By DOUG DONNELLY
MADISON TOWNSHIP – Rachel Isom has two years left in high school. After that, Kris Isom will go back to having a few hundred or more of her ‘kids’ involved in Madison Trojan sports.
“I might have to adopt someone,” Isom said.
Rachel is a junior volleyball, basketball and softball player for Madison. Her mother, Kris, recently completed her 30th season as the athletic director at Madison. While Rachel is her only child, Isom says all of the students at Madison have been like her children.
“They are all my kids,” she said. “There have been opportunities to go elsewhere, do other things, but I always felt Madison was where I am meant to be. It’s my calling. It’s been a great ride.”
During the 2016-17 school year, Isom will be one of three athletic directors in the state honored by the Michigan High School Athletic Association as Allen W. Bush Award recipients. The award honors individuals for past and continuing serve to prep athletics as a coach, administrator, official, trainer, doctor or member of the media. This is the 25th year of the award, named for a former executive director of the MHSAA.
“This year’s three Bush Award winners are tied by their dedication to working with our student-athletes on a day-to-day basis over the course of decades, providing guidance that in turn has been spread throughout their local and sport communities,” said John Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA, said in a press release. “We are grateful for their service and pleased to honor them with the Bush Award.”
Isom has been a member of the MHSAA Representative Council since 2008 and has served as president of the Tri-County Conference for the past 10 years after previously being secretary, treasurer and vice president. She’s a former Athletic Director of the Year for this area of the state and a member of a variety of professional organizations related to teaching, school administration and being an athletic director. This week she returned from Nevada where the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“It’s always interesting to go to that conference and talk to other athletic director’s around the country,” she said. “Some have the same issues we do, but some are different. We talk about how they handle things.”
Isom, the former Kris Pratt, is a Clinton graduate who played basketball, softball and track in high school. She knew early on she wanted to coach, crediting a junior high physical education teacher for inspiring her. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, she taught one year at Clinton. She interviewed at Madison for a teaching position, not knowing school administrators were also looking to fill the A.D. job.
“Connie Ries was the previous athletic director and teacher and she left to go to Hudson,” Isom said. “I was a physical education major and I was looking to become a teacher and a coach. The job was listed in the paper as a physical education teacher and that was what I thought I was applying for.”
It was during the interview that Isom found out Madison was also in need of an athletic director. She took the job and has been at it ever since. She also has found time to coach.
“I’ve coached a sport every year since I’ve been here,” she said. “I’ve coached varsity softball, junior high basketball, freshman boys basketball, competitive cheer … you name it, I’ve done it. That’s just what you do at a small school. Sometimes, you can’t find a coach, so you jump in and do it yourself.”
Isom has witnessed drastic changes in the sports world during her career. Women’s sports have become much more popular, especially than they were while she was in high school, and, in the mid-2000s, several sports underwent a shift in the seasons in Michigan. It changed the sports landscape in Michigan forever. Now, for example, boys and girls basketball are played the same time of the year.
“It’s probably cost basketball some attendance,” she said. “Four nights a week is a lot of basketball. Basketball is a sport that would get the casual fan to just come in and watch a game one night during the week. Now, there are four games every week.”
Isom didn’t complain about the shift in the seasons as much as she made it work at Madison.
“You have to make the best of it,” she said. “We made it work even though the schools didn’t want it.”
She’s also been at Madison during some lean years for athletics. The football team once took a season off because of low numbers and sports like wrestling and track had to be rebuilt from the ground up. The success is evident now. Trojan athletics are rolling. Madison won seven TCC league championships during the 2013-14 school year and has 17 titles over the past three years alone. The girls track team hasn’t lost a TCC dual meet in years and both Trojan golf squads won league titles last year.
“We’ve grown,” she said. Madison was a Class D school for much of the 1980s. “Our graduating classes were about 26. Now, we ae now about 100. Obviously that has made a difference. Things have really progressed. The school is very supportive for all of the sports out there.
As for the MHSAA honor, Isom said the award is gratifying because other athletic directors and sports professionals chose her as a recipient.
“It’s an honor to be chosen by your peers,” she said.