Hutcheson Eager to Serve Statewide

April 20, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

On Tuesday, Dan Hutcheson was the public address announcer at a track and field meet. On Wednesday, he spent part of the morning painting a door.

As a teacher, coach, then assistant principal and athletic director, he’s performed in a wide variety of roles for Howell High School over the last two decades.

This fall, he’ll take on another set of similar but new and wide-ranging responsibilities as an assistant director for the MHSAA.

Hutcheson, who will join the staff in August, will take over administration of wrestling, girls and boys tennis and another sport to be determined. He’ll also contribute to the Coaches Advancement Program and Athletic Directors In-Service program among other duties.

“When I look at each step I’ve taken, it’s been an opportunity to serve more people,” Hutcheson said. “As a classroom teacher and a coach, and then moving up to assistant principal where I was serving more students. And then athletic director, where I was serving more students, and now serving the entire state. It’s pretty remarkable.”

The addition of Hutcheson is one of a few changes coming to the MHSAA staff for the start of the 2016-17 school year. Longtime official Sam Davis will join part-time in September to coordinate an expansion of services and support for officials, including in the key areas of recruitment and retention, while also assisting Hutcheson with wrestling.

Andrea Osters will be promoted in August to assistant director in charge of volleyball and another sport to be determined. Osters, the current social media & brand coordinator for the MHSAA and also the lead administrator for softball the last three years, will with Hutcheson take over most of the duties of current assistant director Gina Mazzolini, who will retire at the end of July.

At Howell, Hutcheson directs 90 athletic teams for grades 7-12. His high school, with more than 2,500 students, is one of the largest in our state. He has served as athletic director for the last decade after two years as an assistant principal, and he also coached the school’s wrestling program for eight seasons while teaching applied technology at the high school and later working for the Howell Recreation Department.

A plea from a professor during his first year as a student at Ferris State University set Hutcheson’s path toward education – although along the way he’s picked up a variety of skills that have benefitted his athletic program and the surrounding sports community as well.

He went to Ferris with thoughts of becoming a graphic designer and going into advertising. But by the end of his first term, as he watched classmates stay up into the morning hours working on projects while he was getting up at 6 a.m. for wrestling practice, he figured that career might not be the best fit.

Hutcheson still remembers the day in class when that instructor remarked that there was a huge need for technical education teachers. Hutcheson, who had always wanted to coach, saw that as his eventual niche.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in technical education with an associate’s in  graphic arts and printing technology, and later earned a master’s degree in public and educational administration at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Hutcheson recently was named his region’s Athletic Director of the Year by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, and with Davis will bring extensive wrestling experience to the MHSAA. After competing at Howell and then Holt High School as a senior – making the MHSAA Individual Finals and finishing third at his weight as a senior in 1988  – Hutcheson was three-time NCAA Division II wrestling All-American and two-time Academic All-American while at Ferris State, and a three-time Greco-Roman Open All-American at the collegiate and post-graduate senior levels.

Hutcheson served as an assistant wrestling coach at Ferris State during the 1994-95 season and then coached the Michigan Wrestling Club from 1997-2000 guiding athletes in World Team and Olympic Trials competition. He led the Highlanders to the Division 1 Quarterfinals his first season as a high school coach, and currently serves as wrestling commissioner and overall president of the 24-school Kensington Lakes Activities Association and on MHSAA committees for wrestling and lacrosse.

He took over as athletic director at Howell from longtime administrator Doug Paige and has relied in part on work ethic learned from parents Don and Lynne Hutcheson and mentoring from college coach Dr. Jim Miller, who also is a professor of Optometry and with whom Hutcheson remains in regular contact.

Hutcheson has relished opportunities to put on big events, and one of his last as Howell athletic director will be as host of both MHSAA Boys Lacrosse Finals on June 11.

And tapping into those technical and design skills, Hutcheson also serves as webmaster and historian for the KLAA and created one of the most detailed league websites in the state.

