Scholars & Athletes 2022: Class B

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

February 15, 2022

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has selected nine student-athletes from Class B 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 B Scholar-Athlete Award honorees are: Maggie Duba, Grand Rapids West Catholic; Whitney Farrell, Freeland; Claire Meacham, Montague; Rylee Tolson, Stockbridge; Derek Distelrath, St. Clair; Joseph Hayes, Shelby; Curtis Knapp, Jonesville; Michael A. Meneguzzo, Kingsford; and Jack Rellinger, Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

Overviews of the scholarship recipients of the Class B 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.)

Maggie DubaMaggie Duba, Grand Rapids West Catholic
Ran four seasons of varsity cross country, and will play her fourth of varsity lacrosse and participate in her fourth of track & field this spring. Qualified three times for MHSAA Finals in cross country and earned all-state as a senior. Also earned academic all-state and served as cross country team captain. Ranked second academically in class of 125 entering this school year carrying 4.375 GPA with 12 dual-enrollment college credits earned. Participating in National Honor Society and has served three years as student government class secretary. Serving as junior and senior class peer advocate and has participated in a variety of volunteer and community service efforts. Will attend University of San Diego and study business accountancy and economics with the intention of continuing to medical school and studying to become a general surgeon.

Essay Quote: “In the split moment that I threw away an opportunity to achieve all-state, a position that I had prioritized for the five months of training before, I remembered that this is all supposed to be fun. … By sacrificing the race, I gained something much more important than posting my best time. I grew in humility and developed a new perspective on sports and competing.”

Whitney FarrellWhitney Farrell, Freeland
Playing fourth season of varsity basketball, ran four seasons of cross country and will participate in her fourth of track & field in the spring. Qualified for MHSAA Finals in cross country and track and helped 2019 basketball team to Division 2 runner-up finish. Earned all-state in cross country and track and all-conference in basketball, and served as captain of all three teams. Serving third year on student council and second as part of National Honor Society, and also participating in fourth years of Be The Change club and Students Leading Students. Served as youth basketball coach and referee throughout high school. Will attend Ferris State University and study architecture.

Essay Quote: “Prior to my 2019-20 varsity basketball season, I truly believed that good sportsmanship was offering to help an opponent up off the court or shaking every single opponent's hand after a game. I had participated in sports since the age of 3 and that was sportsmanship in action. However, my experience with and understanding of sportsmanship completely changed throughout the 2019-20 basketball season … (as) each of our opponents was metaphorically helping us up off the court by recognizing the loss of our beloved coach.”

Claire MeachamClaire Meacham, Montague
Playing third season of varsity basketball, played two seasons of varsity golf and will participate in her third season of track & field this spring; also played varsity volleyball as a freshman and varsity softball as a junior. Helped golf team to two MHSAA Finals championships, the track team to a Regional victory and the basketball team to league and District titles. Earned all-state recognition in golf and academic all-state in track and golf, and served as captain of track and basketball teams. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and has served as chapter president, and is serving second year as part of student senate. Participated in Future Farmers of America and DECA throughout high school, serving as a DECA officer and reaching state finals competition as part of both. Participates in various volunteer efforts as part of church and community organizations. Is undecided where she will attend college but intends to study civil engineering.

Essay Quote: “No matter the outcome, every athlete, coach, and individual has to remember that we are all part of a bigger game. We are all striving to improve the game and ourselves through personal growth and dedication. We are supposed to be preparing our athletes to be model citizens who set standards for what is right and just, on and off the court.”

Rylee TolsonRylee Tolson, Stockbridge
Playing third season of varsity basketball, ran four seasons of cross country and participated two seasons in track & field. Qualified for MHSAA Cross Country Finals all four seasons, earned all-state three times and won Lower Peninsula Division 3 title as a sophomore. Served as captain of cross country and track teams. Serving fourth year on student council including second as an executive officer, and has served as class vice president. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and serving as chapter president. Playing fourth years of marching and concert band and third of jazz band, and served as section leader for drumline. Participating in third years of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and peer-to-peer assistance program. Will attend University of Michigan and study kinesiology.

Essay Quote: “I try my best to be a support system for everyone around me all of the time. Supporting others includes time outside of sports. Tutoring after school before practice, waking up early to prepare for a National Honors Society meeting, or helping a teammate during lunch with a class that I have already taken allows me to help my peers strive to be their best academically.”

Derek DistelrathDerek Distelrath, St. Clair
Played four seasons of varsity tennis and is playing his first of varsity basketball this winter. Finished No. 1 singles runner-up in Lower Peninsula Division 3 as a sophomore and made semifinals as a junior and senior. Won United States Tennis Association Midwest singles and national doubles championships. Earned academic all-state in tennis all four high school seasons and twice served as team captain. Participating in third year of National Honor Society and serving as vice president, and participating in second year of student council and serving as spirit corps leader. Participating in fourth year on St. Clair County Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council, including second on executive board. Served as youth tennis coach throughout high school and as youth basketball coach as a senior. Will attend Western Michigan University and study business analytics and statistics.

Essay Quote: “Compete intensely but honor and respect opponents. If athletes transfer this lesson into life, the world would be a much better place because we would take the time to get to know people who differ from us and treat each other with honor and respect. We would seek to unite people instead of divide them.”

