Umpire's Heart Healed, Back in the Game

April 4, 2017

By Mike Spencer
Special for Second Half

Ken Allen can’t wait to say the words “Play Ball!’ today.

Weather permitting, the Traverse City softball umpire is expected to be behind the plate at Kingsley this afternoon after missing all of the spring season last year due to a heart double by-pass surgery.

“I’m sure It’s going to be exciting,” said Allen, a 32-year MHSAA umpire, basketball and football referee. “Especially after taking a year off from softball.

“But once the game gets started and you make that first call, it’s going to be right back to the old business.”

Allen, who has hardly missed a game since Dick Simon recruited him to officiate in 1985, was glad he went to his primary care physician after he noticed he was slowing down at the end of the 2015-16 boys and girls basketball season.

Allen’s doctor did an EKG and referred him to a heart surgeon, where he underwent a cardiac catheterization. Before the visit with the heart specialist was over, Allen was wheeled up to the second floor for heart surgery.

“It changed things, but I keep telling everybody that the man above gave me a second chance and I’m going to take full advantage of it,” said Allen, who was told he’d need at least three months to recuperate. “It was hard to be idle.”

Ken is an ‘old school’ die hard,” said Barb Beckett, a charter member of the Northern Sports Officials Association, former officiating partner and assignor. “He is an assignor’s dream because he will go anywhere, work any level, and anytime.  

“It was tough on him missing the last part of the basketball season and entire softball season. He makes a difference every time he steps on the court or the field."

Allen, who has officiated two MHSAA Finals in softball and another in football, never thought about retiring after his double by-pass on March 3, 2016.

“I never had a thought about quitting, and I don’t have a plan to retire,” Allen said. “I’m going to go as long as I can.

“When I can’t give the kids a full 100 percent, it’ll be time to get out.”

Allen had a clean bill of health to officiate football last fall, but he missed two weeks of the season after having his gall bladder removed. He then went on to work the entire boys and girls basketball season, which ended last month.

“Ken has always been a very hard-working official, and it’s no surprise to anyone that he has worked so hard to get back on the field and court,” said MHSAA assistant director Mark Uyl, the association’s coordinator of officiating. “Ken always had a true passion for officiating, and this passion has helped him recover and has been a source of motivation to get healthy and rehab so he can return to the competitive arena.”

Uyl said life-threatening illnesses and injuries often send veteran officials into early retirement.

“For many other officials, what Ken endured would have meant retirement or the end of their career, certainly in a sport like basketball,” Uyl said. “It shows how important working with the kids and schools is to Ken that he’s persevered so hard to get back.”


Allen also officiated baseball until the day he lost a coin flip and had to leave his softball game because no one showed up at the baseball field. His softball partner Tom Post tooted his horn departing after two quick softball games and Allen was still in the bottom half of his opener.

Although Allen has officiated two MHSAA softball championship games, football is his No. 1 sport.  He worked a 2003 MHSAA Final as the umpire.

“When I first started out, I was on the chains,” said Allen, who played freshman football at Clio High and ran track and cross country. “Then I decided that I wanted to get in the middle where the action is. I really love it.”

Allen’s taken a few knocks in the middle of the football field, even suffered a couple of concussions. But until the heart double by-pass, he was always able to get back up on his feet without hardly missing a down.

“Ken is a great official because he’s got such good people skills,” Uyl said. “The officiating business is a ‘people business’ first and foremost, and this is why this has been such a great fit for Ken for the past 30-plus years.  The MHSAA and all member schools are thrilled to have Ken back!”

Author Mike Spencer is a MHSAA registered official in boys and girls basketball and soccer. He spent more than three decades as a newspaperman before becoming a marketing communications specialist two years ago.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ken Allen, a 32-year veteran official from Traverse City, shows off his most memorable moment in high school officiating with photos and items he received after doing a 2003 MHSAA Finals assignment. (Middle) Allen kneels behind the plate; today he’ll return to action for the first time after heart surgery. 

Longtime Taylor AD, Game Official Ristovski Chose Athletics as Way to Give Back

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

February 20, 2024

There is a basketball court 5,000 miles from Sterling Heights with “MHL” painted on the center court.

Greater DetroitIt’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.”

Loren Ristovski heads an all-family officiating crew with Lola and his brother Dean Ristovski.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.

The daughters’ initials “MHL” glow on the court the family funded in Macedonia.“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 DonnellyDoug 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.)