By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Signs and banners were displayed at stadiums. Announcements were made to the crowd.
And most of all, questions were answered concerning the current role of the Michigan High School Athletic Association in junior high/middle school athletics – and the increased role the Association would like to take on in the future.
Throughout May, the MHSAA served as presenting sponsor at junior high/middle school track & field meets at Ravenna, Harrison, Grand Blanc and Saginaw White Pine Middle School.
This sponsorship pilot program was a first step on the path to making stronger connections with student-athletes before they reach high school. The MHSAA provided meet management with banners and other signage to hang at the events, and public address announcements on sportsmanship, multi-sport participation, officials recruitment and other notable topics affecting competitors and their families.
Also made available were printed materials on sportsmanship, officials recruitment and the benefits of taking part in junior high/middle school sports. And as part of the opportunity, the MHSAA donated grants of $500 to help with the administration of those meets – again, all in the name of getting the MHSAA message in front of students years before they reach high school.
“I couldn’t believe how many people did not realize middle schools were connected to the MHSAA. That in itself was huge for publicity,” said Damon Amey, athletic director at White Pine. “I feel that if they know we are members, they immediately know we follow a set of rules. We are student-first oriented.”
The MHSAA served 740 junior high/middle school members, plus 24 elementary schools with 6th graders participating, during the 2016-17 school year – up from 705 junior high/middle schools only a year before.
Junior high/middle schools long have been eligible for membership in the MHSAA. An entire section of the MHSAA Handbook is dedicated to them. But the Association also has turned a heavier focus toward that level over the last four years.
The MHSAA Representative Council approved the creation of a Junior High/Middle School Task Force during its December 2013 meeting, and that task force was instrumental in the addition of 6th grader participation this past school year and the lengthening of contests in some sports. The Council this spring approved a recommendation by the Junior High/Middle School Committee (a permanent committee separate from the task force) urging all MHSAA sport committees to consider opportunities to add more games and dates to middle school schedules.
Last month’s sponsorship pilot program also stemmed from this recent work.
“We need to, for the future of high school sports, get more involved at the junior high/middle school level,” said MHSAA assistant director Cody Inglis, who oversees the Junior High/Middle School Committee and led the task force. “It’s not a matter of should we, but how quickly can we get involved.”
Inglis served as something of an ambassador in setting up and attending multiple sponsored junior high/middle school meets. Because of the perception that the MHSAA is mostly associated with high school athletics, Inglis noticed some curious and questioning looks in response to the visible presence of the Association at those meets.
But there were more positives, by far. On multiple occasions, the winners of the meets asked to have their team photos taken with the MHSAA banner on the field. One team took individual photos of each athlete holding the trophy in front of the banner as well.
While not many, Inglis did have conversations about officiating with a handful of interested people – good news as the MHSAA is always in pursuit of adding to those numbers. And his presence gave fans an opportunity to ask about the MHSAA’s role both at the high school and junior high/middle school level – and gave him the opportunity to explain how the Association works and dispel some myths.
“I love the fact that the MHSAA was at our conference track meet,” Montague NBC Middle School athletic director Jay Mulder said. “Cody did a great job in talking with parents, athletes and coaches. The presence was just enough to get people to take notice of the MHSAA.
“As a middle school AD and a middle school coach, I am very encouraged and excited to see the active role that the MHSAA is taking with middle school sports. I think that it bodes well for the future.”
Amey noted a number of opportunities with printed materials and championship medals that could further promote the MHSAA’s messaging at junior high/middle school meets. Also part of future plans is the recruitment of regional “ambassadors” – retired coaches, athletic directors and officials would be among candidates – who will travel to junior highs and middle schools in their areas and grow connections at that level.
As members, junior highs and middle schools receive the structure and support of MHSAA rules and governance, and every athlete receives catastrophic and concussion care insurance managed by the MHSAA. More interaction by these ambassadors could lead to more membership – the meet at White Pine, for example, included nearly half non-MHSAA schools – and also more benefit to members, be it additional sponsorship, off-field programs or even MHSAA-created championship events to give those athletes more opportunities to shine at this lower level and as they work toward taking that big step to high school.
“It’s been like a light bulb has gone off,” Inglis said. “The brand of the MHSAA is viewed as a high school-only brand, and it was humbling to see the power in that brand as people look to the ultimate goal.
“However we can parlay that into more of a presence and use that brand to get involved in school sports at the younger levels, that helps in that transition.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Students from Grand Blanc West Middle School, Fenton Schmidt Middle School and Linden Middle School stand together with an MHSAA banner during the Flint Metro League meet last month. (Middle) The Montague NBC Middle School girls track & field team poses with a banner after winning the West Michigan Conference championship. (Photos courtesy of the Grand Blanc and Montague schools’ athletic departments.)
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.