Mazzolini's Impact Felt Across Generations
July 14, 2016
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A lifetime in competitive athletics has provided piles of memories for retiring MHSAA assistant director Gina Mazzolini.
Four decades as an athlete, coach and association administrator also left her with plenty of souvenirs to sort through as she finishes her final days in the East Lansing office.
There’s a letter dated 1976 – and passed on to Mazzolini in 2004 – from the MHSAA to tennis coaches warning against stacking their lineups, an issue she’s worked to resolve over the last 20+ years.
Autographs from famous coaches John Wooden and Tom Landry made a 1991 National Federation Hall of Fame program worth saving. Just as significant was a thank-you from legendary Battle Creek St. Philip volleyball coach Sheila Guerra – who led teams to nine MHSAA titles from 1983-97 – sent in 2005 after Guerra’s daughter Vicky Groat led the Tigers to the first of what has become 10 Class D championships over the last 12 seasons.
In a number of high school sports circles, Mazzolini’s contributions are considered similarly legendary. She’s frequently been referred to as a “pioneer” – one of the first star female high school athletes from the Lansing area who went on to star at Central Michigan University and then lend her expertise to growing girls sports in this state and beyond.
“I didn’t do it because I was a woman and wanted to be the first,” Mazzolini said. “That’s just what I wanted to do, and after Title IX those jobs just opened up. And because I had some experience in coaching, officiating and playing, they took a chance on me, or they recruited me because they needed someone to run girls programs.
"I will miss people and relationships, watching things start, grow and get better.”
Mazzolini recently was recognized with a Citation from the National Federation of State High School Associations after a career that began in 1981 with Texas’ University Interscholastic League and ends after the last 23 years as an assistant director in her home state – and a mere 20 miles south of where she took the first steps toward a career that covered nearly the whole of female high school and college sports in Michigan, as a first-generation athlete and the builder of games for generations of girls and women to come.
Mazzolini’s senior year at St. Johns High School, 1973-74, was the first for girls basketball playoffs sponsored by the MHSAA, and Mazzolini led the Redwings to a District title that fall. She went on to star in both basketball and volleyball at CMU – still ranking among the Chippewas’ all-time hoops statistical leaders – and then to coach volleyball at Ovid-Elsie High School, Michigan State and the University of Texas.
All of that set Mazzolini up to provide a key voice and insight to rules-making bodies at the state and national levels. She’s retiring as MHSAA administrator for girls volleyball, swimming & diving, alpine skiing and tennis, and also has handled the sanctioning of out-of-state competitions and foreign exchange and international student issues. Nationally, she’s served multiple times on rules committees for soccer, swimming & diving and volleyball.
“Having worked in athletics for 46 years, I know few, if any, administrators who have a passion for excellence as does Gina Mazzolini in everything she undertakes,” wrote Marcy Weston, a retired executive associate director of athletics at CMU. “Ethics, integrity, creativity, loyalty and fortitude are just a few words that describe Gina’s work persona. And compassion, kind and supportive are words that siblings and friends access when they describe Gina.”
Weston coached Mazzolini on the CMU volleyball team for four seasons and women’s basketball team for two. At that time, with those programs and women’s college athletics as a whole in their early stages, Mazzolini and her teammates wore the same uniforms for both sports for two years.
Obviously, much has changed. And she’s played a large part.
Mazzolini first got involved as more than an athlete after taking Weston’s officiating class at CMU. Mazzolini registered as an MHSAA official – but all she knew of the MHSAA was that was where she paid her registration fee.
She still didn’t know much about state association work when offered a job at the UIL by then-executive director Bailey Marshall, who was familiar with Mazzolini because his wife Becky was the trainer for the University of Texas volleyball team when Mazzolini was an assistant coach.
“He said we’ve got to add women’s sports – they had them but not as many,” Mazzolini said. “I applied for the job and got it, and I’m still not sure what I’m going to do.”
What she lacked in initial knowledge, she made up for in passion.
Texas’ high school association at that time was adding girls tennis and soccer, beefing up some of its other offerings and reworking other sports to put females on a level playing field.
