By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The Michigan High School Athletic Association has selected 10 student-athletes from Class C and D member schools to receive scholarships through the MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Award program.
Farm Bureau Insurance, in its 29th year of sponsoring the award, will give $1,000 college scholarships to 32 individuals who represent their member schools in at least one sport in which the Association sponsors a postseason tournament. The first 30 scholarships are awarded proportionately by school classification and the number of student-athletes involved in those classes; also, there are two at-large honorees who can come from any classification.
Students applying for the Scholar-Athlete Award must be carrying at least a 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale) grade-point average and have previously won a letter in a varsity sport in which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors a postseason tournament. Other requirements for the applicants were to show active participation in other school and community activities and produce an essay on the importance of sportsmanship in educational athletics.
Each of the scholarship recipients will be honored at a halftime ceremony during the Class C Boys Basketball Final game March 24 at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing. Commemorative medallions will be given to the finalists in recognition of their accomplishments.
The Class C Scholar-Athlete Award honorees are Ellen Charlotte Laurenz, Breckenridge; Rachel Nesburg, Charlevoix; Emma Pachulski, Saranac; Jack Avery Harris, Ann Arbor Greenhills; Parker Hayes, Beaverton; and Bryant Kieft, Watervliet.
The Class D Scholar-Athlete Award recipients are: Laura Lyons, Lake Linden-Hubbell; Sophie Ruggles, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart; Aaron Jacob Fahrner, Owendale-Gagetown; and Peter Kalthoff, Hillsdale Academy.
Overviews of the scholarship recipients of the Class C Scholar-Athlete Award follow. A quote from each recipient's essay also is included:
Ellen Charlotte Laurenz, Breckenridge
Playing her third season of varsity basketball, ran four seasons of varsity cross country and will compete in her fourth season of varsity track & field this spring. Earned all-state athletic and academic honors in track and helped the cross country team to three top-seven MHSAA Finals finishes. Served as captain of varsity teams for both cross country and basketball. Serving second year as student council president and vice president for Future Farmers of America chapter. Participated in a number of leadership endeavors as part of FFA, earning a number of awards. Also named a Good Citizens Award recipient by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Participating in third year of National Honor Society and this year as her chapter’s historian; also participates in German student exchange club and as part of her church youth group. Will attend Alma College and study communications.
Essay Quote: “The season in which I was unable to participate (because of injury) gave me a new perspective on sportsmanship. It was during that time that I learned to appreciate every athlete for the effort they put into their sport, regardless of how fast or slow, talented or not they may be.”
Rachel Nesburg, Charlevoix
Playing fourth season of varsity basketball, ran four of varsity cross country and will play her fourth of varsity soccer and participate in her second of varsity track & field this spring. Earned all-league honors in basketball and soccer and all-state in soccer and track; also earned multiple academic all-state awards. Served as captain of basketball and soccer teams and owns multiple school records in track and soccer. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and served three years as class president. Also has served as president and vice president of local Zonta Club and co-founded her community’s Junior Main Street Committee. Volunteered in a number of efforts including production of videos for local theaters to raise awareness of substance abuse. Also participates in Girl Scouts, her church youth group and SAFE Northern Michigan, and as a youth sports official and coach. Will attend University of Michigan and study pre-physical therapy.
Essay Quote: “Sometimes a little motivation is all it takes to make someone’s situation better. Sportsmanship is about helping others grow and succeed when they get knocked down. In addition, when we lift others up, we raise our own confidence levels, which can create unlimited potential for success and achievement.”
Emma Pachulski, Saranac
Played three seasons of varsity volleyball and will participate in her fourth of varsity track & field this spring. Served as captain of both teams; earned all-conference, all-region and academic all-state honors in volleyball and all-county in track. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and attended American Legion Auxiliary Girls State. Also plays in school band; has served as percussion section leader and first chair clarinet and helped band to highest possible “1” rating at district competition. Participates in her school’s drama productions, earning lead female roles and serving as assistant director and lead choreographer. Serves as lead photographer on yearbook staff. Earned Sportsmanship Award, the highest honor, from local 4-H and also participates as part of her church’s youth group. Walked and raised funds to honor cancer survivors as part of Relay for Life. Will attend Grand Rapids Community College and study theatre & media arts.
Essay Quote: “High school athletics is a place for students to learn life lessons. Practicing sportsmanship through athletics prepares youth for challenges they’ll encounter in adulthood. You know what they say – perfect practice makes for a perfect performance. If high school is the practice, life is the performance.”
