Scholars & Athletes 2022: Class A

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

February 22, 2022

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, in its 33rd 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 26 during the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing.

The Class A Scholar-Athlete Award honorees are: Cookie Estelleh Baugh, Ann Arbor Pioneer; Ella DeGraw, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek; Alexis Maloney, St. Johns; Maeve Spicer, White Lake Lakeland; Ella Spooner, Holland West Ottawa; Greta VanZetten, Holland; Elzien Zomer, Holland; John Bungart, Orchard Lake St Mary's; William Goelz, Petoskey; Klay Grant, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer; Colin Koot, Mason; Brady Wright, Birmingham Seaholm; and Neil Zhu, Detroit Catholic Central.

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

(NOTE: If an athlete intended to play and was part of a spring sports team in 2020, that sport is counted among the athlete’s total although the season was canceled due to COVID-19.)

BaughCookie Estelleh Baugh, Ann Arbor Pioneer
Ran four years of varsity cross country and will participate in her fourth of track & field this spring. Helped cross country team to three straight Lower Peninsula Division 1 championships and finished fifth and 12th, respectively, in the individual standings her final two seasons. Also ran on LPD1 champion 3,200-meter relay last spring. Earned all-state academic honors seven times across her two sports and served as captain of both teams. Participating in fourth year of student council and third of National Honor Society. Serving first year as Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation board member trustee and also fourth year on foundation’s Youth Council. Participated for three years as part of school’s Positive Peer Influencer program and is participating in third year of Pioneer’s Restorative Justice Program. Will attend Michigan State University and study kinesiology.

Essay Quote: “Having begun playing competitive sports at age 3, I have experienced wins and losses, successes and failures. I have felt like the queen of the world, and I have wept like a baby into my pillow. With each experience I learned my why. … To demonstrate good sportsmanship is as much for myself, teammates, coaches, parents, and family; I owe it to them to lead by a positive example.”

DeGrawElla DeGraw, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek
Participating in fourth season of competitive cheer and will play varsity tennis this spring after previously playing on junior varsity; also cheered four years with football sideline team. Helped competitive cheer team to Division 1 Finals championship as a freshman and is a four-year starter in all three rounds. Earned all-state recognition and twice made academic all-state team for cheer, and twice served as team captain for competitive and sideline teams. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and has served as officer and cabinet member. Also participating in third year of Spanish National Honor Society and as a senior officer. Serving fourth year and as leader of school’s Athletic Leadership Council, and serving fourth year in key club. Named Clinical Observer of the Year by Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital department of pediatrics. Will attend University of Michigan and study biology on a pre-medical track.

Essay Quote: “Sports have provided me with some of the best life skills I have ever learned. … Life is not always kind, bad outcomes happen regardless of effort and preparation, and all I can control is how I respond to those moments of adversity. Part of sportsmanship is dealing with adversity and not making excuses when the outcome doesn’t go your way.”

MaloneyAlexis Maloney, St. Johns
Playing third season of varsity basketball and will play fourth of varsity tennis this spring; also played junior varsity volleyball as a freshman and sophomore. Earned all-conference and all-academic honors in basketball and tennis, helping tennis team to league championship and Regional runner-up finish. Served as captain for both varsity teams. Playing fourth year in marching band and third with symphonic band and has served as tenor drum and drumline section leader. Earned “1” competition ratings as part of both bands. Participating in fourth year on school’s Student Athletic Leadership Committee, and serving as social media director, and participating in second year of National Honor Society. Also participating in fourth years of school’s Compassion Club (serving on leadership board), Renaissance Club, Garden Club and church youth group. Will attend Trine University and study mechanical engineering.

Essay Quote: “When given the chance to congratulate, help, or support your opponent, do it. There will never be any negative backlash from the positivity you give to them, and know that makes you a better person. Sportsmanship is much like the golden rule; treat others the way you want to be treated. Take these lessons from the game and make them a part of your every day.”

