the communications world. And thanks to Jack Roberts, it did. I was the lucky guy who landed in the chair,” Johnson said.

But again, that is simply scratching the surface. We’ll end with longtime Detroit Free Press sportswriter Mick McCabe taking a last deep dive.

I first met John Johnson in the late fall of 1977.

He was a student at Michigan State and worked in the sports information office. I was a sports writer for the Detroit Free Press, covering MSU basketball, featuring JJ’s brother, Earvin.

Well, maybe Earvin and JJ weren’t exactly blood relatives, but they were both fun to be around and each had a profound effect on my life.

No, really.

When watching the Spartans back then you knew you were watching someone special, which is why they called him Magic.

No one ever used the word magic in describing JJ, but he was young and enthusiastic and sociable while he learned the tricks of the trade under the watchful eyes of Fred Stabley Sr. and Nick Vista, the absolute best sports information directors in the country.

That is why I knew JJ would be such a good fit at Albion College, which just so happened to be looking for an SID when JJ was graduating from MSU.

JJ was exactly what Albion needed and did an excellent job and soon JJ’s career was off and running.

Somewhere along the way JJ landed at Indiana University where Bob Knight learned to tolerate JJ. If you’ve ever met Knight and understand his relationship with other human beings, you know that is like saying JJ and Knight were besties.

That was reinforced in the spring of 1984 when I spent almost two weeks in Bloomington covering the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball trials and interacted with JJ on a daily basis.

In the spring of 1987 JJ accepted a job with the Michigan High School Athletic Association. It was a job that hadn’t existed before JJ came riding into town.

Jack Roberts was in his first year as the MHSAA’s executive director and JJ was one of his first hires. He was also one of his best.

JJ was hired as the MHSAA’s first communications director. Before JJ arrived the words “communication” and “MHSAA” had never been used together in the same sentence.

If a member of the media had a question for the MHSAA chances are good it would never be answered.

That changed the minute JJ was hired. If he didn’t know the answer, he got the answer for you. And if you needed to speak with someone about a particular question, JJ got you to that person.

It wasn’t JJ’s job to do our job for us, but the thing we didn’t want was for him or someone else from the MHSAA to get in the way of us doing our job.

Not only didn’t JJ get out of the way for us, he helped us and made our jobs easier with the way he ran communications for the MHSAA.

A few weeks ago, with JJ’s imminent retirement growing closer, someone asked me to describe the worst phone call I received from JJ, one in which he was irate with something negative I had written about the MHSAA.

Certainly, he assumed, over 34 years there had to be many such phone calls.

He was genuinely surprised to learn it never happened. Not even once.

JJ knew that the media has a job to do and his job didn’t require him to complain when something negative about the MHSAA was written. I’m certain it was a lesson he learned from Stabley and Vista, who operated the same way.

As far as I know, the only times JJ ever called a member of the media after a negative story was when the reporter had the facts wrong. His call just pointed out the errors and he left out the tongue lashing.

JJ was the consummate professional in doing his job and he did it better than anyone else.

There is no way I am going to describe JJ’s job performance at the MHSAA as magical, like Earvin’s, but it was pretty darn close.

PHOTOS: (Top) MHSAA Communications Director John Johnson kneels at midcourt at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 1990 having designed the floor for that year's Basketball Finals. (2) Johnson, middle, wears the headset during a playoff production. (3) Johnson, right, coordinated media, announcing and stat-keeping among other areas during MHSAA events at the Breslin Center. (4) Johnson, far left, stands with (from left) MHSAA public address announcers Roger Smith, Erik O. Furseth, Tony Coggins and Steve Miller during a Baseball/Softball Finals weekend. (5) Johnson walks the turf at Ford Field during a Football Finals. (Photos from MHSAA archives.)

2024 Scholar-Athlete Award Recipients Announced in Class A

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 20, 2024

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has selected 13 student-athletes from Class A member schools to receive scholarships through the MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Award program. 

Farm Bureau Insurance logoFarm Bureau Insurance, in its 35th year of sponsoring the award, will give $2,000 college scholarships to 32 individuals who represent their member schools in at least one sport in which the Association sponsors a postseason tournament. The first 30 scholarships are awarded proportionately by school classification and the number of student-athletes involved in those classes; also, there are two at-large honorees who can come from any classification.

