By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Tom Minter admits his wife Linda knows the spiel well. She's been hearing it spun for years.
The recently-retired MHSAA assistant director might be chatting up a recent grad at his or her high school open house, or talking with a former athlete whose playing days are done but love for a sport hasn't waned.
“When I recruit officials, I tell them, ‘Hey, you can stay in a game you know something about. It’s good exercise. You stay with the kids, who help keep you young, and it’s one of the few hobbies that pays you,’” Minter said.
He knows all to be true after 48 years running the fields and courts of Michigan’s high schools, and more than a half-century total as a referee and umpire who worked his most recent girls soccer game just a few days ago in Ovid-Elsie.
Minter, an official for nine MHSAA Finals and longtime clinician and trainer of referees and umpires all over the state, has been selected to receive the MHSAA’s Vern L. Norris Award for 2013.
The Norris Award is presented annually to a veteran official who has been active in a local officials association, has mentored other officials, and has been involved in officials’ education. It is named for Vern L. Norris, who served as executive director of the MHSAA from 1978-86 and was well-respected by officials on the state and national levels. Minter will be honored at the Officials’ Awards & Alumni Banquet on May 4 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.
Minter also worked at the MHSAA’s home office from September 1995 through January 2012 and so knows or is familiar with just about every Norris winner before him – making this award extra meaningful.
While the desire to remain part of the games after his playing career ended led to Minter’s early involvement, the opportunity to pass on what he’s learned keeps him immersed in the officiating community.
“Hopefully now I’m able to pass some of this on and to encourage, provide the listening ear like people provided to me in the past,” Minter said. “It’s created in me a sense of legacy.
“To be in the company of people like Vern Norris and Dick Kalahar and all the other winners, it’s just the recognition that you’ve made a contribution. That is so satisfying.”
Minter began his officiating career while a student at a U.S. Air Force base high school overseas. Natives of Akron, Ohio, the family followed Minter’s father – who worked for Goodyear Tires – to Scotland in 1958.
Minter played mostly baseball to that point, and didn’t know much about the pastime of his new home – soccer. But on suggestion of his physical education teacher – who also had played pro soccer – Minter took up officiating the sport to fast-forward his education in the game.
Minter refereed his first high school soccer game in 1961, and played at the high school and college levels. After also officiating for a year in Ohio, Minter began officiating in Michigan while a student at Jackson Community College. He graduated from Jackson Community College in 1966 and Michigan State University in 1971, and also served a stint with the U.S. Army.
Minter has worked games in football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer and baseball and has served as an officials assignor both at the high school and college levels; he currently is secretary for the Greater Lansing Area Soccer Officials Association. He worked five baseball MHSAA Finals, two football and one each in boys and girls soccer before joining the MHSAA staff in 1995 as the selection from nearly 200 candidates for his position.
As part of the announcement that Minter would be joining the staff as assistant to executive director John E. “Jack” Roberts, Roberts compared Minter to a versatile running back – capable of handling a variety of in-office obligations while also able to ‘bounce to the outside’ and assist with administration of sport services to member schools.
Among many contributions as an MHSAA employee, Minter was assistant director in charge of boys and girls soccer and oversaw construction of the MHSAA’s home office, which opened in December 1996. Although retired, he remains a versatile contributor providing assistance to the MHSAA in East Lansing and high school athletics on a national level.
“Tom Minter continues to help with capital improvement projects at the MHSAA office, and he continues to represent the National Federation (NFHS) Officials Association on its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee,” Roberts said. “His many contributions to high school athletics, and especially officiating, continue to be far-reaching. We are delighted to recognize Tom Minter with the Vern L. Norris Award.”
Minter came to the MHSAA after serving as Meridian Township Treasurer for 19 years and also as a volunteer fireman for that community, which includes Haslett and Okemos. Minter was an Ingham County commissioner for six years and served on Meridian Township’s planning commission and zoning board of appeals, and has been a member of the Haslett/Okemos Rotary Club for 36 years – including as its president in 1985-86.
He currently serves as chairperson of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports, a 15-member body established in 1992 that promotes the increase of physical activity and improvement of health for Michigan residents. He was first appointed in February 2012 and serves with Kalamazoo’s Ron Winter, a friend going back to their days at MSU and a current referee in the National Football League.
Minter also continues to work as a Big Ten football replay official and observer of officials for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference – for which he served as an on-field official for 25 seasons including eight as crew chief. He also worked in the Mid-American Conference and Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
All allow him to provide a wealth of knowledge to those continuing to hone the officiating craft – especially when it comes to tangible aspects like rules, mechanics and the like.
But working for the MHSAA fulltime gave Minter a unique perspective on the intangibles of officiating at the high school level – like keeping in perspective that athletes are high school students, enjoying athletics as part of the education process.
The value of providing such mentoring will be a significant part of his brief acceptance speech May 4.
“We’re all here because we worked 20, 30, 40, 45, 50 years. What are we doing to ensure our replacements?” Minter said. “That’s what we have to do, to ensure that we leave a replacement.”
High school game officials with 20, 30, 40, 45 and 50 years of service also will be honored at the Officials’ Awards & Alumni Banquet on May 4. Tickets for the banquet are available to the public and priced at $20. They will not be sold at the door. Tickets can be ordered by calling the MHSAA office at (517) 332-5046 or by sending the order form available at this link.
