Mazzolini's Impact Felt Across Generations

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

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.

Pioneer, indeed

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 Approves Sponsorship of New Sports, Adjusts Winter Schedule at Spring Meeting

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 9, 2024

The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association took several actions during its Spring Meeting, May 5-6 in Gaylord, including approving the addition of boys volleyball and girls field hockey to the lineup of MHSAA-sponsored tournament sports beginning in 2025-26 and reorganizing the winter championship calendar to end one week earlier.

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 28 committee proposals and dealt with a variety of eligibility rule, postseason tournament and operational issues.

After a yearlong conversation about emerging sports at MHSAA member schools, the Council approved a Volleyball Committee recommendation to begin sponsorship of boys volleyball with the 2025-26 school year. The Council also voted to begin sponsorship of girls field hockey beginning with 2025-26. Girls field hockey will be played during the Fall season, and boys volleyball during the Spring season, with the 2024-25 school year to serve as a development period as the MHSAA works with the current governing organizations for those sports. These will be the first sports added to the MHSAA’s tournament offerings since girls and boys lacrosse joined the lineup during the 2004-05 school year.

Changes to the MHSAA Winter Calendar will take effect in 2025-26 and include several adjustments to Finals schedules and practice starts that overall will lead to the winter sports season ending one week earlier – reflecting a fall survey that showed nearly 80 percent of MHSAA member schools felt the winter should be shortened. The reshaped winter sports calendar also completes competition before schools begin their spring breaks – which are being scheduled earlier than in the past – and places championships on dates that avoid potential facility conflicts.

Beginning with 2025-26, the last weekend in February will include the Team Wrestling, Bowling and Competitive Cheer Finals (with Skiing Finals remaining on the Monday of that week). The first weekend in March will include the Individual Wrestling, Boys Ice Hockey and Girls Gymnastics Finals. The Boys Basketball Finals will move to the second weekend of March with the Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals, and the Girls Basketball Finals will permanently conclude the winter season during the third weekend of March. The Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals will remain in mid-February. With basketball seasons ending earlier, basketball practices will be able to begin five days earlier (on a Wednesday) to keep tryouts/first practice dates from falling during Thanksgiving week.

More changes to MHSAA Tournament competition will begin in 2024-25. The Council voted to add a team championship for girls wrestling to be awarded to the school with the most success in the girls bracket of the Individual Finals. A girls individual bracket was added for the 2021-22 season, and the team championship will be awarded based on individual finishes similarly to how boys team championships were awarded before the dual format Finals were created with the 1987-88 season. Also for 2024-25, the Council approved Basketball and Soccer Committee recommendations to seed the entire District tournaments in those sports using Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) data, which previously was used to seed only the top two teams in each bracket for girls and boys basketball and girls and boys soccer.

The Council also approved a classification change in football intended to protect the state’s smallest schools sponsoring the 11-player format. Continuing a conversation from its Winter Meeting in March, the Council approved a Football Committee recommendation to cap the enrollment of Division 8 schools at 250 students, and then divide the rest of the 11-player schools evenly to determine the enrollment lines for the other seven divisions. As more small schools have switched to 8-player, larger schools have shifted into Division 8 for 11-player – and this change guarantees Division 8 schools will play only similarly-small schools during the postseason, taking effect with the 2025-26 school year.

To continue supporting schools providing teams at multiple levels despite low participation, the Council voted to allow athletes in two more sports to compete on teams at two levels on the same day. The Council approved a Bowling Committee recommendation allowing bowlers to participate in subvarsity and varsity competition on the same day, provided the events are separate – bowlers may still be listed on only one match roster and bowl for one team during each event – and also approved a Girls Lacrosse Committee recommendation to allow athletes to play in no more than five quarters in one day, with overtime an extension of the fourth quarter. At multi-team girls lacrosse tournaments where both school teams are playing, an athlete would be allowed to play in as many halves or quarters as what the school’s highest team level that day is playing.

The Council bolstered the penalty for inappropriate behavior toward game officials, approving an Officials Review Committee recommendation modifying the penalty for any coach or athlete who is ejected for spitting at, hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing or intentionally and/or aggressively physically contacting a game official at any time during that competition or after being ejected. The offending coach or athlete shall be suspended from competition for the next 14 calendar days and must complete an online sportsmanship course. The offending coach also will not be eligible to coach in the MHSAA Tournament for that sport during that season, nor be allowed to be present at the site or within sight, sound or communication of a tournament event for that team.

