'Yard Squad' Enjoys Unexpected Response

May 20, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The task itself was a simple one, and the reasons for doing it simple at first.

An elderly woman called Colon High School – on the advice of her daughter, who teaches in the Upper Peninsula – looking for a student group that might be interested in assisting with some yard work.

Sophomore Andrew Smolarz, meanwhile, always is looking for community service hours to go toward membership in his school’s Varsity Club and National Honor Society chapter.

So he and four track & field teammates volunteered and spent a few hours picking up sticks, raking around her house and cleaning up brush. But they never anticipated the response.

“After the first time we did it, the reaction we got from people – it was more than just doing work for them,” Smolarz said. “When she saw us, the first lady said we’d restored her faith in the youth in the community. She got pretty teary-eyed, so it meant a lot to us, and she wanted a hug from all of us too.”

Since, Smolarz and his “Yard Squad” – sophomores Isaiah Fellers and Andy Stoll and freshmen Philip Alva and Austin Stoll – have taken their cleaning talents to two more homes, with three more and a restaurant also on the schedule.

Colon’s Yard Squad is a recipient of an inaugural MHSAA/Lake Trust Credit Union “Community Service Award” recognizing contributions by Michigan’s high school student-athletes away from the field. The Yard Squad will receive $1,000, which will go toward Colon’s athletic department and equipment for the track & field and baseball teams. Six honorees total are receiving awards this spring; Second Half will feature one a day this week.

While there are a multitude of ways to serve one’s community – over the next few days we will feature some incredibly impressive campaigns to raise money, awareness and donate goods to those in need – Colon’s Yard Squad found a way to help that students at any school can replicate, and to the same unexpected benefits.

That first call ended up on the ear of Colon athletic director Paige Smolarz – also Andrew’s mother and the school’s boys track & field coach – and when she offered the opportunity, these five underclassmen stepped up. It’s not that they don’t have other things going on; all five are dual sport athletes also playing baseball or golf, so clean-ups so far have come on Sundays adding up to about 15 hours total by each student with many more yet to be worked this spring.

Among others they’ve helped were a second elderly woman and her disabled husband, and a young couple where the wife is fighting cancer and the husband is working long shifts to support the family.

The village of Colon, tucked south of Kalamazoo and north of Sturgis, has roughly 1,200 residents, and word quickly gets around. The first woman helped by the Yard Squad told her friends, and there was some Facebook buzz as well. Smolarz said he and the “squad” are just a bunch of friends (and the Stolls are cousins) having fun working together to do something good.

“People think so much more of the little things you do for them than I actually thought (they would),” Andrew Smolarz said. “I just thought we’d go clean up, say thanks, and leave. But they thought so much more over it.

“It’s gotten a lot more fun in my opinion. The reaction is really cool to see on people’s faces. People just can’t believe we’d come out and do that for them.”

The Community Service Awards are sponsored by the Michigan High School Athletic Association and Lake Trust Credit Union to recognize student-athletes' efforts to improve the lives of others in their communities. In addition to the $1,000 award, the Lake Trust Foundation is awarding an additional $500 to each honoree, to be donated to a non-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization of the awardee’s choice.

PHOTO: Colon High School's "Yard Squad" from left: Isaiah Fellers, Andy Stoll, Andrew Smolarz, Phillip Alva and Austin Stoll. (Photo courtesy of the Colon athletic department.)

Detroit PSL’s McEvans, Comstock’s Ansel & KLAA’s Masi Named 2024 Bush Award Recipients

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

July 23, 2024

Detroit Public School League assistant director Anika McEvans, Comstock Public Schools athletic director Justin Ansel and Kensington Lakes Activities Association commissioner Bryan Masi all have served educational athletics for multiple decades in high-profile positions – but as is common in those roles, with much of their difference-making work taking place behind the scenes.

To recognize their efforts and celebrate those vast contributions to school sports, they have been named the 2024 recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Allen W. Bush Award.

Al Bush served as executive director of the MHSAA for 10 years. The award honors individuals for past and continuing service to school athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. The award was developed to bring recognition to people who are giving and serving locally, regionally or statewide without a lot of attention. This is the 33rd year of the award.

McEvans finished her fifth school year this spring serving in the Office of Athletics for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which administers programs for the Detroit PSL. She is responsible for planning and implementation of the PSL’s sports offerings for 72 elementary and middle schools in addition to her several responsibilities supporting the league’s 20 high schools.