Her work there led to her first of many contributions to national rules-making committees. Early on, Mazzolini brought the perspective of someone who had played to groups that often included many who had not. She eventually chaired the volleyball committee from 2004-08 and worked with notable contributors to amateur sports including the first NCAA national coordinator of officials, Joan Powell.
“A number of people have made comments that when Gina was appointed to a national committee, the National Federation staff would breathe a sigh of relief because she would bring her patience and perspective to the table when they were forming national rules,” said MHSAA Executive Director Jack Roberts, who has served in his position since 1986.
“It’s clear to me that not just in Michigan, but across the country, there are several people who have affection for Gina as a person.”
Leaving a legacy
In addition to her recent Citation, Mazzolini is a member of the CMU Athletic Hall of Fame and received the MHSAA’s Women in Sports Leadership Award in 2010. This winter, she became the first woman to receive the MHSAA’s Charles E. Forsythe Award for her contributions to interscholastic sports.
It didn’t take long for Michigan coaches to realize she would make an impact.
Among accomplishments she’s most proud of from her time at the MHSAA are improved relationships with the tennis and swimming communities, developed by increased communication and with the help of longtime veterans like Gary Ellis and Tiger Teusink in tennis and Denny Hill in the pool.
She was once told by a coach she was brave to show up at a regular-season event because of the grumbles toward the MHSAA in that sport – but soon another coach told her, “I wanted to hate you, but I like you.”
Mazzolini may choose to stick around athletics as an official, but only at the middle school level. She’ll definitely have no problems continuing to attend some of her favorite events in the sports she’s helped form over the years.
And it seems just a little coincidental that she’s stepping away from a community she’s affected so greatly at the end of the same school year that saw one of her nieces, St Johns senior Brooke Mazzolini, help the Redwings to their first MHSAA Girls Basketball Semifinal in nearly 20 years – the latest step on a path her aunt began to blaze 40 years ago, even as Gina doesn’t see herself as the “pioneer” she’s frequently made out to be.
“I played because I loved to play. I got that from my dad, and we were in an athletic neighborhood. I got into officiating and that was fun,” Mazzolini said. “And then (athletic director) Bob Forebeck at Ovid-Elsie called and said, ‘Hey I need a volleyball coach; what do you think?’ And that was a blast.
“And then I got into state associations, and I’ve really enjoyed that. There were rough patches – like when you tell people ‘no’ – but everything I’ve done, I’ve loved it. It’s hard to consider it a job, because you look forward to doing most of it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Gina Mazzolini poses briefly while directing an MHSAA Final in skiing. (Middle) Mazzolini starred for the Central Michigan University women's basketball team. (Below) Mazzolini stands with her St. Johns high school basketball coach Beth Swears after receiving the MHSAA Women in Sports Leadership Award in 2010.
Rep Council Adjusts, Expands Out-of-State Competition Opportunities at Spring Meeting
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
May 12, 2023
Substantial changes to the rules governing out-of-state competition by Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools were among the most notable actions taken by the MHSAA’s Representative Council during its annual Spring Meeting, May 6-7 in Gaylord.
The Spring Meeting of the 19-member legislative body of the Association’s more than 1,500 member schools is generally the busiest of its sessions each year. The Council considered 31 committee proposals and dealt with a variety of eligibility rule, postseason tournament and operational issues.
The most far-reaching changes approved by the Council shifts the MHSAA rules regarding competitions against out-of-state opponents. Moving forward, MHSAA member schools may continue to compete against teams from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario – but also may compete against teams from elsewhere in the United States as long as those competitions take place in Michigan, one of those five contiguous states or Ontario. The Council voted to remove the allowance for MHSAA member schools to travel up to 300 miles to play an out-of-state opponent; MHSAA member schools still can compete against those opponents, but competition must take place in Michigan or one of the states/province listed above. Any event including schools from outside of Michigan or those contiguous states/province must receive approval by the MHSAA and each state high school association with a team involved in order for MHSAA member schools to be allowed to participate.
In an effort to strengthen the undue influence regulation, the Council approved a change making it a violation for coaches or their representatives to connect via social media with students from another high school or with a student prior to ninth grade who has not yet enrolled in a high school or participated in an athletic practice or competition as a high school student. Violations of this rule include connecting via social media with a “follow,” “friend request” or “direct message” to a student. The Council also expanded the portion of the undue influence regulation that doesn’t allow coaches and representatives to visit prospective athletes and their families at the families’ homes to not allow them to visit athletes and families at “other locations” as well.