SpicerMaeve Spicer, White Lake Lakeland
Competing in fourth season of varsity gymnastics and third of varsity competitive cheer. Also ran junior varsity cross country and participated in track & field as a freshman. Earned all-state in gymnastics finishing sixth on vault at MHSAA Finals as a junior and was conference all-around champion; also earned academic all-state recognition. Helped her Huron Valley United co-op gymnastics team to Regional title as a sophomore. Served as captain of gymnastics and cheer teams. Participating in second years of National Honor Society, Math Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. Earned Individual Project Completion of Middle Years Programme as part of International Baccalaureate studies. Participating in second year of Peer Corps, and has organized three clothing drives for foster children as part of work for local center. Is undecided where she will attend college but intends to study international relations.

Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship is important because sports themselves are not simply about who is the best, rather what you can learn from them. I have learned valuable life lessons from my sports that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life such as determination, perseverance, teamwork, integrity, and respect, along with so many others that have built up my character.”

SpoonerElla Spooner, Holland West Ottawa
Playing second season of varsity basketball and will play her fourth of varsity lacrosse this spring. Earned all-conference and individual academic all-state in lacrosse and helped basketball team to academic all-state honor. Named Michigan Youth Female Athlete of the Year at 2021 Meijer State Games. Will serve third season as lacrosse captain. Ranked first academically in class of 512 with 4.16 GPA, and participating in National Honor Society. Participating in third year of LINKS and second of Peer-to-Peer mentorship programs. Served as writer and editor of school’s newspaper and earned awards from Michigan Interscholastic Press Association and Scholastic. Served as assistant director for West Ottawa Broadcasting Network. Coached youth basketball and lacrosse, and volunteered in multiple other service efforts. Will attend Kalamazoo College and study biology on a pre-medical track.

Essay Quote: “Character is so important in life and can either drag you down or take you far. By teaching sportsmanship, it allows young athletes who are still growing and developing to build their character. Each part of being an excellent sportsman relates directly to more than just a sports game, but to the game of life itself.”

VanZettenGreta VanZetten, Holland
Participated in four seasons of varsity swimming and will participate in fourth of track & field this spring. Earned all-conference in both sports and qualified 17 times for MHSAA Finals in swimming over four seasons. Served as co-captain of swim team as both junior and senior. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and voted head of school’s leadership pillar. Participating in second year of student senate and third year as part of school’s delegation to Youth in Government; also serving second year as part of Holland Youth Advisory Council’s environmental committee and as chairperson. Participating in third year of school choirs Vocal Dimensions and as president. Initiated Michigan Green School certification for Holland High and participating in third year with Students Helping Our Remarkable Earth club. Participating in second year of Academic WorldQuest and won regional competition and qualified for nationals as a junior. Is undecided where she will attend college but intends to double major in mathematics and gender and sexuality studies.

Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship is about wanting the best for your competitors, as well as yourself. When everyone competes at the best of their ability, sports become truly fun. Educational athletics expand beyond winning and achievement. Learning about humility, equity, confidence, and collaboration are all lessons found in sportsmanship and encouraged though high school sports.”

ZomerElzien Zomer, Holland
Playing third season of varsity basketball, swam three seasons on varsity and will play second season of varsity soccer this spring; also played junior varsity volleyball as a freshman. Earned all-area honors in basketball and served as team captain for basketball (varsity and JV), co-captain for swimming & diving team and captain for junior varsity volleyball. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and as part of leadership pillar, and serving third year as class representative in student government. Serving as school representative to county’s Student Leaders Initiating Change coalition. Participating in fourth year in school’s be nice. club. Served as youth soccer official for three years and community pool lifeguard. Will attend University of Michigan-Dearborn and study either biomedical engineering or physical therapy.

Essay Quote: “Attitude and respect are always a choice, every day, every play. A positive mindset and an encouraging attitude build strong athletes, but also build good role models for life. … We don’t all have the same intensity for sportsmanship, but we each have the tools to build character on and off the court. For me, this is the importance of sportsmanship in educational athletics. The goal is to teach growth and understanding so that we can choose to put them into practice in our own lives.”

BungartJohn Bungart, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
Wrestling fourth varsity season and will play fourth season of varsity lacrosse in the spring. Also will compete in fourth season on rowing team. Served as captain of both wrestling and lacrosse teams. Earned all-state in lacrosse and all-league and all-country in wrestling. Carrying 4.07 GPA and participating in second year of National Honor Society. Summited second and third-highest peaks in United States as part of Boy Scouts. Has volunteered in multiple volunteer community service efforts including as part of Forgotten Harvest throughout high school. Has served as lifeguard throughout high school. Also has participated in church youth group all four years. Will attend Kalamazoo College and study biochemistry.