Jack Avery Harris, Ann Arbor Greenhills
Played three years of varsity tennis, earning three Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals No. 1 doubles championships and helping his team to the 2015 title. Earned all-state honors all three years, served as a team captain and is among nominees for the Detroit Catholic League Scholar-Athlete Award for graduating seniors. Also has contributed to school chess club and forensics team state championships and played in the top jazz ensemble for three years. Served as chess club captain, head Gryphon Ambassador for school’s open house program and producer for ACTivate the Cure fundraiser performance for cancer research. Also has been involved in school drama productions all four years of high school. Is undecided what he will study, but will attend University of Michigan.
Essay Quote: “As a tennis player, there is nothing more frustrating than feeling like your opponents have less respect for your enjoyment than you do for theirs. But, from this seemingly flawed system, the greatest kind of student athlete is able to be formed. The greatest competitor in tennis calls every line as he sees it, cheating neither himself, nor an opponent. The measure of a great student athlete therefore relies not on one’s skill, but one’s character.”
Parker Hayes, Beaverton
Ran four years of varsity cross country and will participate in fourth season of varsity track & field this spring; also played subvarsity basketball. Earned all-state in cross country and also academic all-state while earning multiple cross country and track league championships. Served as captain of the cross country team and earned multiple conference Sportsmanship Awards. Participating in third year of National Honor Society and carries a 4.0 grade-point average after also taking classes from Mid-Michigan Community College for three years. Participating in third year of Business Professionals of America and has served as vice president while earning a regional championship and making state and national finals. Holds rank of Eagle Scout and has served as senior patrol leader, certified instructor and certified lifeguard and earned membership in the Order of the Arrow. Participates in his church’s youth group and serves as Sunday School secretary. Will attend Northwood University and study accounting.
Essay Quote: “My hope is that when others see me do the ‘right things’ in the middle of a competition, they may see my example and consider their own actions. I would love to see future competitions where every spectator and athlete shows good sportsmanship, where even the last-place finisher feel like a champion.”
Bryant Kieft, Watervliet
Played three years of varsity football, is playing his second of varsity basketball and will play his third of varsity baseball this spring; also wrestled as a freshman. Earned all-state in football while setting his school’s receiving yards record and has earned all-league recognition in both basketball and baseball; earned academic all-state in baseball as a sophomore. Helped football team to multiple league titles and football and baseball teams to District titles. Captained all three varsity teams. Serving fourth year as class’ co-president and this year as National Honor Society chapter vice president. Also has served as school’s representative at the Southwestern Athletic Conference Leadership Summit. Earned regional first place and state honorable mention at Michigan Industrial Technology Education Society competitions. Served two years on Watervliet Principal’s Committee and is in second of training in Whirlpool Apprenticeship Program. Will attend Northwood University to study entertainment and sports promotion management.
Essay Quote: “No matter the situation, I strive to set an example that displays the respect I have for my opponents, my teammates, my coaches, the officials and the game itself. We athletes are privileged to play a game we love, so we must treat it with the respect it deserves by displaying good sportsmanship at all times.”
Other Class C girls finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Shelby Trevino, Beal City; Kendall Gassman, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart; Kelleigh Keating, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart; Morgan Hartline, Marcellus; Clara Johnson, Negaunee; Emily Spitzley, Pewamo-Westphalia; Halie Robinson, Royal Oak Shrine Catholic; Kendahl Grace Overbeck, Saranac; and Melody Antel, Saugatuck.
Other Class C boys finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Matthew Harazin, Bridgman; Ilhan Onder, Calumet; Joseph R. Claramunt, Harbor Springs; Thomas Kelbel, Harbor Springs; Evans Brown, Kalamazoo Hackett; Eric Vandefifer, Montrose; Luke Skewis, Negaunee; Colton Yesney, Negaunee; and Ben Hogan, North Muskegon.
Overviews of the scholarship recipients of the Class D Scholar-Athlete Award follow. A quote from each recipient's essay also is included:
Laura Lyons, Lake Linden-Hubbell
Played three seasons of varsity volleyball, four of varsity basketball and will participate in her fourth of both softball and track & field this spring. Earned all-league honors for volleyball, softball and track and helped the volleyball team to league and District titles and the track team to league, Regional and 2017 Upper Peninsula Division 3 Finals championships. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and serving as her chapter’s president as well as student council president; served two terms as her class president. Also is serving as her marching band drum major, physics club president and previously served as bowl team captain. Has volunteered for a number of efforts, taught Sunday School at her church and worked as an official for youth volleyball, softball and basketball. Earned Gold and Bronze awards from the Girl Scouts. Will attend Michigan State University and study biochemistry.