Students applying for the Scholar-Athlete Award must be carrying at least a 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale) grade-point average and have previously won a letter in a varsity sport in which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors a postseason tournament. Other requirements for the applicants were to show active participation in other school and community activities and produce an essay on the importance of sportsmanship in educational athletics.

The 32 scholarship recipients will be recognized March 16 during the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing.

The Class A Scholar-Athlete Award honorees are Bella Adams, Battle Creek Lakeview; Aya Moughni, Dearborn; Arianna Pate, Gibraltar Carlson; Cecilia Ruchti, St. Joseph; Lily Sackrider, St. Johns; Katherine Slazinski, Birmingham Seaholm; Willem DeGood, Traverse City West; Abrar Hossen, Portage Central; Anirudh Krishnan, Plymouth; AJ Martel, Mason; Jaden Reji, Livonia Churchill; Charlie Seufert, East Grand Rapids; and Logan Yu, Midland Dow.

Overviews of the scholarship recipients of the Class A Scholar-Athlete Award follow. A quote from each recipient's essay also is included:

Bella Adams headshotBella Adams, Battle Creek Lakeview
Played three seasons of varsity volleyball and is competing in fourth of track & field this spring. Helped volleyball team to two District championships and earned academic all-state in that sport three times. Earned all-league and all-region in track and also earned academic all-state three times in that sport. Served as captain of both teams. Participating in fourth year of student government and serving as class vice president. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and has attended Battle Creek Area Math & Science Center throughout high school. Participated in multiple initiatives to promote STEM education including Phoenix Gives Back as a junior, Kellanova’s high school program as a senior and the BCAMSC’s Kindness Club the last two years. Participated in church’s Battle Creek Mission Trip throughout high school. Serving on staff of school’s TV channel for first time as senior and coached elementary and middle school volleyball summer camps the last two years. Is undecided where she will attend college, but intends to study biology.

Essay Quote: “The single most important component of sportsmanship, and even in the world, is compassion. Being compassionate is not just how you treat your closest friends, but treating everybody as a friend. Compassion is what helps the lonely, hurt teenage girl feel secure, the timid new basketball player feel at home. All successful student-athletes carry the foundation of compassion through sportsmanship.”

Aya Moughni headshotAya Moughni, Dearborn
Ran three seasons of cross country and played two of varsity volleyball, will play her second of varsity soccer and compete in fourth of track & field this spring, and also played varsity basketball as a sophomore. Earned league multi-sport recognition and scholar-athlete honors multiple years. Served as captain for soccer, basketball and volleyball junior varsity teams and substitute captain for cross country and track & field varsities. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and third on Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, and served as class vice president as sophomore. Founded Right to Play Club and serves as president, and also serves as president of Social Justice Club and treasurer of Gay-Straight Alliance. Served as Key Club vice president and director of outreach for Dearborn Youth Affairs Commission. Participating in first year of Business Professionals of America and as secretary, and qualified for state competition in multiple contests. Earned profile in courage award and multiple honors for voter registration. Is undecided where she will attend college but intends to pursue a career as a neurosurgeon.

Essay Quote: “In this vast arena of athletic education, sportsmanship stands as the unsung anthem for the underdog, the celebration of diversity, and the unyielding belief that fair play is the ultimate victory. It transforms the field into a space where young minds not only refine their physical abilities but also nurture the values that will shape them as future leaders, team players, and contributors to society.”

Arianna Pate headshotArianna Pate, Gibraltar Carlson
Ran four seasons of cross country, playing third season of varsity basketball and will compete in fourth season of track & field this spring. Earned all-league honors in cross country and track and all-area honorable mention in basketball, and helped basketball team to league championship as a sophomore. Serving as basketball team captain this season. Earned AP Scholar Award and honors from National African American Recognition Program and National Hispanic Recognition Program. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and as chapter president after serving as vice president as a junior. Serving fourth year on student council and as executive board secretary for second year after two years as class treasurer. Participating in fourth years of Earth Club and Inclusivity Club, second as part of Marauder Captains and third on Student Empowerment Team. Volunteered for three years as part of Red Cross blood drive. Will attend University of Michigan and study nursing.

Essay Quote: “It’s not just about helping someone up off of the ground, or saying “good game” in the handshake line after a competition. It’s about separating yourself from aggressive competition and instead showing empathy and care towards your fellow athletes whom you are lucky enough to share a playing field with. Especially in the realm of high school athletics, sportsmanship is one of the most important qualities that an athlete can have.”