Previous recipients of the Norris Award
1992 – Ted Wilson, East Detroit
1993 – Fred Briggs, Burton
1994 – Joe Brodie, Flat Rock
1995 – Jim Massar, Flint
1996 – Jim Lamoreaux, St. Ignace
1997 – Ken Myllyla, Escanaba
1998 – Blake Hagman, Kalamazoo
1999 – Richard Kalahar, Jackson
2000 – Barb Beckett, Traverse City; Karl Newingham, Bay City
2001 – Herb Lipschultz, Kalamazoo
2002 – Robert Scholie, Hancock
2003 – Ron Nagy, Hazel Park
2004 – Carl Van Heck, Grand Rapids
2005 – Bruce Moss, Alma
2006 – Jeanne Skinner, Grand Rapids
2007 – Terry Wakeley, Grayling
2008 – Will Lynch, Honor
2009 – James Danhoff, Richland
2010 – John Juday Sr., Petoskey
2011 – Robert Williams, Redford
2012 – Lyle Berry, Rockford
PHOTOS: (Top) Longtime official Tom Minter signals a score during a 2010 football game. (Middle) Minter awards Williamston girls soccer coach Jim Flore an MHSAA runner-up trophy in 2010.
There is a basketball court 5,000 miles from Sterling Heights with “MHL” painted on the center court.
It’s not the name of a local basketball league in the village where it is located – Siricino, Macedonia. Instead, it stands for Madison, Haleigh and Lola, the three daughters of longtime Michigan basketball coach, referee and athletic director Loren Ristovski.
“My dad loved going back (to Macedonia),” said Madison Ristovski. “He’s probably gone every summer since about 2017. His whole family still lives there. He loved going and visiting and seeing everyone.
“It was always a goal of his to give back to where he came from. He and Mom donated to the village to build a soccer field and basketball court with lights and everything. It was a pretty big deal. It’s something he wanted to do for them back home. We were very proud he did that.”
Loren Ristovski, athletic director for Taylor schools, died earlier this month while on leave to have surgery on his foot. It was a shock to his family, friends, and the Taylor community.
“It was a heavy blow,” said Matt Joseph, girls basketball coach at Utica Ford and a longtime friend of the Ristovski family. “It was like getting kicked in the gut. Basketball was his passion. Next to his family, basketball was definitely No. 1. He loved the game and all the intricacies of it. He loved seeing kids excel.”
Ristovski emigrated from Macedonia to Michigan when he was 9. He went to high school at Hamtramck St. Florian, where he excelled at basketball. He went to Wayne State University to get a degree in criminal justice and had plans to become a lawyer.
Before he could take the Law School Admission Test, however, basketball came calling.
“He started coaching at Henry Ford High School and Fuhrmann Middle School,” Madison said. “Once he realized how much he enjoyed coaching, he decided to go into education. He stayed the entire time. He never went to law school.”
Loren Ristovski became the head coach at Harper Woods but gave that up when his daughters were ready to start playing in high school.
“He gave up coaching varsity at Harper Woods so he could be at every one of my games,” Madison said.
He also coached them as youngsters, often teaming with Joseph to coach an AAU team.
“I met him when Madison was 5,” Joseph said. “He and I decided to put our daughters in the same parks and recreation team, and next thing you know we were coaching AAU.”
With Ristovski’s tutoring, Madison, Haleigh, and Lola all excelled at the game, each playing Division I college basketball after standout careers at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. In 2012, Liggett reached the Class C Final with all three starting. They combined for 55 of Liggett’s 57 points in the championship game, with Madison scoring 42 after earlier that week receiving the Miss Basketball Award.
Lola and Haleigh played at the University of Detroit Mercy, and Madison played at the University of Michigan. Today, Haleigh lives on the west side of the state and plays recreational basketball. Lola is a referee in the Catholic High School League as well as for the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and also works area Division III college games.
Madison is a teacher and the varsity girls basketball coach at Sterling Heights Stevenson.
“He taught us the game when we were very, very young,” Madison said. “We grew up in the gym with him and watched him coach his team. He coached me my whole life. He was very instrumental – he taught us all those things you need to become an athlete, and more importantly the things you need to do to succeed in life.”
Her dad is the reason she became a coach.
“Watching my dad coach and seeing the impact he had on his high school athletes and even the kids in our church community – it inspired me to want to coach as well and give back like he did,” she said. “I watched him with my teammates and the impact he had on them. I thought it would be so cool if I could do the same for others.”
Loren Ristovski left a legacy at Taylor, too. School officials recounted several stories of how he balanced athletic budgets with the needs of student-athletes. He would lead fundraising efforts, created the Bitty Ball program for youth basketball players and cheerleaders and helped students become certified officials – and then would hire them to officiate games.
“He didn’t say no,” said Taylor boys basketball coach Chris Simons. “We made it work. We didn’t go out and ask people for a bunch of money. We would just do it. We all pulled together and made it work. Loren did everything he could to make things as pretty and presentable as he could with the budget we had.”
Ristovski also put on summer camps at both Taylor and at the Joe Dumars Fieldhouse in Sterling Heights, where he lived. He commuted about an hour to Taylor every day.
“He loved Taylor,” Madison said. “He loved who he worked with and the students. He included us, too. My mom would run the ticket table or do the scoreboard clock. I don’t know how many times I sold tickets for volleyball tournaments with him. He loved his people and loved having us there with him.”
Loren Ristovski, who played professional basketball in Europe during the late 1980s, ran well over 20 marathons in his life, including the Boston Marathon. He was a registered MHSAA official for 16 years, and in the weeks before his passing he refereed a varsity game in Rochester with his daughter, Lola.
“He looked at basketball, I think, differently than other people do,” Madison said. “He saw it as a way to have relationships with other people, to help people achieve their goals and to find meaningful relationships with others. It was more than just a game to him.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Loren Ristovski, far left, and wife Svetlana support their lineup of Division I basketball-playing daughters – from left: Madison, Haleigh and Lola. (Middle) Loren Ristovski heads an all-family officiating crew with Lola and his brother Dean Ristovski. (Below) The daughters’ initials “MHL” glow on the court the family funded in Macedonia. (Photos courtesy of Madison Ristovski.)