By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor
It’s not exactly “Man Bites Dog,” the old newspaper standard by which headline stories were determined.
But the role reversal that Rick Jakacki and Kevin Miller have experienced certainly makes for interesting reading.
And Jakacki, who spent 20 years as a sportswriter/editor with the Port Huron Times Herald, knows a good story.
After Miller, a former radio personality with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, moved to Michigan’s thumb to pursue a career in education, he yearned to keep his hand in athletics – so he began to work as a stringer on Friday nights covering prep football for the Times Herald.
It was a neat “hobby” for Miller. But for Jakacki, whose career was in print journalism, the steady hum of immediate, electronic mediums became increasingly difficult to ignore. Figuratively, the writing was on the wall.
“It’s always been said that you never treat anyone badly because you never know when it’ll bite you, or when someone can help you in the future,” Jakacki said.
“I saw the way the newspaper trend was going, and it was scary going to work. We were cutting back all the time, not covering as many events, not traveling as much, not filling people’s jobs, implementing furloughs. I always wanted to go out on my own terms, not have the paper tell me when to leave.”
Following the 2009-10 school year, the athletic director at one of the schools in the Times Herald coverage area announced he was leaving. John Knuth, the AD at Croswell-Lexington, was headed back to Marysville, where he’d built a prep volleyball power.
By then, Miller had become the superintendent at Cros-Lex, and had been submitting stories to Jakacki for years. Now, it was Miller’s turn to lend his newspaper “boss” a hand, one that Jakacki certainly had never bitten.
And so it was that Jakacki became an employee working for his former part-time employee.
He couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve never heard of a person going from sportswriter to athletic director, but talk about a smooth transition,” Jakacki said. “I’m working with all the same people I used to write about: ADs, students, coaches, officials. And now I’m at a school that plays the same teams I covered.”
The athletic office desk suits him just fine, and he’s easily shifted from story writer to storyteller. Coupled with his administrative duties, he’s become the Pioneers’ No. 1 cheerleader, lauding the exploits of the school’s 700-plus students, nearly 70 percent of whom participate in at least one extracurricular activity.
“We got a new gym and locker rooms in the fall of 2011, and a new training room and weight room this fall” Jakacki said, putting on his tour guide hat prior to a show-and-tell session. The new digs allow for increased MHSAA Tournament opportunities, and thus increased exposure for the school.
“The best atmosphere we’ve enjoyed since I began here was this fall’s MHSAA Volleyball Regional between Marysville and North Branch. It was electric; this place was packed,” he recalled.
It’s more than athletic events drawing people to Croswell-Lexington these days. Jakacki proclaims with equal enthusiasm that the school district recently ranked 20th among 560 in Michigan for academic achievement.
Extracurricular activity, including the Pioneer Activities Leadership Council, plays a vital role in the makeup of the student population.
“There are about 40 or 50 kids who meet with the principal and me on the second Friday of each month during the school year,” Jakacki said of the Council. “It’s after school, and they don’t get credit. But they show up to talk about various leadership ideas.”
If Jakacki sounds like a proud parent while extolling the virtues of his new workplace, well, that’s fine with him. The Pioneers’ student-athletes have become like family, adding to his own children: Liam (18), Cameron (14) and Zoe (10).
“It’s funny. Having three kids of my own, I got to watch them play a lot of sports,” Jakacki said. “After getting to know all these kids, it’s like watching my kids play. People sometimes ask, ‘How can you just go to a random baseball game?’ Well it’s like watching nine of my own kids. That’s something I didn’t expect when I took this job.”
So it is fitting that his office is across from the cafetorium, where traffic flow and student interaction is steady. And, now, so is the work.
“I was looking for job security, and I love dealing with kids and sports,” Jakacki said. “It was a perfect transition for me. Now I deal with them every day.
“What’s the old saying, as you get older don’t get a job, get something you love to do? That’s what I’ve done. If I work 12-hour days, I don’t mind because I love what I do.”
It’s a story the former sportswriter never tires of telling.
PHOTO: Croswell-Lexington athletic director Rick Jakacki stands in his school's gymnasium. He formerly covered the school as a reporter for the Port Huron Times Herald.
This is the final installment of a series, "Career Paths," focusing on the unsung contributions of athletic directors. See below for earlier installments.