“When we were doing (Paige’s) going-away party, I said his were big shoes to fill but my goal wasn't to fill the shoes, but to keep walking in the same direction,” Hutcheson said. “I feel the next person up will have a great foundation that’s here and will take it to the next level.

“I’m very excited about (joining the MHSAA staff). But I’ll probably take the same approach as what I did as athletic director here. Things have been done a certain way for a reason, and then we can look for ways to tweak things, fine-tune things.”

Champions who champion our games

An MHSAA Wrestling Finals individual champion for Lansing Eastern in 1969, Davis went on to wrestle briefly at Michigan State University before an eye injury ended his competitive career in that sport. However, he instead took up judo, winning state championships in 1980 and 1981 and competing at the U.S. Olympic trials. After graduating from MSU with bachelor and master’s degrees in 1974, Davis began his teaching career at Lansing Everett High School. He also coached wrestling and football and later served as an assistant principal at the school before serving as principal at Dwight Rich Middle School and then district athletic director over a 32-year career with Lansing Public Schools that concluded in 2007.

Davis received the MHSAA’s Vern L. Norris Award in 2015 for his work in officiating, including the mentoring and educating of other officials. He has been an MHSAA registered official for 36 years, working wrestling during the entirety of his career and baseball most of the last decade. Davis has officiated in all but a few of the MHSAA’s annual Wrestling Finals since receiving his first championship-level assignment in 1983. He currently serves as a major with the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office, serving as jail administrator, and will remain employed by the county while joining the MHSAA staff.

Osters has worked as part of the MHSAA staff since 2005 and has presented multiple times at National Federation annual meetings on her work as a nationally-recognized leader in high school sports association social media. She is a member of the Leadership Council of the NFHS Network, the national digital broadcasting initiative of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and has worked in coordination and planning of the MHSAA’s Captain’s Clinic series and other student leadership programs. 

She also launched the “Officials for Kids” statewide fundraising initiative and handles all venue-specific ticketing for MHSAA statewide tournaments.

She was a high school champion as a starter on the Okemos softball team that won the MHSAA Division 1 championship in 1999 and then graduated from Michigan State in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and concentration in public relations. She served as Okemos’ freshman softball coach for four seasons, from 2002-05, and also wrote a weekly sports column for a local magazine from 2009-11. Osters is a current member of the board of directors for the Michigan Society of Association Executives and was a founding member of the MSAE’s Emerging Professionals Committee.

“Dan Hutcheson, Sam Davis and Andrea Osters are passionate advocates for the values of high school athletics,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. Jack Roberts said. “Dan is one of the most respected athletic administrators in Michigan and brings a collection of experiences and skills that will benefit all of our schools in a variety of areas. Sam has long championed officiating, and we’re excited for the possibilities his experience and abilities bring as we intensify our recruitment of new officials statewide to join the more than 10,000 who annually work our games.

“Andrea has provided the MHSAA with a variety of skills and leadership over more than a decade of service and played a prominent role in the move of the MHSAA Baseball and Softball Finals to Michigan State two years ago. We anticipate she’ll make a smooth transition in taking over new and added responsibilities.”

PHOTO: Howell’s Dan Hutcheson coaches one of his wrestlers during his tenure running that program from 1997-2004. (Photo courtesy of Dan Hutcheson.)

Retired NHL-er Back on Ice to Answer Call - By Making Them

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

March 16, 2023

The most accomplished skater on the ice during Friday’s triple-overtime MHSAA Division 1 Semifinal hockey thriller between Hartland and Brighton was not wearing the school colors of either team.

In front of a packed house at Plymouth’s USA Hockey Arena, referee Bryan Smolinski was in stripes, just like the rest of his officiating crew.

In his former life, he pulled on plenty of sweaters before lacing up the skates. That happens when one logs more than 1,000 games, tallies nearly 300 goals (274) and close to 400 assists (377) with eight teams spanning a 15-year playing career in the National Hockey League.