Essay Quote: “We speak with our mouths, and we hear with our ears. We also talk with our hands and listen with our eyes. We share with our faces and understand it in our hearts. When any of these cogs in the wheel fail, it can lead to confusion, knee-jerk responses, and chaos in its wake. Communication and mutual respect are the (epitomes) of sportsmanship in educational athletics.”

GoelzWilliam Goelz, Petoskey
Competing in fourth season of varsity skiing and played two seasons of varsity tennis. Also played two subvarsity seasons of lacrosse and ran cross country as a freshman. Helped ski team to two Division 2 Finals championships and a runner-up finish, and earned multiple all-state honors. Earned academic all-state in skiing and tennis, and served as ski team captain. Earned AP Scholar with Distinction and National Merit Scholarship commended scholar designations. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and third on district’s Student Advisory Council. Has served all four years as part of Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation Youth Advisory Committee, including as foundation officer and board liaison, and is serving as PHSACF director as a senior. Participating in third year of key club and as vice president. Completed University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Global Youth Program Business Leadership Academy. Is undecided on where he will attend college and his future course of study.

Essay Quote: “Decades from now, what I will remember are great times spent with great teammates, a sentiment held impossible if not for the utmost sportsmanship within myself and amongst athletes. Not only does sportsmanship in educational athletics spark lifelong memories, it also establishes a careful precedent for sociability and professionalism beyond high school.”

GrantKlay Grant, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer
Ran four seasons of cross country and will participate in fourth of track & field this spring; also played varsity soccer as a freshman. Earned three Greater Muskegon cross country championships and finished eighth in Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final this past fall. Qualified for MHSAA Track & Field Finals in four events as a junior and earned all-conference. Served as captain of cross country and track teams. Served as student council freshman president and as trustee as a sophomore. Participating in third year of church’s children’s ministry and as student leader, and second year as church intern. Serving as student leader in third year participating on school’s IMPACT leadership team, and served as ambassador for Straight Talk About Tough Stuff coalition. Will attend Colorado Christian University and major in Biblical studies with an emphasis in languages.

Essay Quote: “I believe the integrity of sportsmanship is often downplayed. It is not only the heroic acts of sportsmanship in front of a big crowd, or when the cameras are on, but in the day-in-day-out monotony of relationships. I viewed this highly by encouraging each teammate after practices, telling them: "Nice job today, I'll see you tomorrow."

KootColin Koot, Mason
Playing second season of varsity basketball and will play second of varsity baseball this spring, and played four seasons of varsity tennis. Helped tennis team qualify for MHSAA Finals all four seasons and earned all-conference in tennis and baseball. Helped baseball team to academic all-state award. Served as tennis team captain for three seasons. Participating in fourth year of Youth in Government and second as delegation leader, and received servant leadership award as sophomore. Participating in second year of National Honor Society. Participated in Future Farmers of America as a freshman and sophomore and won state championship in Greenhand Conduct of Meetings as a freshman and National Silver Award as a sophomore. Served as school newspaper sports editor-in-chief as a freshman and has umpired baseball throughout high school. Is undecided where he will attend college but intends to study biomedical engineering.

Essay Quote: “Overall, competitive sportsmanship is the most important facet of educational athletics. The ability for an individual to compete at a high level while maintaining good sportsmanship is crucial in transforming from a person who wins to a person who succeeds. Success is measured in many different ways, but a successful athlete understands that there is more to athletics than just the scoreboard.”

WrightBrady Wright, Birmingham Seaholm
Competing in fourth season on varsity ski team and played four seasons of varsity tennis; also played junior varsity lacrosse as a freshman and sophomore. Reached MHSAA Finals flight semifinals as sophomore and junior. Earned all-state and all-state academic for tennis and all-region for ski, and earned multiple league Scholar-Athlete Awards for both sports. Served as team captain for both. Earned AP Scholar with Distinction and named National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. Earned perfect score on ACT. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and third of National Science Honor Society. Participated in Science Olympiad as competitor and coach and founded high school team, and earned county and state placings. Playing fourth years in school marching and concert bands and served as clarinet section leader. Is undecided where he will attend college but intends to study chemical engineering.