Cecilia Ruchti headshotCecilia Ruchti, St. Joseph
Ran four years of cross country and will play her fourth season of varsity tennis this spring. Earned all-state in tennis and reached No. 1 doubles semifinals at 2023 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals as team tied for sixth place. Earned all-league and all-region in cross country and helped that team to MHSAA Finals three times, also earning academic all-state in that sport. Served as captain of both teams multiple seasons. Participating in fourth year of student senate and as president, and also in fourth year as part of student foundation and as vice president. Serving as assistant teacher in third year of AP leadership course and also in third years as National Honor Society and writing center tutor. Served as tennis coach and camp instructor throughout high school and as athletic department intern as a senior. Is undecided where she will attend college, but intends to study marketing and design.

Essay Quote: “Walking away from Cross Country and Tennis State Finals, a lot of gratitude has washed over me. It’s been incredible to watch both my teammates and former teammates succeed. The time I shared with high-performing athletes and leaders influenced a lot of growth. I've observed extraordinary sportsmanship around me. I'm lucky to have coaches who have great integrity and preach hard work ethic. High school sports taught effective sportsmanship – on and off the course and court.”

Lily Sackrider headshotLily Sackrider, St. Johns
Ran four seasons of cross country, is playing her third season of varsity basketball and will compete in her fourth season of track & field in the spring. Earned all-conference and academic all-state in cross country helping that team to one league and two Regional titles. Earned all-state as part of a track relay as a junior. Served as captain of all three teams. Carries 4.0 grade-point average. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and as chapter co-president, and has participated on Youth Action Committee throughout high school and Tri-County Youth Advisory Council the last two years and served as officer for both. Also has served on school’s athletic student leadership team three years. Played in school marching band throughout high school and as part of drum line the last three years, as section leader of the latter. Serves as voting member on St. Johns Area Community Fund Board. Participated three years with school’s Peer Assisted PALS and two with Compassion Club. Will attend Hope College or University of Michigan and study on a premedical track.

Essay Quote: “Therein lies the real value in educational athletics; the civic education it provides. The totality of sportsmanship prepares student athletes to be the absolute best people we can be when venturing into adult life. … Once we have mastered sportsmanship, we become capable of taking our acquired traits of compromise, accountability and kindness and weaving them into everyday life.”

Katherine Slazinski headshotKatherine Slazinski, Birmingham Seaholm
Played two seasons of golf including on varsity this past fall, and will play fourth season of varsity tennis in the spring; also played two seasons of junior varsity volleyball. Earned all-state in tennis the last two seasons in helping team to 2023 Lower Peninsula Division 2 title and 2022 runner-up finish, winning No. 2 doubles flight as a junior. Served as tennis team captain. Earned AP Scholar with Distinction and National Merit Scholarship Commended Student recognition. Participating in third year of DECA, qualifying twice for state competition and serving as vice president of community service and social events the last two years. Participating in third year of National Honor Society and second of Spanish National Honor Society. Serving second year in multiple mentoring programs and second year as blood drive coordinator. Participated in YoungLife and as tennis coach and tournament assistant director throughout high school, and also is serving as marketing intern this year for Birmingham Education Foundation.

Essay Quote: “A major part of sportsmanship is putting the feelings of teammates or competitors before your own emotions. At times, this requires showing excitement for your teammates and all their hard work paying off, even when you are at your lowest points. At other times, this requires showing empathy to an opponent even when your first reaction is to celebrate your victory.”

Willem DeGood headshotWillem DeGood, Traverse City West
Ran four seasons of cross country and will participate in fourth of track & field this spring; also competed on school’s Nordic/cross country skiing team all four years. Earned all-league and all-region in cross country and qualified for MHSAA Finals all four seasons. Competed at MHSAA Finals in track first three seasons and helped that team to three Regional titles. Earned academic all-state two years. Served as co-captain of both cross country and track teams. Earned AP Scholar with Distinction honor and participating in second years of National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society. Played in school’s concert and marching bands throughout high school and as part of philharmonic orchestra as a senior. Served as section leader and principal player, earned first-division solo recognition and selected to perform at Michigan Music Conference. Participating in second years of school’s global studies and arts community groups, and also serves as a math tutor and track club volunteer. Is undecided where he will attend college, but intends to major in international studies.