Anika McEvans headshotThe 1994 Detroit Renaissance graduate, and three-sport athlete there, came to the PSL from Southfield Public Schools, where she served as athletic director from 2012-15 for the former Southfield High School and then as district athletic director through 2017-18. As district director, she supervised more than 100 coaches, staff and volunteers and assisted in the merger of Southfield High and Southfield-Lathrup into Southfield Arts & Technology High School for the start of the 2016-17 school year. She previously served as well in several roles at Detroit Academy of Arts & Sciences from 2006-12, and also as director of business operations and then general manager for the Detroit Demolition/Detroit Danger women’s professional football franchise from 2002-06 and as assistant general manager for the Motor City Mechanics minor league hockey team from 2004-06.

McEvans has provided valuable input on a variety of MHSAA committees over the last decade, including athletic equity, junior high/middle school, scholar-athlete and as part of multiple officials and site selection committees and as a key voice on the MHSAA Multi-Sport Task Force during the last half of the last decade. The mother of three – with two current college athletes and a college freshman-to-be – also served as head girls basketball coach at Academy of Arts & Sciences, assistant girls basketball coach at Southfield and assistant boys basketball coach and assistant softball coach at Renaissance. She has a bachelor’s degree in sports management & communication from University of Michigan and a master’s in business administration from University of Detroit Mercy.

“Anika McEvans has provided a valuable voice in a variety of subjects of statewide importance, but especially on topics impacting students as they transition from middle school to high school – relying not only on her experiences as an administrator, but also as a parent helping her children navigate their paths in athletics,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “Her work on the Junior High/Middle School Committee and Multi-Sport Task Force directly led to the creation of more opportunities for our younger athletes, but with a continuing focus on providing them with a well-rounded athletic experience.”

Ansel has served the last 17 years as athletic director for Comstock Public Schools, and during his time in the district also has coached varsity girls basketball and boys soccer and middle school girls and boys basketball, soccer and cross country. Both of his Colts varsity programs won multiple league championships under his guidance. Ansel came to Comstock after a decade at Onaway, where he taught and coached all 10 years and also served as athletic director over the final five.

Justin Ansel headshotHis vast experiences on the sidelines and in the athletic office have made Ansel a valuable contributor on several MHSAA committees as well, including most recently the Junior High/Middle School Committee, and he’s also served as Southwest 10 Conference president and in multiple leadership roles with the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Locally, Ansel has raised from than $60,000 for various projects at Comstock, several highlighting the school’s athletic history.

A Monroe High graduate, Ansel earned a bachelor’s degree from Spring Arbor University in 1997, master’s degrees in education from Marygrove College in 2003 and educational leadership from Grand Valley State University in 2005, and he completed GVSU’s educational specialist in leadership program in 2018. He also has earned his certified master athletic administrator designation from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) and completed the master elite level of the MHSAA Coaches Advancement Program (CAP).  Ansel was nominated by the MIAAA for the NIAAA’s Jim Teff Professional Development Achievement Award in 2019, and he was named the MIAAA’s Region 4 Athletic Director of the Year in 2023.

“Justin Ansel is known in his community, league and by those who have served with him across the state for his hands-on approach to providing enriching experiences for the communities he serves,” Uyl said. “His style as an administrator reflects what he’s provided as a coach – he’s known as an insightful team builder always working to move his programs forward.”

Masi just completed his fourth year as commissioner of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association, which is made up of 16 of the largest suburban schools in Metro Detroit, with his responsibilities including serving as liaison for the league locally and at the state level. He also previously served as the KLAA’s football commissioner from the league’s start in 2008.

Bryan Masi headshotHe previously served as athletic director at Northville for 17 years, where he created the Northville Athletic Community Service Initiative that has raised thousands of dollars and provided goods and services for needy individuals and community service groups. He also started Northville’s unified sports program and hosted one of the MHSAA’s first junior high/middle school cross country Regional meets during the pilot stage of that program. Northville also hosted several MHSAA postseason events and sessions of the Coaches Advancement Program under his leadership.

A teacher previously and longtime coach as well, Masi was named Michigan Secondary Teacher of the Year in 1997 by the Michigan Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (MAPHERD) and selected to coach in the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association East/West All-Star Game in 1998. He was named MIAAA Region 11 Athletic Director of the Year in 2013 and MIAAA Middle School Athletic Director of the Year in 2019, and inducted into the Northville Athletic Hall of Fame in 2021. Masi also has served on several MHSAA committees including for football, gymnastics and junior high/middle school sports.

Masi graduated from Dearborn Edsel Ford, then earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University, his master’s from Wayne State University and his certified athletic administrator (CAA) designation.

“Bryan Masi has brought the leadership, perspective and ingenuity he employed to build Northville’s success to the KLAA, and those qualities continue to show as he leads one of the state’s most high-profile leagues,” Uyl said. “Bryan is admired and respected by his counterparts, locally and across the state, not only for how he leads but the values he promotes in doing so.”