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 33rd year of sponsoring the award, will give $2,000 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.
The 32 scholarship recipients will be recognized March 26 during the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing.
The Class C Scholar-Athlete Award honorees are: Korah Honig, St. Louis; Jillian Koski, Ishpeming Westwood; Ryann Locke, Springport; Ryan Doty, Clinton; Mert Oral, Ann Arbor Greenhills; and Ty Ruddy, Ottawa Lake Whiteford.
The Class D Scholar-Athlete Award recipients are: Megan Bennett, McBain Northern Michigan Christian; Mia Riley, Fowler; Ashton McNabb, Three Oaks River Valley; and Eli Shoup, Mason County Eastern.
Overviews of the scholarship recipients of the Class C Scholar-Athlete Award follow. A quote from each recipient's essay also is included:
(NOTE: If an athlete intended to play and was part of a spring sports team in 2020, that sport is counted among the athlete’s total although the season was canceled due to COVID-19.)
Korah Honig, St. Louis
Played four years of varsity volleyball and will participate in her fourth of track & field this spring. Earned all-league and all-region in volleyball and qualified for MHSAA Finals in shot put and discus as a junior. Served as captain of volleyball and track teams and earned academic all-state in the latter. Participating in fourth year of student council and has served as vice president. Also participating in fourth years of school’s marching/concert, pep, jazz and steel drum bands and church praise band and is proficient playing 10 instruments. Served as section leader for drumline and clarinet sections. Also participating in quiz bowl and as sportswriter for school newspaper, and in fourth year of pep club. Will attend Indiana Institute of Technology and study business.
Essay Quote: “The definition of sportsmanship is when a sport is enjoyed for its own sake and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors. The reason sports exist is because people enjoy playing them, and sportsmanship is what keeps the love of the game alive. Sports are more than winning but also building relationships and good competition.”
Jillian Koski, Ishpeming Westwood
Playing third season of varsity basketball, played fourth of varsity tennis in the fall and will play second of varsity golf and fourth of varsity softball this spring; also swam as a junior and participated in track & field as a freshman. Twice won MHSAA Finals flight championships in tennis and finished runner-up as a senior, and made Finals for swimming as a junior. Helped tennis team to three Finals championships and softball and basketball teams to league titles. Earned all-conference in golf and all-Upper Peninsula in tennis. Served as captain of tennis, softball and golf teams. Carried a 4.0 GPA through high school and is participating in second year of National Honor Society. Participating in fourth year of student council; served as class president the first three years and is serving as council president as a senior. Participating in third year of Business Professionals of America, also having served as president of that group, and earned national awards. Will attend Michigan State University and study business management.
Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship ideals keep the sports community thriving. … Through my experience, I have learned that sportsmanship is not simply being considerate to the opposing team. Each team must show compassion within themselves in order to be successful.”
Ryann Locke, Springport
Playing fourth season of varsity basketball, played two of varsity volleyball and ran two of cross country, and will compete in fourth varsity seasons of soccer and track & field this spring. Qualified for MHSAA Finals in track and earned all-state honorable mention in soccer, and earned all-area in basketball and was named league’s Most Valuable Player. Earned academic all-state in all five varsity sports. Served as captain of soccer and basketball teams. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and fourth on student council. Has participated in 4-H and Future Farmers of America throughout high school, earning a number of 4-H grand champion awards and FFA state recognition. Also participating in school’s Sources of Strength and Senior Strong organizations. Will attend Trine University and pursue pre-medical studies.
Essay Quote: “I cherish every moment when I get the chance to compete. I try to compete with a level of integrity that others can respect and acclaim. … It is a special feeling to walk off the court filled with pride, holding your head high, feeling triumphant. But sometimes you lose, you have to look opponents and coaches in the eye and shake their hand, tell them good job, embrace the fact that they were better than you in that moment.”
Ryan Doty, Clinton
Ran second varsity season of cross country in the fall and will participate in fourth of track & field this spring; also played varsity soccer as a freshman. Ran on two Finals-qualifying cross country teams and earned all-conference and all-region in track. Served as captain of cross country and track teams. Participating in fourth year of student government and has served as vice president, and participating in third years of National Honor Society and Hispanic Honors Society, having served in leadership positions in both. Participating in fourth year of International Club and has served as co-president. Formed Images and Ancestors, LLC, and created family tree with more than 4,000 members. Participated throughout high school in USDA botanical research. Served as team coordinator and competed at National TRAC Bridge Competition. Contributed to Clinton Mascot Rebranding Committee and served on school’s Student Engagement Committee promoting diversity and inclusion. Participated in mission trip to Romania. Has not decided where he will attend college, but intends to study genetics.
Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship is more than a buzzword, it is a lifestyle: a way of life that seeks self-improvement through the advancement of others. In order to have a successful team and athletic association, members must race not only for themselves, but also for those around them.”
Mert Oral, Ann Arbor Greenhills
Played four seasons of varsity tennis, becoming one of nine in MHSAA history to win three Finals championships at No. 1 singles, and helped Greenhills to two team titles. Earned Mr. Tennis Award after senior season and all-state for the fourth time, and also won 2018 USTA Midwest Closed Championships and reached finals of 2019 USTA Level 2 national tournament. Served as Greenhills tennis team captain as junior and senior. Participating in fourth season of Model United Nations and has served twice on executive board. Contributing for fourth year to school’s Peer to Peer math tutoring program and has served as club leader. Participated in two years of DECA, winning a state championship and qualifying for international competition. Served one year as class officer. Will attend University of Michigan and study biomedical engineering.
Essay Quote: “From day one our coaches preached to us that no matter if we win or lose, we should always do it with class, and we should strive our hardest to be ambassadors for the game, to demonstrate what tennis, and all high school sports for that matter, is about: sportsmanship. I began seeing competition and matches not as something to “win or lose,” but rather as opportunities to represent myself, my teammates, and my coaches to the best of my ability.”
Ty Ruddy, Ottawa Lake Whiteford
Played two seasons of varsity football and will participate in fourth of track & field this spring; also played varsity basketball as a junior. Qualified for MHSAA Finals in track and helped football team to Regional title; contributed in multiple sports despite significant medical challenges including three open-heart surgeries by age 3. Earned academic all-state in football and all-league scholar-athlete awards in all three sports. Served as team captain of football and track teams. Carries 4.0 GPA and is participating in second year of National Honor Society. Serving as student council treasurer and senior class president. Participating in first year of choral ensemble and previously participated in Future Farmers of America during the first two years of high school. Served as team leader during mission trip and has contributed to Goodfellow Food Pantry throughout high school, organizing a holiday food drive that collected more than 3,500 items. Will attend Hillsdale College and study English and applied mathematics.
Essay Quote: “In September 2021, my doctors notified my parents and me, for the first time, that I had one kidney. The experience struck a chord with me, instilling a thankfulness for everyday experiences I had not previously shown. Before that day, I had recognized the brevity of life but never the importance of life experiences.”
Other Class C girls finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Haley Anne Newland, Bad Axe; Karly Smith, Beal City; Isabel Contreras-Spencer, Grass Lake; Gillian Kuehnle, Hartford; Gabrielle Carey, Iron Mountain; Jordan Fox, Lake City; Isabel Henige, New Lothrop; Trinity Kolka, Sanford Meridian; and Anna McPherson, Saranac.
Other Class C boys finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Dylan David Reisig, Bridgman; Cole Garrison Stone, Carson City-Crystal; Samuel Peterson, Charlevoix; Jack Davis, Holland Black River; Isaac Backman, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep; Jack Hollebeek, Grandville Calvin Christian; Joshua M. Fairbanks, Roscommon; Jonah Cerone, Royal Oak Shrine Catholic; and Alex Tanner, Whitmore Lake.
Overviews of the scholarship recipients of the Class D Scholar-Athlete Award follow. A quote from each recipient's essay also is included:
(NOTE: If an athlete intended to play and was part of a spring sports team in 2020, that sport is counted among the athlete’s total although the season was canceled due to COVID-19.)
Megan Bennett, McBain Northern Michigan Christian
Playing third season of varsity basketball, played four of varsity volleyball and will play fifth of varsity soccer this spring (after also playing as an eighth grader, allowed at schools with fewer than 100 students). Helped all three teams to District championships. Earned all-state recognition in soccer and basketball and all-league in volleyball, and earned academic all-state in all three sports. Served multiple seasons as team captain in basketball and volleyball. Serving fourth year on student council including second as part of executive committee. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and third of theater and choir. Participating in fourth years of Christ Committee and Chapel Team, and has served as president of both. Volunteers in church, school and community efforts. Is undecided where she will attend college, but intends to study criminal justice.