Essay Quote: “When competing, even for different teams, we are all stronger when we respect each other as good sportsmen and lift each other up. On the start line of every race, I always wish the runners next to me good luck because I know how much it means to know the people you’re facing on the track want the best for you, too.”

Abrar Hossen headshotAbrar Hossen, Portage Central
Ran three seasons of varsity cross country and will compete in his fourth of track & field this spring. Earned all-league honors in both sports, qualified for MHSAA Finals in both and served as captain of both teams as well. Earned AP Scholar with Distinction honor and named National Merit Scholarship Commended Student. Participating in second year of DECA and earned state championship, and served as chapter’s public relations director. Participating in third year on Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center student senate, and participated in global battery solution research at Western Michigan University. Participating in second years of computer science club and Kids in Science club, as instructor for both to younger students in those topics, and has served as tutor throughout high school for students with learning disabilities. Founded school’s cultural dance group and serving as president of Health Occupations Students of America chapter. Is undecided where he will attend college but intends to study on a premedical track.

Essay Quote: “Although my time with my teammates is nearing its end, the fact that any of them can come to me for support will never change. The act of running sparks conversations, new connections, and brings communities together. These are acts of sportsmanship that often go unnoticed. A team cannot be expected to respect other teams when they are not yet close enough to respect each other.”

Anirudh Krishnan headshotAnirudh Krishnan, Plymouth
Ran four years of varsity cross country and will compete in fourth of track & field this spring. Also trained in taekwondo during first three years of high school and participated in Unified Sports basketball as a junior. Earned all-state honors in both cross country and track and academic all-state for both sports as well. Holds school race records in both sports and served as team leader for both. Earned third-degree black belt in taekwondo and taught that martial art. Founded and serves as director of AK Friendship Circle nonprofit organization supporting young adults with disabilities, and earned Ted Lindsay Foundation Family Courage Award for contributions toward autism education. Served two years on student council and participated in University of Michigan’s Youth Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity in Metropolitan Detroit. Will attend Johns Hopkins University and study applied mathematics and statistics.

Essay Quote: “In the journey to building good sportsmanship, coaches are key mentors. Sometimes in the heat of intense competition, winning seems to be the only thing that matters. However, having a coach who can provide a sense of balance and guide athletes to have a positive mindset and attitude is critical for educational athletics. In every sporting event, someone wins, and someone loses. Accepting victory with joy while not gloating over your opponents, and accepting defeat with grace while not being antagonistic to the winner reflects on the character of an athlete.”

AJ Martel headshotAJ Martel, Mason
Played four seasons of varsity football, wrestling for fourth season and competing in second of diving this winter, and will compete in third season of track & field this spring. Earned all-state in football multiple seasons and finished as school’s all-time leading rusher, and helped team to four league and three Regional titles and Division 3 runner-up finish this past fall. Helped wrestling team to Regional title this season for second time, earned all-league first three seasons and placed at Individual Finals as a freshman. Earned all-state in multiple events in track and won 300-meter hurdles at 2023 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals, helping team to runner-up finish. Earned all-league in diving and helped team to league title in 2023. Earned academic all-state in wrestling and football and academic all-league in track and diving. Participating in third year of National Honor Society and serving as senior class officer. Served as volunteer flag football coach and official and youth wrestling tournament worker. Participated in LINK program as a junior and serves as head of school’s athletics social media. Will attend Hope College and intends to study on a premedical track.

Essay Quote: “I realized that every person on the field was just a high school student who wanted the chance to play football. I didn’t have to detest (our rivals) because they attended a different school. I could appreciate the moment to compete against them while remembering that good sportsmanship benefits both teams.”

Jaden Reji headshotJaden Reji, Livonia Churchill
Played three seasons of varsity soccer and playing third season of varsity basketball. Earned all-conference multiple seasons in soccer and captained that team, and earned academic all-state in basketball. Named National Merit Scholarship semifinalist and AP Scholar with Distinction. Participating in third year of Spanish National Honor Society, as chapter president, and second year of Science National Honor Society, as vice president. Participating in third year of DECA, as chapter president, and was founding member of school’s chapter of Health Occupations Students of America and won a first place at HOSA International Leadership Conference. Participated in robotics throughout high school on team that twice qualified for world championships, and served as captain. Serving as Bible study leader for church youth group and as hospital volunteer and patient/family advisory council ambassador. Volunteered for school district’s summer Early Literacy Program. Participated in two years of debate and served as team secretary. Is undecided where he will attend college, but intends to study neuroscience on a premedical track.

Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship also requires humility and appreciation. I learned this from my experience in debate, where I present and clash with different opinions and perspectives. There is always something to learn from the other side, even if I disagree with them. I learned to acknowledge their strengths, address their arguments, and concede their points when warranted. I also learned to thank them for the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue and to improve my own skills.”

Charlie Seufert headshotCharlie Seufert, East Grand Rapids
Played three seasons of varsity golf, will play third season of varsity tennis this spring, and also played two seasons of subvarsity basketball. Earned all-state in doubles tennis, helping team to Regional championship and third-place Finals finish in the fall, and earned all-conference in golf as a junior. Served as captain of both teams. Participating in fourth year of Latin club, and as president, and serving third year on student council. A heart transplant recipient, serves as speaker and ambassador for American Heart Association. Participating in third year of school’s Leadership Youth Development group and as leader. Participated two years in We the People competition including on state championship team, and as coach, and two years on Model United Nations team. Volunteered and served as First Tee West Michigan lead coach, and participating in second year as elementary school mentor. Also serving as writer for school newspaper. Is undecided where he will attend college, but intends to pursue a career in public health.

Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship has always been important to be. As a golfer and tennis player, I have exhibited good sportsmanship on and off the course/court. However, it was not until I received my heart transplant did I truly understood the meaning of this word. … Persevering through these difficulties has forever changed the athlete that I am. I now understand that sportsmanship does not just mean treating opponents with respect, but also forming connections with others on and off the course.”

Logan Yu headshotLogan Yu, Midland Dow
Played four seasons of varsity tennis, earning all-state the last two and winning the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals title at No. 3 singles as senior in helping Dow win second-straight team championship. Earned academic all-state as senior and was part of four academic all-state teams. Served as team captain as senior. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and served as vice president. Participating in third year of DECA and twice qualified for state competition and last year for International Career Development Conference. Playing violin for second year as part of symphony & honors orchestra and qualified for the Michigan Music Conference as sophomore, and has played piano for more than 13 years qualifying for State Achievement Testing semifinals four times. Serving third year on Midland Youth Action Council and participating in second year of church youth group and as worship leader. Is undecided where he will attend college, but intends to study business analytics and information systems.

Essay Quote: “… As a freshman, I began looking up to one of the leading figures in my life, my coach, who displayed amazing acts of sportsmanship throughout our season. When we won, he celebrated privately with us. When we lost, he congratulated the other coach and pushed us to work harder. I began to see why he was such an effective coach and leader. … Now, I see every match as an opportunity to display sportsmanship, inspire others, and grow myself.”

Other Class A girls finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were Yan Yee Adler, Ann Arbor Pioneer; Sam M. Peot, East Grand Rapids; Julia Holt, Farmington Hills Mercy; Tori Briggs, Fowlerville; Cameron Herman, Hartland; Brooke Pedersen, Holland West Ottawa; Ella Chatfield, Jenison; Meghan Ford, Mason; Lauren VanSumeren, Midland Dow; Addison Raffle, Northville; Ella Boyd, Oxford; Abigail DeGraw, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek; Anna Lassan, South Lyon East; Addison Booher, Traverse City Central; Ava King, Traverse City West; London Williams, Trenton; Sarah Fromm, Utica; and Ryah Dewey, Walled Lake Western.

Other Class A boys finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were Viraj Nautiyal, Birmingham Seaholm; Dylan Shoresh, Birmingham Seaholm; Charles Howell, Cadillac; Erik Giedeman, Dearborn; Joseph Stachelek, Detroit U-D Jesuit; Charlie Lentz, East Grand Rapids; Chris Piwowarczyk, Fenton; TJ Silvernale, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern; Jack Ryan, Grosse Pointe South; Connor Curtis, Livonia Stevenson; Jonathan Song, Midland Dow; Jaxson Whitaker, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer; Kyle Brown, Northville; Sean Wilson, Oxford; Andrew Miller, Saline; Jack Carlisle, Stevensville Lakeshore; and Vansh Jvalit Baxi, Troy Athens.

The Class C and D scholarship award recipients were announced Feb. 6, and the Class B honorees were announced Feb. 13.

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 1.4 million spectators each year.