The Council approved an expansion in the use of video to determine penalties when there is a bench-clearing situation or other incident where team members enter the area of competition during an altercation. MHSAA staff, based on video evidence, will be allowed to assess additional penalties including ejections and suspensions to team members, coaches and other staff who enter those areas to participate or engage in such an altercation.
Concerning specific sports, changes to three stand out from several adopted by the Council.
The Council approved three Bowling Committee recommendations affecting postseason competition in that sport. The first reorganizes Regional competition to eight sites, with each qualifying the top two teams and top seven singles for both girls and boys competitions to the Finals (instead of the previous six sites qualifying three teams and 10 singles for both girls and boys). The Council also approved a proposal to change the Team Finals match play to a head-to-head, best-of-five Baker game format. Finally, the Council approved a proposal to adopt the Phantom II oil pattern for all MHSAA Tournament competitions.
In girls volleyball, the Council approved a Volleyball Committee recommendation to begin seeding the top two teams in each District beginning with the 2024-25 school year. As is done currently with girls and boys basketball and girls and boys soccer, the top-two seeded teams in each District will be placed on opposite sides of the bracket, guaranteeing they will not play each other before the District Final. Seeding will be determined using the Michigan Power Rating (MPR) formula which takes into account regular-season success and strength of schedule. MPR is used to seed Districts in the same way in basketball and soccer.
In wrestling, the Council approved a Wrestling Committee recommendation adding two regular-season dual meets to the allowed number of wrestling contest dates. These must be dual meets and may not be converted into three-team (tri) or four-team (quad) meets. Teams and individuals now will be allowed 16 days of competition with no more than eight of those days allowed for tournament-type events where a wrestler competes more than twice.
Here is a summary of other notable actions taken by the Representative Council at the Spring Meeting, which will take effect during the 2023-24 school year unless noted:
• The Council approved a classification-related change for the MHSAA’s smallest member schools, allowing them to request participation of eighth and seventh-grade students, based on the high school’s enrollment. Schools with fewer than 125 students (instead of the previous 100) may request an MHSAA Executive Committee waiver to use eighth-grade students in all sports except football, ice hockey and wrestling. Schools with fewer than 75 students (instead of the previous 50) may make the same request to use seventh and eighth-grade students in all sports except those three. Schools requesting a waiver must show cause and rationale for those students’ participation.
• The Council approved a Sports Medicine Advisory Committee proposal requiring middle school head coaches to have valid, current CPR certification. Similar to the high school requirements for head coaches at all levels, this addition at the middle school level will ensure each team has at least one coach at each level present who is CPR-certified. This requirement will take effect with the 2024-25 school year, and schools will attest to its completion by the established deadline for each season.
• The Council approved an Officials Review Committee recommendation adjusting the minimum requirements for postseason consideration in wrestling, competitive cheer and soccer. In wrestling, officials must receive 75 coaches ratings (instead of the previous 100) to be considered for working a postseason meet. In girls competitive cheer, judges must be members in good standing of a Local Approved Association. In soccer, officials must work a minimum of five regular-season games (down from the previous 10) to be considered for the postseason.
• The Council also approved a Committee recommendation increasing the amount paid when an official arrives on site prior to a competition before receiving notice that competition has been canceled due to an “act of God” including weather that results in unplayable conditions. In these situations, officials will receive one-half of the contract fee (instead of the previous one-third).
• For baseball, the Council approved a change to when trophies will be awarded to Regional champions. Those trophies will be presented to both Regional champions after the Quarterfinal is concluded, as Regional Finals and the ensuing Quarterfinal are played at the same site on the same day and both Quarterfinal participants will have earned a Regional championship earlier that day.
• In addition to the Regional and Finals changes for bowling explained above, the Council also approved a Bowling Committee proposal seeking common start dates for practice and competition for Lower and Upper Peninsula teams. For the 2023-24 season, bowling teams in both peninsulas will begin practice Nov. 9 and competition Nov. 25. Previously, Upper Peninsula teams were allowed to begin their seasons slightly earlier – this past season four days sooner for practice and a week earlier for competition than their Lower Peninsula counterparts.