Essay Quote: “Little things often go unnoticed – but are the essence of who we are and what we become. As athletes we mirror our community and set a model for future generations. When we step out on the field or court, we represent not only ourselves, but our school, community and parents.”
Sophie Ruggles, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart
Playing fourth season of varsity basketball after completing her third of varsity volleyball during the fall; also ran track as a sophomore. Earned all-state first-team honors in both basketball and volleyball and academic all-state in both. Helped volleyball team to three league, four District and four Regional titles and basketball team to three league, District and Regional titles heading into this season plus a Class D runner-up finish in 2016. Participating in fourth year of forensics and helped that team to a conference championship while earning all-conference honors. Also helped quiz bowl and Model United Nations teams to conference titles. Serving fourth year as a Thrive Kids group leader and participating in second year of National Honor Society. Is undecided on what she will study, but will attend Michigan State University.
Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship is a tricky thing to define. Is it determined by a list of rules of things you have to do: Shake everyone’s hand. Never argue with a call. Always help someone up when they fall. It can be all of these things, yes; but it is what is behind the actions that embodies these words.”
Aaron Jacob Fahrner, Owendale-Gagetown
Played four seasons of varsity football, is playing his fourth of varsity basketball and will play his fourth of varsity baseball this spring. Earned all-conference honors in all three sports and has captained both the football and basketball teams; helped his three teams to a combined five league championships heading into this winter. Serves on MHSAA Student Advisory Council. Carries a 4.0 grade-point average and will enter college with 39 credits. Serving third year as class president and also this year’s National Honor Society chapter president, his school band’s president and as yearbook editor for the second year. Also serving third year as part of the Huron County Youth Advisory Committee and has taken part in multiple volunteer efforts. Will attend Michigan State University and study agri-business management.
Essay Quote: “In high school athletics, students are all put on a team together; each must be willing to work with one another to achieve a common goal, putting their differences aside to be competitive and to succeed. An athlete with good sportsmanship respects teammates, coaches and officials. Sometimes you may not always see eye to eye, but when it comes to the game you have to be willing to play as a team and respect the coach’s and officials’ decisions.
Peter Kalthoff, Hillsdale Academy
Played four seasons of varsity soccer and is playing his fourth of varsity basketball; also intends to participate in his second season of varsity track & field this spring. Started all four seasons of both soccer and basketball, helping both teams to District titles and the soccer team to a league title. Scored his 1,000th career basketball point as a junior. Earned all-state in multiple events in track & field, and also earned all-state recognition in soccer and basketball. Participating in fourth year of National Honor Society and his school’s service club, and served as president of the latter. Also participating in his fourth years of drama, chamber choir and vocal band and previously participated in string quartet, high school orchestra and Michigan Youth Symphony Orchestra. Selected to participate in Cambridge International and Center Stage strings festivals as violinist, and served as part of the Governor’s Honor Guard for Boy Scouts. Achieved black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Will attend University of Michigan or Hillsdale College and study music performance.
Essay Quote: “Even off the court or playing field, our words and deeds will leave impressions. The good sportsman, even in day-to-day life, will dependably seek to give the impression he wants others to take.”
Other Class D girls finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Katelyn Smith, Akron-Fairgrove; Corra Hamilton, Athens; Madison Kadlec, Bellaire; Ciera Weber, Fowler; Stephanie Schuman, Lawrence; and Ellie Haan, McBain Northern Michigan Christian.
Other Class D boys finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Nicholas Burlingame, Ashley; Brendan Delaney, Gaylord St. Mary; Andrew Pechette, Kinde-North Huron; Andrew Hager, Mio; Jeremiah Torrey, Onekama; and Thomas Hursey, Suttons Bay.
The Class B scholarship award recipients will be announced Feb. 13, and the Class A honorees will be announced Feb. 20.
Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan was founded in 1949 by Michigan farmers who wanted an insurance company that worked as hard as they did. Those values still guide the company today and are a big reason why it is known as Michigan’s Insurance Company, dedicated to protecting the farms, families, and businesses of this great state. Farm Bureau Insurance agents across Michigan provide a full range of insurance services — life, home, auto, farm, business, retirement, Lake Estate®, and more — protecting nearly 500,000 Michigan policyholders.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.
First impressions can be significant, as many a saying goes. And Karen Brown unknowingly provided one in 1978 that helped affect the course of athletics in this state over the next 40-plus years.