So, how did the 52-year-old former star player find himself on the ice last weekend as one of the referees for the pinnacle weekend of this high school season? Good question, even for the man known as “Smoke” during his playing days.

“I was working in youth development programs a few years back and reached out to some Michigan guys I had connections with about other ways to help the game,” Smolinski said. “I called Kevin May just to chat and asked, ‘Hey, how’s your reffing going?’ He said, ‘You know, we’re down a little bit,’ then said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I said, ‘Not a chance,’” Smolinski laughed.

Never Say Never

May persisted, imploring his friend to skate with him during a Fall league at Cranbook in Bloomfield Hills. After eight weeks, once a week, Smolinski had a revelation.

“I’m like, ‘I’m kind of diggin’ this,’” Smolinski said “So, I did all the testing, and the educational part of it, and I really enjoyed it. I got with Danny (DiCristofaro) and his group, and he put me in as much as he could, and I really started to get my feet wet.”

Smolinski, a retired NHL standout, communicates with the Bulldogs' bench.DiCristofaro is the assigner and referee-in-chief for the MHSAA’s Northeast Hockey Referees Association, and he has seen Smolinski’s growth first-hand.

“Obviously he’s got great instincts and a feel for the game, along with a wealth of experience, all of which has allowed him to climb the ladder quickly,” said DiCristofaro. “It’s been a joy to watch his growth as an official.”

Fast forward to last Friday, and there were Smolinski and May sharing duties as referees during the MHSAA Semifinal with linesmen Michael Andrews and Thomas Robbins.

In between, there has been a learning curve that still continues, but the jump to officiating was not quite as daunting as his introduction to the NHL.

“I was scared to death. My first game was against Mario Lemieux. I’m in the old Boston Garden and now I’m playing against these guys and it’s their job, and they’re out there trying to make a living,” Smolinski recalled.

The emotions were not running nearly as frenzied for his first game as an MHSAA official, obviously, yet respect came in a different form.

“I couldn’t pick the puck up, I was breathing heavily; it was Kevin and me doing a two-man game in Brighton,” Smolinski recalled. “There were a few high-end kids playing, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m dying here.’ You know, there’s no training for that first time.”

What that experience did, however, was revitalize Smolinski in a new way. His playing career is well documented, not only in the NHL, but around Michigan. He enjoyed an honor-laden career at Michigan State University from 1989-93 before joining the Boston Bruins (who had drafted him three years earlier) at the end of the ’93 NHL campaign. Even after his final season, with Montreal in 2007-08, he stayed in the game via men’s leagues, or coaching his son, Max.

Smolinski and his wife, Julie, have three daughters: Ashtyn (22), Jojo (16) and Rylen (12), along with Max, whom dad coached for seven years including during a national championship run with a Little Caesars U15 team in 2019. Max, 19, is now playing collegiately at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

So, for Smolinski, officiating offers a new chapter.

“Reffing brought back ... I wouldn’t say love of the game, because that’s always been there; it’s a different side of enjoying the game now. I have no horse in the race, my son’s off to college, my daughters are doing their thing; I wanted to find something new in the game,” Smolinski said. “I’ve coached, and I don’t want to do that. I found this, and I’ve stuck with it.”

Old College Ties

One of the great benefits of athletics at any level are the friendships made. For two kids who met in their first years on the MSU campus and forged a bond that lasts to this day, it’s amazing how their careers reached the pinnacle and have now come full circle.

Wes McCauley, an MSU teammate, is one of Smolinski’s best friends. After numerous years in the minor leagues, McCauley, like his friend, made it to the NHL. But McCauley made it as an official, working his first NHL game in 2003, when Smolinski was nearing the end of his playing career.

Smolinski keeps watch during game play. Their games lined up on just a few occasions in the NHL, and the two lobbied hard to have McCauley work Smolinski’s 1,000th career game in his final season with the Canadiens in 2007-08. The request, sadly, was denied by the league.