Here is a summary of other notable actions taken by the Representative Council at the Spring Meeting, which will take effect during the 2024-25 school year unless noted:


• The Council approved a change to the athletic-related transfer (link) rule stating that an athlete is ineligible in all sports participated in during the current or previous school year if that student has transferred to a school where a coach is employed who previously was a school employee or third-party contractor at the athlete’s former school. This change of language bolsters the regulation to include links to a coach at the new school who previously was employed in any way by the previous school.

• The Council approved a change to the football practice and competition rule to state that a school may not take part in an interscholastic scrimmage with another school until the Wednesday of the second week of practice and only if the team has conducted football practice on at least seven separate previous days. A joint practice with another school is considered a scrimmage and may not take place until those seven days of practice have been completed.  

Sports Medicine

• The Council approved a Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommendation to require high schools to attest by each season’s established deadline that their high school sports coaches have emergency action plans specific to location which are posted, dispersed, rehearsed, discussed and documented within their practice plans.

• The Council also approved a Committee recommendation requiring MHSAA Tournament host sites to have an AED (automated external defibrillator) within visible distance of the event.


• The Council approved an Officials Review Committee recommendation requiring a set minimum number of officials required to work an event, designated by sport and level (varsity or subvarsity).

Sport Matters

BASEBALL: The Council approved a Baseball Committee recommendation requiring varsity teams to submit their pitch count information electronically by noon the day following every game(s).

BOWLING: The Council approved a Bowling Committee recommendation allowing for Regionals – Team and Singles – to be competed on consecutive days between Wednesday and Saturday of that week to increase the possibility of more bowling centers being able to host. Previously Regionals could be bowled only on Fridays and Saturdays.

COMPETITIVE CHEER: The Council approved three Competitive Cheer Committee recommendations related to stunting while also prioritizing safety. In a braced suspended forward roll pyramid, the flyer and at least one bracer will be required to have a hand-to-hand/arm connection, with one or both hands/arms of the bracer connected to one hand/arm/foot of the flyer, and with this maneuver performed only to a cradle position or in a forward suspended role without twists.

Another change will allow a backward suspended roll when it originates from the cheering surface as long as both hands of the flyer maintain continuous hand-to-hand or hand-to-arm contact with the original bases or back spot.

A third change allows during an inversion the temporary loss of contact with the flyer while transitioning to a double-based sponge with both feet of the flyer in the hands of the bases, or to a cradle or shoulder-level or below stunt.

GOLF: The Council approved a Golf Committee recommendation to form a Golf Site Selection Committee to review Regional tournament groupings and determine host schools and courses.

SOCCER: The Council approved another Soccer Committee proposal to institute a running clock during the first half of matches when the goal differential is eight or more.

SWIMMING & DIVING: The Council approved a Swimming & Diving Committee recommendation requiring all times entered for MHSAA Finals for both individual and relay swim events to be the times that are the fastest achieved in varsity competition during the current season and electronically verifiable on

TENNIS: The Council approved a Tennis Committee recommendation requiring the MHSAA to reduce the number of Regional tournaments for a season from eight to six if the number of teams participating that season is fewer than 288.

TRACK & FIELD: The Council approved a Cross Country/Track & Field Committee recommendation allowing for athletes to qualify for MHSAA Finals by reaching predetermined standards during a window beginning April 1 of that season and extending until that athlete’s Regional meet.

WRESTLING: The Council approved a Wrestling Committee recommendation to amend the penalty for a team when a wrestler competes at an ineligible weight class during a dual event. If the ineligible wrestler is discovered during the involved match, that wrestler forfeits that match and the opposing team will be awarded six team points, plus the head coach of the team with the ineligible wrestler will be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty resulting in a one-point team score deduction. If the ineligible wrestler is discovered after the involved match, any points earned by the offending wrestler are removed from the team score, along with the point for unsportsmanlike conduct, and six points are added to the offended team’s total. In both instances, neither wrestler involved in the match in question may compete again in that dual. If the ineligible wrestler is discovered after the dual is completed, the teams have left the mat area and the scorebook has been signed by the official, the results and team score will stand.

The Council also reviewed reports on membership, with 754 senior high schools and 774 junior high/middle schools in 2023-24 plus 60 elementary schools with 6th-grader participation; cooperative programs, with 392 high school programs for 720 teams during 2023-24; eligibility advancement applications, which totaled one; the use of Educational Transfer Forms, of which there were 128; school violations, attendance at athletic director in-service workshops and Coaches Advancement Program sessions; officials’ registrations (which were up 4.8 percent from 2022-23), rules meetings attendance, and officials reports submitted for the past three sports seasons. The Association’s $14.8 million budget for the 2024-25 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 1.4 million spectators each year.