A Michigan State University student named Karen Leinaar had shown up at the Michigan High School Athletic Association for a meeting about a 5K road race she was planning that was unrelated to the MHSAA except that the building provided a good meeting place – and Brown, just a year out of high school, was the first person to greet her at the old Trowbridge Road headquarters.
Seeing someone her age immediately made Leinaar more comfortable. She ended up returning to that office several times over the years, registering as an MHSAA game official while still an MSU student and then starting a career in 1982 that has included nearly 40 years as a high school athletic director and two decades of shaping policy as part of the MHSAA Representative Council.
That’s the kind of impact that’s emanated from Karen Jackson, formerly Brown, and over the last 45 years as assistant to four of the five executive directors during the MHSAA’s 98-year history. Jackson finished that run with her retirement Friday.
“She was always one that would welcome you, and whether you walked into the office or called on the phone, she always had an answer that would calm you down or provide you with the information you needed,” said Leinaar, who currently is serving as interim athletic director at Frankfort High School in addition to her duties as executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
“I remember initially calling and needing something from Mr. Norris – it was always Mr. Norris – and she could answer the question,” Leinaar added, referring to retired MHSAA executive director Vern Norris, who served in that role from 1978-86. “You didn’t want to talk to scary Mr. Norris – Vern was a wonderful man, but he was like the superintendent or principal. Karen always had the answer. … It was always that smile that made you feel like you were more than welcomed, wanted in the office, and everything is going to be OK.”
Jackson began at the MHSAA in June 1977, two days before her graduation from long ago-closed Harry Hill High School in Lansing.
Her high school sports career amounted to about half a season on the Hill varsity volleyball team as a sophomore before she had to switch gears to begin working for the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce as part of a school co-op program.
Jackson graduated as a co-valedictorian of Hill’s Class of 1977. Despite her academic standing, she hadn’t received much guidance at school on the possibility of college. But she had a job offer from the Chamber – and also had heard from grade-school friend Deborah Norris (Vern’s daughter) about an opening at the MHSAA.
The MHSAA was offering more money, and Jackson was hoping to buy a car – and so at 18, she became the secretary for executive director Allen W. Bush.
The title has changed over the years, from secretary to the executive director, to executive assistant, to senior executive assistant. The MHSAA’s administrative processes obviously have changed, mostly because of technology, from everything done on paper and through the mail to just about everything conducted digitally over the internet.
But many of Jackson’s most important duties at the end of her tenure resembled those she was hired to carry out nearly half a century ago.
Setting Exemplary Expectations
Bush retired a year after Jackson began, and she then assisted Norris for his eight as executive director. She served with Jack Roberts through his 32 years as executive director from 1986-2018 and then for these first 3½ under current director Mark Uyl.
She was considered the “baby” of the MHSAA staff during her first 12 years, until she turned 30 and her support staff teammates declared she wasn’t the baby anymore during a Christmas party serenade. Just about 33 years later, she’s leaving as one of two people left who worked in the old offices before the MHSAA moved to another East Lansing headquarters at Ramblewood Drive in 1996.
School sports happen thanks to a Karen Jackson or two in every community -- people who provide the unseen support that makes these programs possible every day.
For the last 45 years, she’s provided a consistent anchor for service to 1,500 schools and millions of student-athletes across Michigan.
“She’s shaped so much of what we’ve done,” said MHSAA assistant director Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, who joined the staff during the 2003-04 school year after more than two decades working for Grand Rapids-area schools. “Her service to schools was imperative to what she was doing, and it was a valuable part for our membership. Hers was such a dedicated service, such an exemplary service – finding solutions, to do what’s needed.”
There are file cabinets and libraries and hard drives at the MHSAA office, the contents of which are known by only a handful of people on Earth – and Jackson perhaps the most as she did most of the sorting and maintaining of those files over the years.
For a 1996 Lansing State Journal feature on the MHSAA’s support staff, Jackson (then Yonkers) explained “there are always new challenges, new issues and controversies. It never gets boring. In the past 19 years, we’ve slowly shifted from dealing with athletic administrators, principals and superintendents to dealing with legislators, attorneys and courts.”
The last 25 years has seen much of the work swing back to providing service directly to schools. And Jackson’s mind has become part MHSAA library and part card catalog of where to find those few snippets she might not recall immediately from the last half century.
“I guess what I’m proud of is being able to find things, to know where to find things and how to find things that other people don’t,” Jackson said. “Yes, the technology has changed everything. … We used to have more schools – they used to have 40-some Detroit public schools – and there was a whole era of (litigation), but it’s calmed down now.
“I liked what I did, and it kept me on my toes – that’s for sure.”