Essay Quote: “Ultimately, what I learned is that the game and the competition is more important than winning a match at any cost. I have seen kids who struggle with losing and will do anything to win. Honor and integrity get thrown out the window to avoid a loss. … It is important to me that I am honest with myself – I play sports to push myself in ways that academics cannot. Cheating the game does not help you improve or build character.”

ZhuNeil Zhu, Detroit Catholic Central
Will play fourth season of varsity golf this spring and has helped team to runner-up and fourth-place finishes at Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. Earned all-state and is ranked among top players for his class in Michigan by American Junior Golf Association. Advanced to match play at Golf Association of Michigan 2021 Amateur Championship. Earned AP Scholar with Honor and National Merit Scholarship commended student designations. Participating in second year of National Honor Society tutoring program. Participating in fourth year of finance club and as vice president. Reached highest level of Michigan Music Teachers Association for piano and earned first and second-place finishes in state competition. Completed University of Michigan summer coding program. Volunteered in multiple community service efforts throughout high school. Served as youth leadership member for church as junior and senior. Will attend Swarthmore College (Pa.) and study computer science.

Essay Quote: “The sport of golf is a medium through which my accountability to my decisions and more importantly my accountability to my competitors and values is tested. Therefore, my integrity plays into the principle of accountability. Moreover, golf offers opportunities to meditate on choices which plays into the skill of decision making.”

Other Class A girls finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Amelia Weyhing, Ann Arbor Pioneer; Piper Barnhart, Brownstown Woodhaven; Sophia Lustig, Brownstown Woodhaven; Madison Hissong, Fraser; Brooke Myers, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern; Ana Todesco, Grosse Pointe North; Sonya Konon, Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse; Natalie Blake, Holland West Ottawa; Abigail Lueck, Livonia Churchill; Samantha Provenzano, Livonia Franklin; Erica Molnar, Livonia Stevenson; Laura Leiti, Midland Dow; Alexandria Stacy French, Richland Gull Lake; Kiera Hall, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek; Kate Meinecke, Royal Oak; Sara Schermerhorn, Traverse City West; and Hannah DiGiovanni, Troy Athens.

Other Class A boys finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Nathan Pawlowicz, Battle Creek Lakeview; Nathan Jerore, Brownstown Woodhaven; Colin Pearson, Caledonia; Joseph Marano, Dearborn Edsel Ford; Conner Bell, Detroit Catholic Central; Chase Gibson, Fenton; Nick Temple, Fenton; Ben Taylor, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central; Ross VanBlois, Grandville; Owen Swisher, Livonia Churchill; James Oberman, Livonia Franklin; Thomas Randall, Orchard Lake St Mary's; Blake Coy, Saline; Amod Talekar, Saline; Kaden Keller, St. Johns; Jake Lasceski, St. Johns; Ethan Tennant, Temperance Bedford; Michael T. Schermerhorn, Traverse City West; and Caiden Carlson, White Lake Lakeland.

The Class C and D scholarship award recipients were announced Feb. 8, and the Class B honorees were announced Feb. 15.

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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.

Jackson's Imprint on MHSAA Stretches 45 Years, Across 4 Executive Directors

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

October 5, 2022

First impressions can be significant, as many a saying goes. And Karen Brown unknowingly provided one in 1978 that helped affect the course of athletics in this state over the next 40-plus years. 

A Michigan State University student named Karen Leinaar had shown up at the Michigan High School Athletic Association for a meeting about a 5K road race she was planning that was unrelated to the MHSAA except that the building provided a good meeting place – and Brown, just a year out of high school, was the first person to greet her at the old Trowbridge Road headquarters.

Seeing someone her age immediately made Leinaar more comfortable. She ended up returning to that office several times over the years, registering as an MHSAA game official while still an MSU student and then starting a career in 1982 that has included nearly 40 years as a high school athletic director and two decades of shaping policy as part of the MHSAA Representative Council.

That’s the kind of impact that’s emanated from Karen Jackson, formerly Brown, and over the last 45 years as assistant to four of the five executive directors during the MHSAA’s 98-year history. Jackson finished that run with her retirement Friday.  

“She was always one that would welcome you, and whether you walked into the office or called on the phone, she always had an answer that would calm you down or provide you with the information you needed,” said Leinaar, who currently is serving as interim athletic director at Frankfort High School in addition to her duties as executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. 

