By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor
Several years ago, MHSAA schools received thousands of postcards imploring graduating student-athletes to “Stay in the Game” by registering as contest officials.
A miniscule portion of that quantity found its way back to 1661 Ramblewood Drive. It’s a better bet you are reading this issue of benchmarks on the rest, in the form of recycled paper.
The plan for 2012-13, then, was to move away from the mass marketing approach and narrow the scope with the help of school administrators. Each MHSAA member school athletic director was sent a memo last May, along with two registration invitations. The memo simply asked the ADs to identify two officiating candidates from the senior class and deliver the special registration form. Completed forms were returned to the MHSAA, which not only waived all sign-up fees for the student’s first year, but also set the rookies up with local associations and training opportunities.
“We took this approach as a more measured strategy knowing that officiating is not for everyone,” said MHSAA Assistant Director Mark Uyl. “Instead of marketing to everyone, we hoped that ADs would give serious time and thought in selecting two graduating seniors who seemed best equipped in terms of personality and comportment for officiating.”
Uyl set a modest goal of attracting 50 new officials through this program, and the Association is nearly halfway there at this printing, as 22 young men and women will make their first calls during the 2012-13 season.
Or, at least their first calls at the high school level. One of the “rookies” is Jake Hodges, who co-captained Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett to the 2012 MHSAA Division 3 Ice Hockey title.
“I have been a USA Hockey ref for six years, and I plan to continue in college. It is good income,” said Hodges, who also plans to work lacrosse. “I had planned to register anyway so the free registration was great. I expect to work often and continue to be a solid ref. I also played lacrosse for four years and think that will allow for a good transition.”
The process has culled candidates from Michigan’s cities, suburbs and rural areas, from below and above the Mackinac Bridge.
“I have always been interested in officiating. The biggest incentive was the free registration,” said Negaunee’s Kevin Price, who registered in baseball, softball and basketball. “I hope this year will be a learning experience as I work games with long-time officials. As a player, I got to know many officials and we have become friends. The local officials in my area have done a great job giving me advice on my upcoming ‘rookie’ season.”
Many students registered for more than one sport, with a high of seven sports for Montrel Hill of Melvindale.
Early returns give Uyl and the MHSAA reason for optimism.
“We will continue this incentive plan again next year as we try to grow the pool of new, young officials,” Uyl said.
PHOTO: Jake Hodges (center) hoists the MHSAA Division 3 championship trophy after his Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett team claimed the title in March.
NOTE: This is the third installment in the series "Making – and Answering – the Call" detailing the careers and service of MHSAA officials. Click the links below to view the two.
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)