The MHSAA is rooted in its responsibilities as a championship and eligibility rules maker, and Jackson was involved in just about every communication in those areas during her time. Tournament changes are made at Representative Council meetings, and she’s reported the minutes for at least 150 of those, including piles of special sessions as the MHSAA managed sports through the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility waivers are requested at Executive Committee meetings, and she’s prepared somewhere north of 505 sets of minutes for those monthly sessions even as those agendas have grown in content substantially over the years.
Then there’s all of the correspondence from those four executive directors – all with the initials “kb” or “kj” to go with “AWB” or “VLN” or “JER” and “MU.” She also was in charge of MHSAA election ballots for 35 years, served as the lead organizer of cooperative programs, helped with football tickets for a time and briefly was part of the program-selling crew at early Football Finals at the Pontiac Silverdome.
“I think I’m pretty lucky, being on the Council and Executive Committee, that I’ve been able to work with her a lot. And most athletic directors, they may not even know who she is because they may not have contact with her or do anything with her – but she’s obviously been the unsung hero of that office,” said Vic Michaels, who serves as director of physical education & athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit and has served on the Representative Council since 2003.
“She just does so much that you don’t really know about, especially with the Council. Whenever I need anything, Karen’s the one I call. She is the history, really. She’s the keeper of that.”
Unprecedented & 'Never to be Replicated'
A longtime co-worker of Jackson, Shirley Hytinen, retired in 1998 after just a few months more than 43 years. She too had worked for four executive directors, as she began in 1955 during the Charles E. Forsythe era.
Jackson surpassed Hytinen’s tenure a few years into Uyl’s, and can readily recall some of what stood out from all four directors she’s assisted.
Bush was “really stern” – he had served in the U.S. Marines – and she said he didn’t smile much until the day he announced his retirement, when it was “like a switch turned. He was smiling and happy and joking around.”
Norris was “the sweetest guy in the world.” Jackson had bought her first house in her mid-20s and was preparing to move in with only her dad and his motor home to assist, when Norris showed up to help at 7:30 a.m. that morning to provide another set of hands.
Roberts is known by Michigan administrators and national colleagues for his writing, and Jackson said jokingly she still “cringes” when she sees a yellow legal pad. She was an important proofreader and spent the majority of her career serving with her desk just a few paces away from that of the recent National Federation Hall of Fame selection, and she attended his induction this past summer and San Antonio.
Roberts pointed out that during the 1980s, the MHSAA would conduct nine Executive Committee meetings, each averaging fewer than 10 requests for waivers. By the end of his 32 years, there were 11 Executive Committee meetings annually – with approximately 50 waiver requests presented on average. Still, he and Jackson were able to process the meeting minutes and continue to distribute those decisions within 24 hours.
“Over the more than three decades that Karen and I worked together at the MHSAA, the work became increasingly more voluminous and complicated – and Karen kept finding ways to increase our efficiency and maximize our output,” Roberts said.
Like Norris when Bush was executive director, Uyl had been part of the MHSAA staff under Roberts since 2004 before eventually moving into the corner office. After those first 15 years together, Uyl knew what a valuable person he had just a few yards away to assist in his transition, and “he just says to do this” and allows his staff to run with it, which Jackson enjoyed.
Her duties have been shifted confidently, mostly to Jamie VanDerMoere, another longtime administrative assistant who is best-known to Michigan school sports people for her leadership with the annual wrestling championship tournaments.
Jackson recently was married to Jim Jackson, and they have plans as they close in on their first anniversary – they’re hoping to travel to Italy at some point and also The Masters in Augusta, Ga., next spring. “I’m not going to miss coming to work every day, but the people,” Karen Jackson said.
And many in school sports across Michigan, although they may not realize it, will miss the contributions Jackson has made to their community over the decades including the context she’s provided as thousands of decisions have been made.
“Not only her understanding of our regulations and the processes of our regulations, but understanding why we have those things in place – when someone does something 45 years, you get a lot of historical context,” Uyl said. “What’s made her so effective is understanding the why – and that to me is something that’s almost impossible to replace.
“When an organization has been around 98 years with only five directors, it says something to have worked for four out of the five. That will never be replicated again.”
PHOTOS (Top) From top left, Karen Jackson has been a mainstay of the MHSAA for decades – serving membership, working with administrators like Randy Allen and Gina Mazzolini or serving as assistant to executive directors like Jack Roberts (right) and Vern Norris. (Middle) Jackson, sitting fourth from left, was the “baby” of the MHSAA staff after joining when she was 18. (Below) Jackson and husband Jim have plans to travel in retirement. (MHSAA archives.)