“I remember initially calling and needing something from Mr. Norris – it was always Mr. Norris – and she could answer the question,” Leinaar added, referring to retired MHSAA executive director Vern Norris, who served in that role from 1978-86. “You didn’t want to talk to scary Mr. Norris – Vern was a wonderful man, but he was like the superintendent or principal. Karen always had the answer. … It was always that smile that made you feel like you were more than welcomed, wanted in the office, and everything is going to be OK.”

Karen Jackson in 2022Jackson began at the MHSAA in June 1977, two days before her graduation from long ago-closed Harry Hill High School in Lansing. 

Her high school sports career amounted to about half a season on the Hill varsity volleyball team as a sophomore before she had to switch gears to begin working for the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce as part of a school co-op program.

Jackson graduated as a co-valedictorian of Hill’s Class of 1977. Despite her academic standing, she hadn’t received much guidance at school on the possibility of college. But she had a job offer from the Chamber – and also had heard from grade-school friend Deborah Norris (Vern’s daughter) about an opening at the MHSAA. 

The MHSAA was offering more money, and Jackson was hoping to buy a car – and so at 18, she became the secretary for executive director Allen W. Bush.

The title has changed over the years, from secretary to the executive director, to executive assistant, to senior executive assistant. The MHSAA’s administrative processes obviously have changed, mostly because of technology, from everything done on paper and through the mail to just about everything conducted digitally over the internet. 

But many of Jackson’s most important duties at the end of her tenure resembled those she was hired to carry out nearly half a century ago. 

Setting Exemplary Expectations

Bush retired a year after Jackson began, and she then assisted Norris for his eight as executive director. She served with Jack Roberts through his 32 years as executive director from 1986-2018 and then for these first 3½ under current director Mark Uyl.

She was considered the “baby” of the MHSAA staff during her first 12 years, until she turned 30 and her support staff teammates declared she wasn’t the baby anymore during a Christmas party serenade. Just about 33 years later, she’s leaving as one of two people left who worked in the old offices before the MHSAA moved to another East Lansing headquarters at Ramblewood Drive in 1996.

School sports happen thanks to a Karen Jackson or two in every community -- people who provide the unseen support that makes these programs possible every day. 

For the last 45 years, she’s provided a consistent anchor for service to 1,500 schools and millions of student-athletes across Michigan.

Jackson, sitting fourth from left, was the “baby” of the MHSAA staff after joining when she was 18. “She’s shaped so much of what we’ve done,” said MHSAA assistant director Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, who joined the staff during the 2003-04 school year after more than two decades working for Grand Rapids-area schools. “Her service to schools was imperative to what she was doing, and it was a valuable part for our membership. Hers was such a dedicated service, such an exemplary service – finding solutions, to do what’s needed.”

There are file cabinets and libraries and hard drives at the MHSAA office, the contents of which are known by only a handful of people on Earth – and Jackson perhaps the most as she did most of the sorting and maintaining of those files over the years.

For a 1996 Lansing State Journal feature on the MHSAA’s support staff, Jackson (then Yonkers) explained “there are always new challenges, new issues and controversies. It never gets boring. In the past 19 years, we’ve slowly shifted from dealing with athletic administrators, principals and superintendents to dealing with legislators, attorneys and courts.” 

The last 25 years has seen much of the work swing back to providing service directly to schools. And Jackson’s mind has become part MHSAA library and part card catalog of where to find those few snippets she might not recall immediately from the last half century. 

“I guess what I’m proud of is being able to find things, to know where to find things and how to find things that other people don’t,” Jackson said. “Yes, the technology has changed everything. … We used to have more schools – they used to have 40-some Detroit public schools – and there was a whole era of (litigation), but it’s calmed down now.

“I liked what I did, and it kept me on my toes – that’s for sure.” 

The MHSAA is rooted in its responsibilities as a championship and eligibility rules maker, and Jackson was involved in just about every communication in those areas during her time. Tournament changes are made at Representative Council meetings, and she’s reported the minutes for at least 150 of those, including piles of special sessions as the MHSAA managed sports through the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility waivers are requested at Executive Committee meetings, and she’s prepared somewhere north of 505 sets of minutes for those monthly sessions even as those agendas have grown in content substantially over the years.