Joseph HayesJoseph Hayes, Shelby
Playing fourth season of varsity basketball, played three of boys soccer and will play third of baseball in the spring. Helped soccer team to Regional championship and baseball team to District title. Earned all-league and all-District in soccer and all-conference recognition in basketball. Served as soccer team captain multiple seasons. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and has served as president, and also participating in fourth year of local Youth Advisory Council. Played two years in school band earning “1” ratings, and has participated in 4-H throughout high school earning “A” awards for showing of livestock. Is undecided where he will attend college but intends to study business and entrepreneurship.

Essay Quote: “One of the things that I dislike the most as an athlete is not just losing, but losing to a team full of players that are disrespectful to me and my team. Being a good sport during high school educational athletics is very important. Learning how to control your emotions and demonstrate great sportsmanship at a young age will lead you to demonstrate those qualities as an adult.”

Curtis KnappCurtis Knapp, Jonesville
Playing third season of varsity basketball and played four seasons of varsity football. Earned all-state in football and set three school records in the fall. Earned Big 8 Conference Leadership Award multiple years and served as captain of both varsity teams. Carries 4.022 GPA. Serving fourth year as student council class president and participating in second year of National Honor Society. Participating in fourth year of Students Against Destructive Decisions and is a leader of that group as well. Has participated in various volunteer efforts with Rotary Club, Habitat for Humanity and 4-H. Started and owns lawn and landscaping business. Will attend Hillsdale College and study economics.

Essay Quote: “My definition of sportsmanship is the general respect you have for another team or player. … I have grown so much as a person through my four years in high school sports. I am thankful for the opportunity to build relationships with not only people from my own school, but also people that I have played in sports. I learned that sportsmanship is the most important part of sports, and that the overall goal is to have fun.”

Michael MeneguzzoMichael A. Meneguzzo, Kingsford
Playing third season of varsity basketball, played two of varsity football and will compete in third of track & field in the spring; also played varsity tennis as a freshman. Holds multiple school football records and earned all-Upper Peninsula recognition in that sport. Earned runner-up finish at Track & Field Finals. Served as captain of football and basketball teams. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and fourth of key club. Served as school’s representative on Youth Coalition and as French club vice president. Served more than 100 hours of volunteer service including for American Red Cross, Salvation Army and at youth football and basketball camps. Is undecided where he will attend college, but intends to study business.

Essay Quote: “I have always been very competitive. … (But) whenever I exhibited poor body language or questionable sportsmanship, my dad would talk to me after the game about how my actions affect the team and also, how they make me look as an athlete. My dad … has always held me to a different level than other players when it came to sportsmanship and body language during a competition.”

Jack RellingerJack Rellinger, Grand Rapids Catholic Central
Played three seasons of varsity football and will play second of varsity lacrosse in the spring; also played two seasons of subvarsity basketball. Helped football team to three MHSAA Finals championships and lacrosse team to District title. Earned all-league in football and academic all-state in lacrosse, and served as captain of lacrosse team and subvarsity basketball teams. Carries 4.5 GPA and posted “5” score on six Advanced Placement exams as a junior. Received National Merit Scholarship “commended” recognition and earned Harvard Book Award. Serving as head boy for his house as part of student government. Serving second year as student ambassador for Van Andel Institute biomedical research organization and participating in second year of National Honor Society. Is leaning toward attending Notre Dame University and intends to study computer engineering.

Essay Quote: “I think this is what sportsmanship is really all about. An appreciation for the game and the players objectively, regardless of the outcome. When you really step back to look at it, wins and losses make up such a small part of what makes high school sports great. These sports are made special through the bonds formed and shared between coaches, players, and even opponents, as well as a true, unbridled appreciation for the game.”

Other Class B girls finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Elise Rose Johnson, Benzie Central; Sydni Mudge, Birch Run; Claire Thomson, Clawson; Faith Breinager, Frankenmuth; Emma Kerkau, Frankenmuth; Sophia Argyle, Freeland; Haley Zerlaut, Fremont; Magdalaina Menghini, Kingsford; Mallory Moore, Ortonville Brandon; Paige Thwing, Ortonville Brandon; Alina Stanczak, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep; and Ashley Bower, Portland.

Other Class B boys finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Zachary Elmouchi, Ada Forest Hills Eastern; Thomas Hamann, Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard; Jeff Ren, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; Jace DeRosia, Chelsea; Jared Hanson, Escanaba; Liam Anderson, Essexville Garber; Alex Duley, Freeland; Seth Thompson, Manistee; Jerome Korten, Marshall; Cale Coppess, Montague; and Bennett Blase Hitzelberger, Richmond.

The Class C and D scholarship award recipients were announced Feb. 8, and the Class A honorees will be announced Feb. 22.

Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan was founded in 1949 by Michigan farmers who wanted an insurance company that worked as hard as they did. Those values still guide the company today and are a big reason why it is known as Michigan’s Insurance Company, dedicated to protecting the farms, families, and businesses of this great state. Farm Bureau Insurance agents across Michigan provide a full range of insurance services—life, home, auto, farm, business, retirement, Lake Estate®, and more—protecting nearly 500,000 Michigan policyholders.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.

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.)