By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A pair of administrators who combined have served high school athletes for more than 60 years on local, state and national levels – Bear Lake athletic director Karen S. Leinaar and Buchanan athletic director Fredrick J. Smith – have been named recipients of the Michigan High School Athletic Association's Allen W. Bush Award for 2014.
Al Bush served as executive director of the MHSAA for 10 years. The award honors individuals for past and continuing service to prep athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. The award was developed to bring recognition to men and women who are giving and serving without a lot of attention. This is the 23rd year of the award, with selections made by the MHSAA's Representative Council.
This year’s honorees have much in common. Both have served multiple school districts during careers each stretching more than three decades. Both have hosted a variety of MHSAA tournament events at multiple levels, including Leinaar managing MHSAA Volleyball and Competitive Cheer Finals.
Both also have been registered MHSAA game officials for 29 years and continue to serve as elected members of the Representative Council – Leinaar since 2000 and Smith since 2005.
“One quality that both Karen and Fred share is their willingness to serve others,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “No local athletic administrator has worked at more MHSAA Finals venues than Karen, and no one has conducted more leadership training for athletic administrators than Fred.”
A multiple-sport standout while attending Delton-Kellogg High School, Leinaar joined that school’s staff in 1982 and served as athletic director and recreation director during a tenure stretching more than 16 years. She later served as athletic director at both Gaylord and then Benzonia Benzie Central before taking her current position in 2010 at Bear Lake schools, where she organizes athletic programs for students grades 5-12.
Leinaar has been a member for 30 years of both the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) and National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), and has served as chairperson of the MIAAA Annual Conference and awards chairperson for both the state and national bodies. She’s also served as chairperson of the MIAAA’s Exemplary Athletic Program and in various leadership roles as part of the MIAAA Board of Directors including as Assistant to the Executive Director.
Leinaar received the MHSAA’s Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998, a citation from the NFHS in 2000 and was named MIAAA Athletic Director of the Year in 2001. She also served four years on the Board of Directors for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
“Karen continues to serve as a voice for high school athletic departments throughout Michigan, and for Michigan high schools at the national level,” Roberts said. “She’s a go-to person on a variety of issues who understands the challenges of schools small and large, north and south. Karen Leinaar is a deserving recipient of the Bush Award.”
Smith began his career as a teacher, coach and athletic director at St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic High School, served as athletic director at Comstock for 16 years beginning in 1985 and joined Buchanan as athletic director for grades 7-12 at the start of the 2007-08 school year.
In addition to hosting numerous MHSAA tournaments at the District, Regional and Quarterfinal levels, and serving on a number of MHSAA sport committees, Smith has provided instruction and leadership training at the state and national levels.
He’s presented at 12 MHSAA New Athletic Administrator In-Service programs and also presented at the first statewide MHSAA Sportsmanship Summit. He’s also a certified instructor for the MHSAA’s Coaches Advancement Program. Smith has been involved in the NIAAA Leadership Training Program at both the state and national levels, instructing Leadership Training Institute classes in eight states as well as at the MIAAA state and NIAAA national conferences.
Smith has been a member of the MIAAA since 1985 and has served as its president and the co-chairperson of its Professional Development Committee; he earned its Athletic Director of the Year award in 2000 and George Lovich State Award of Merit in 2007. Smith also has been a member of the NIAAA since 1985 and earned both the Thomas E. Frederick Award of Excellence in 2004 and Frank Kovaleski Professional Development Award in 2012.
“Fred Smith understands – and has taught to administrators all over the state and country – the value of educational athletics. His Buchanan program provides an outstanding example for others to follow,” Roberts said. “Professional development is of high importance to Fred; he works to help others improve just as he seeks to grow himself. We are pleased to present Fred Smith with the Bush Award.”
Leinaar has worked with athletic boosters at Delton Kellogg, Gaylord, Benzie Central and Bear Lake, and served as a member of the Frankfort Downtown Development Association. She graduated from Delton Kellogg in 1977, earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Michigan State University in 1982 and a master’s in athletic administration from Western Michigan University in 1994. She has received the Certified Athletic Administrator designation from the NIAAA.
Smith has served on the Buchanan Area Recreation Board since 2010 and also has been active in the Berrien County “Girls on the Run” program, Buchanan’s “Thrill on the Hill” and the McCoy Creek Trail/Buchanan Athletic Dinner-Dance Charity Auction. Also a multi-sport high school athlete, he graduated from Battle Creek St. Philip in 1973 and earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in 1979. He became a Certified Master Athletic Administrator from the NIAAA in 2006.