Then there’s all of the correspondence from those four executive directors – all with the initials “kb” or “kj” to go with “AWB” or “VLN” or “JER” and “MU.” She also was in charge of MHSAA election ballots for 35 years, served as the lead organizer of cooperative programs, helped with football tickets for a time and briefly was part of the program-selling crew at early Football Finals at the Pontiac Silverdome.

“I think I’m pretty lucky, being on the Council and Executive Committee, that I’ve been able to work with her a lot. And most athletic directors, they may not even know who she is because they may not have contact with her or do anything with her – but she’s obviously been the unsung hero of that office,” said Vic Michaels, who serves as director of physical education & athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit and has served on the Representative Council since 2003. 

“She just does so much that you don’t really know about, especially with the Council. Whenever I need anything, Karen’s the one I call. She is the history, really. She’s the keeper of that.”

Unprecedented & 'Never to be Replicated'

A longtime co-worker of Jackson, Shirley Hytinen, retired in 1998 after just a few months more than 43 years. She too had worked for four executive directors, as she began in 1955 during the Charles E. Forsythe era.

Jackson surpassed Hytinen’s tenure a few years into Uyl’s, and can readily recall some of what stood out from all four directors she’s assisted.  

Bush was “really stern” – he had served in the U.S. Marines – and she said he didn’t smile much until the day he announced his retirement, when it was “like a switch turned. He was smiling and happy and joking around.” 

Norris was “the sweetest guy in the world.” Jackson had bought her first house in her mid-20s and was preparing to move in with only her dad and his motor home to assist, when Norris showed up to help at 7:30 a.m. that morning to provide another set of hands. 

Roberts is known by Michigan administrators and national colleagues for his writing, and Jackson said jokingly she still “cringes” when she sees a yellow legal pad. She was an important proofreader and spent the majority of her career serving with her desk just a few paces away from that of the recent National Federation Hall of Fame selection, and she attended his induction this past summer and San Antonio.

Jackson and husband Jim have plans to travel in retirement. Roberts pointed out that during the 1980s, the MHSAA would conduct nine Executive Committee meetings, each averaging fewer than 10 requests for waivers. By the end of his 32 years, there were 11 Executive Committee meetings annually – with approximately 50 waiver requests presented on average. Still, he and Jackson were able to process the meeting minutes and continue to distribute those decisions within 24 hours. 

“Over the more than three decades that Karen and I worked together at the MHSAA, the work became increasingly more voluminous and complicated – and Karen kept finding ways to increase our efficiency and maximize our output,” Roberts said.

Like Norris when Bush was executive director, Uyl had been part of the MHSAA staff under Roberts since 2004 before eventually moving into the corner office. After those first 15 years together, Uyl knew what a valuable person he had just a few yards away to assist in his transition, and “he just says to do this” and allows his staff to run with it, which Jackson enjoyed.

Her duties have been shifted confidently, mostly to Jamie VanDerMoere, another longtime administrative assistant who is best-known to Michigan school sports people for her leadership with the annual wrestling championship tournaments.

Jackson recently was married to Jim Jackson, and they have plans as they close in on their first anniversary – they’re hoping to travel to Italy at some point and also The Masters in Augusta, Ga., next spring. “I’m not going to miss coming to work every day, but the people,” Karen Jackson said.

And many in school sports across Michigan, although they may not realize it, will miss the contributions Jackson has made to their community over the decades including the context she’s provided as thousands of decisions have been made.

“Not only her understanding of our regulations and the processes of our regulations, but understanding why we have those things in place – when someone does something 45 years, you get a lot of historical context,” Uyl said. “What’s made her so effective is understanding the why – and that to me is something that’s almost impossible to replace.

“When an organization has been around 98 years with only five directors, it says something to have worked for four out of the five. That will never be replicated again.”

PHOTOS (Top) From top left, Karen Jackson has been a mainstay of the MHSAA for decades – serving membership, working with administrators like Randy Allen and Gina Mazzolini or serving as assistant to executive directors like Jack Roberts (right) and Vern Norris. (Middle) Jackson, sitting fourth from left, was the “baby” of the MHSAA staff after joining when she was 18. (Below) Jackson and husband Jim have plans to travel in retirement. (MHSAA archives.)