• The Council also approved a start date change in girls competitive cheer, proposed by the Competitive Cheer Committee, moving the practice start date to the second Monday before Thanksgiving. This shortens the season by one week, but also allows a more comfortable gap between the fall sideline cheer and winter competitive cheer seasons. This change will take effect with the 2024-25 school year.
• Also in cheer, the Council approved a Committee recommendation that adjusts the restricted period at the end of competitive cheer season to the Monday following Memorial Day, which will allow athletes to try out for sideline cheerleading for the upcoming season after the completion of the majority of spring-sport competitions.
• Additionally, the Council approved an exception to the MHSAA’s all-star regulation that will allow for individual competitive cheer and sideline cheer athletes to participate in an event that is “all-star” in name only as long as the selection components of the event comply with MHSAA regulations.
• In cross country and track & field, the Council approved Cross Country/Track & Field Committee recommendations to eliminate a pair of uniform-related rules adaptations designating the types of head attire that previously could be worn during cross country races and body adornments that previously were allowed to be worn during competitions in both sports.
• In golf, the Council approved a Golf Committee recommendation to require athletes to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that athlete’s school team in an MHSAA postseason golf competition. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hold events.
• A Council action in gymnastics will better define how athletes are assigned a division for the individual portion of the MHSAA Finals. Athletes are assigned either Division 1 or Division 2 based on past experience and skill level – Division 1 for those with the most – and the Council approved the allowance of the Xcel levels of Sapphire and Diamond to be part of the determining criteria. Athletes who have previously competed in a non-school event at either of these levels would be required to compete in the Division 1 level for MHSAA postseason competition.
• In tennis, the Council approved a Tennis Committee recommendation allowing in the Lower Peninsula for a No. 1 doubles pair from a non-qualifying team to advance from Regional to Finals competition if that pair finishes first or second at the Regional and the No. 1 singles player from that team also has qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play. (Upper Peninsula tennis does not play a Regional.)
• The Council approved a Swimming & Diving Committee recommendation restructuring how qualifying times for Finals are determined in an effort to provide more entries in swimming events at the championship level. Moving forward, qualifying times will be determined based on the past five years of MHSAA race data, but also will account for past numbers of qualifiers in each swim race; qualifying times will be shifted to allow for more athletes to advance to the Finals in events where fields have not been full over the previous five seasons.
• The second swimming & diving recommendation approved by the Council assigned specific breaks during Finals competitions. During Friday preliminaries (swam in the Lower Peninsula only), 10-minute breaks will be placed between the 200-yard medley relay and 200 freestyle races, and between the 200 freestyle relay and 100 backstroke, with a 15-minute break between the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly. The same 10-minute breaks will be mandated for Saturday Finals competitions, with a 15-minute break during Finals coming between the conclusion of diving and 100 butterfly races.
• For girls volleyball, the Council also approved a Volleyball Committee recommendation to permit the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA) a 3-minute on-court presentation during the MHSAA Finals to recognize that season’s Miss Volleyball Award winner. The presentation will take place between the second and third sets of the Division 1 championship match.
Junior High/Middle School
• The Council voted to make permanent cross country and track & field competitions that have been conducted at a Regional level as part of a pilot program during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The Council also voted to expand the number of sites per Junior High/Middle School Regional to allow for large-school (Divisions 1 and 2) and small-school (Divisions 3 and 4) meets for each of the eight Zones. Each participating junior high and middle school will be classified for its Regional meet based on the enrollment of the high school with which the junior high/middle school is connected.
The Council also reviewed reports on membership, with 750 senior high schools and 767 junior high/middle schools in 2022-22 plus 63 elementary schools with 6th-grader participation; cooperative programs, with 376 high school programs for 692 teams during 2023-23; eligibility advancement applications, which totaled three; the use of Educational Transfer Forms, of which there were 127; school violations, attendance at athletic director in-service workshops and Coaches Advancement Program sessions; officials’ registrations, rules meetings attendance and officials reports submitted for the past three sports seasons. The Association’s $13.3 million budget for the 2023-24 school year also was approved.
The Representative Council is the 19-member legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
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.