On the rare occasions when the friends did share the same ice, less than a handful by Smolinski’s count, it was McCauley who was forced to rebuff any attempts at fraternization. It’s just part of an official’s edict.

“For both of us, it was amazing; it was just great,” Smolinski said. “I’d say, ‘Hey man what’s up?’ and he says, ‘Can’t talk.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean, we talk all the time.’ Again, he’s like, ‘Can’t talk, get away from me.’ You know, it was just business.”

McCauley then reached the 1,000-game plateau himself in 2018 and is still going strong as a regular selection for playoff duties with nine Stanley Cup Finals assignments, including last year.

 So, it should have been natural for Smolinski to go to his old friend immediately for officiating pointers once he joined the ranks, right? Well, maybe not immediately.

“I talk to Wes all the time, but I actually hid it from him right out of the gate because I didn’t want to take his razzing. Eventually it got out, and he was loving it. He started sending me whistles and visors and pants,” Smolinski said, grinning. “And none of it fit, you know, because I’m older and fatter, and he’s so damn skinny. So, I still had to go out and get all new gear.”

Both Sides Now

Having been to the top of his profession, now moving to the other side of that same mountain that his friend McCauley scaled, the respect has grown for those blowing the whistle.

“The preparation for officiating is much more mental,” Smolinski said. “Way more rules oriented. You’re always trying to get away with things that you can as a player; now you have to police that.”

Smolinski has a distinct advantage.

“I know everything they’re trying to do because I’ve done it. I know where you’re going with the puck, I know what kind of breakout you’re trying to do,” Smolinski said. “I have all the instincts, now I just try to stay out of the way and not ruin their game. The most fun is watching the game develop and the ups and downs. For me to be out there and enjoy it with them, that’s the fun part.”

Smolinski, third from left, with his crew: Michael Andrews, Kevin May and Thomas Robbins.Those who have played hockey at any level have a built-in advantage should they consider the officiating avocation: the ability to skate. Unlike officiating in any other sport, skating is a prerequisite. This makes the pool limited, and almost solely composed of former players. Smolinski offers this advice.

“I prefer sticking with high school because I think there’s more decorum, more administrative structure. Kids are playing for their schools, there’s loyalty there,” said Smolinski. “And there is more accountability. People need report to athletic directors and supervisors. Other levels can be more loosely governed, or a bit more maverick in nature. Moms and dads get involved more, coaches maybe know a little less,” said Smolinski.

He has, in fact, worked a handful of non-school games, and there’s a stark difference.

“I wanted to see what was going on, and I see it first-hand,” Smolinski said. “There are some crazy people and parents out there, and these guys are getting absolutely tortured. I’ve been tortured. There has to be a level of respect for what officials do. I think schools can rein that in a little more. All the guys I’ve met give up a lot of time and work hard because they love to do it and love the game.”

All sports need an assist from school administration and from those who once played the games to keep the officials recruitment moving in the right direction. People like Smolinski can help.

“He clearly doesn’t need to do this, and that’s what makes it so fantastic,” DiCristofaro said. “We need more people who have played – at any level – to do what he’s done and stay in the game as officials.”

Smolinski continues to promote the game in other ways as well. Currently he is involved in the NHL’s Learn To Play initiative, which aims to inspire youth and welcome more families into the hockey community.

“We work hand-in-hand with the NHL Players Association for player development and industry growth,” Smolinski said. “Ages 5 to 9 are introduced to hockey, get head-to-toe gear and instruction, and meet some former players.”

The idea is to have fun first, which can translate into years and maybe even a lifetime in the sport. It’s a lifetime that has given Smolinski so much and continues to do so as he watches it unfold for others from his new vantage point.

PHOTOS (Top) MHSAA official Bryan Smolinski signals during Friday's Division 1 Semifinal between Brighton and Hartland. (2) Smolinski, a retired NHL standout, communicates with the Bulldogs' bench. (3) Smolinski keeps watch during game play. (4) Smolinski, third from left, with his crew: Michael Andrews, Kevin May and Thomas Robbins.