Essay Quote: “(Sportsmanship) is going out of one's way to help, congratulate, or simply acknowledge another player no matter the mindset one is in; it is the helping hand when a player falls down; it is the words of encouragement when another player is struggling. Sportsmanship is the way that others watching see Christ through an athlete's actions.”
Mia Riley, Fowler
Playing fourth season of varsity basketball and played four of varsity volleyball. Named all-state in basketball for second time as a junior in leading team to Division 4 Finals championship. Also earned all-state honors two seasons in volleyball. Served as captain of both teams. Carries 4.0 GPA and has been dually enrolled for three years at Lansing Community College; made LCC’s President’s list. Participating in third year of National Honor Society and has served as chapter vice president, and participating in first year on student council. Participating in fourth year of Business Professionals of America, serving as club president and having qualified for national competition. Has volunteered with church throughout high school. Will attend Ferris State University and study biology and pre-optometry.
Essay Quote: “Entitlement, foul play, ‘trash talk’, and plenty other unsportsmanlike conduct is prominent in sports. These are all things that I do not want my character to reflect when I participate in educational athletics. Instead, I strive to act … with nothing but respect, understanding, and kindness towards others in sports. It is unselfish, sportsmanlike acts … that help us to refocus our purpose for participating in sports in the first place: to compete with our teammates and have fun.”
Ashton McNabb, Three Oaks River Valley
Playing third season of varsity basketball and will play fourth season of varsity baseball in the spring; also ran three seasons of varsity cross country. Helped basketball and baseball teams to league championships and baseball to multiple District titles. Carries 4.4 GPA and will be named valedictorian. Earned all-league and academic all-state in baseball, and served as team captain of baseball and basketball teams. Participating in fourth year of National Honor Society and was first freshman inducted in school history. Serving second year on MHSAA Student Advisory Council and previously served two years as class vice president. Contributing to school’s Peer 2 Peer program, and has participated in church youth group throughout high school and as a volunteer with Urban Hope the last two years. Is undecided where he will attend college, but intends to study engineering.
Essay Quote: “Sportsmanship is such an understated topic; never do you go home and have dinner and talk about how ‘sportsmanship’ was at practice. … The crazier thing to me is that we have a standard for sportsmanship … without consistently defining it! We assume athletes naturally understand the necessity for sportsmanship on and off the court, and I think part of the problem is the lack of dialogue on the topic.”
Eli Shoup, Mason County Eastern
Playing third year of varsity basketball and will compete in fourth years of varsity baseball and track & field this spring; also ran four years of varsity cross country. Qualified for MHSAA Finals in cross country all four years and earned all-conference in basketball and track and all-district recognition in baseball. Helped cross country team to Regional title and baseball team to District championship. Earned academic all-state in cross country. Served as captain of cross country and track teams. Carries 4.0 GPA and will be named valedictorian, and earned 25 college credits with dual enrollment at West Shore Community College. Participating in second year of National Honor Society and first of varsity club, and has served as vice president of latter. Participating in school marching band and earned first chair for saxophone. Participated in 4-H throughout high school and received county fair reserve grand champion award. Is undecided where he will attend college, but intends to study mechanical engineering.
Essay Quote: “Many teams, including other ones I’ve been on, are very competitive. Newcomers don’t always feel welcome. Everyone is your friend until you supersede them, and then they are cold and resolved against you. Our cross country team wasn’t like that. We built each other up and congratulated each other on personal successes.”
Other Class D girls finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Ashton Hord, Felch North Dickinson; Tara Townsend, Frankfort; Alaina Roush, Harbor Springs Harbor Light Christian; Anna Roberts, Hillsdale Academy; Meredith VanDerWeide, Hillsdale Academy; and Skylar Wiesen, Leland.
Other Class D boys finalists for the Scholar-Athlete Award were: Cole Robinson, Bellaire; Jack Matrella, Bessemer; Brayden M. Steenwyk, Ellsworth; Jacob Rademacher, Fowler; Jonas P. Lanser, McBain Northern Michigan Christian; and Samuel Paga, Petoskey St. Michael Academy.
The Class B scholarship award recipients will be announced Feb. 15, and the Class A honorees will be announced Feb. 22.
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.)